Where Cibo executive chef Laura Petracca eats Italian food in Richmond Hill

Where Cibo executive chef Laura Petracca eats Italian food in Richmond Hill

A tour of her go-to spots for lasagna, panzerotti, veal parm and cannoli

The exterior of Abruzzo Pizza, a pizzeria in Richmond Hill, Ontario

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Laura Petracca, the executive chef at Cibo Wine Bar, is certainly kept busy by the brand’s three locations. “We’re always striving for perfection,” she says, “sourcing the best ingredients for our dishes and pushing our teams to produce the tastiest bites for our customers.” Petracca, who grew up in Vaughan, is currently in the process of refreshing the Cibo menu, and some of the new dishes are inspired by Italian restaurants in nearby Richmond Hill. In her rare moments of downtime between shifts, she heads north to visit family and eat at her childhood haunts. Below, she takes us on a tour of her favourite spots.

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Lago Italian Bakery

12930 Yonge St., Richmond Hill, 905-773-1030, lagoitalianbakery.com

An Italian hot table at Lago Italian Bakery

My parents live down the street from Lago, so it’s their go-to for baked goods, fresh bread and Italian imports. I love the atmosphere here. There are always construction workers and high-school students streaming through the doors. If you go between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., there are always customers drinking espresso, eating cannoli or indulging in something classic from the hot table. It has that small-town vibe but in a not-so-small-town area.

The closeup of an Italian veal sandwich at Lago Italian Bakery

Go-to dish: Veal sandwich

For $10, this is a steal. Everything is house-made—the bread, the thinly pounded and breaded veal cutlet, the tomato sauce. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure situation when it comes to toppings, but I like to keep it simple so I can taste each layer. In addition to the cutlet and sauce, I add sautéed bell peppers. It’s a sloppy sandwich but 100 per cent worth it—just have extra napkins at the ready.

Espresso at Lago Italian Bakery

Go-to drink: Espresso

One of my first jobs was as a barista at a spot called St. Phillips Bakery in Maple. It’s where I cut my teeth learning how to make proper espresso drinks. And it wasn’t the staff that taught me how to make them; it was one regular customer—a 75-year-old man—who would reject my failed brews and have me try again until it was perfect. I’m definitely not as picky about my drinks, but I do know when espresso is made well—and it’s made well here. You can tell a good espresso when you spoon sugar in and it floats on top.

Chef Laura Petracca eats cannoli at Lago Italian Bakery

Go-to dessert: Cannoli

Prepare yourself—these are like beignets in the sense that all the confectioner’s sugar dusted on top will end up on your lap. Aside from being messy bites, they’re super fresh and delicious. The pastry shell snaps when you bite into it, and the whipped fresh ricotta, while it does have a bit of sugar added to it, still tastes like ricotta. This is pure and simple yet very satisfying—and an homage to my dad, who is a huge cannoli fan.

Maria’s Kitchen

588 Edward Ave., Richmond Hill, 905-737-8752, no website

Maria’s Kitchen was a family tradition. Fun fact: though we weren’t in the same year, I went to high school with owner Maria Proietto’s son Lorenzo, who now helps to run the day-to-day operations here. Growing up, I watched their family business grow from a quaint bakery into a full-fledged restaurant and catering company. Now, my extended family continues to order from them for special occasions. I even had my bridal shower here last year—we did an antipasti plate, a bread spread, lasagna, risotto, chicken cutlets, sides and cake.

The exterior of Maria's Kitchen, an Italian restaurant in Richmond Hill, Ontario

Go-to dish: Lasagna

This lasagna has always found its way into our family gatherings for the past two decades. A whole takeaway lasagna needs around 20 minutes to reheat, but it’s so worth the wait. People mistakenly assume that lasagna has to be stuffed with cheese and additional filings. But it’s actually supposed to showcase the noodles and the meat sauce, both of which are house-made at Maria’s. Some say Béchamel is also necessary, because it acts like the glue to bind the layers, but my mom is from central Italy, and I grew up eating basic-is-best lasagna, which I prefer. It also allows me to taste the craftsmanship of the thin noodles and the sauce itself, which is a bit reminiscent of a bolognese. It’s beautiful and yielding—you only require a fork to cut through it and a bit of parm on top.

A plate of lasagna at Maria's Kitchen

Laura Petracca blows on a forkful of lasagna at Maria's Kitchen

Go-to drink: Brio

There are some common misconceptions about Brio: some people think it’s made in Italy, others that “Brio” refers to the flavour of the soda. It’s actually the company name, and while it’s inspired by ingredients that are readily available in Italy, you’ll only find this Toronto-made brand in Canada. The flavour is actually chinotto, which is slightly bitter with licorice root-ish notes. It’s the perfect drink to wash down any pasta dish—in this case, lasagna.

Abruzzo Pizza

9010 Yonge St., Richmond Hill, 905-881-8222, abruzzopizza.com

The exterior of Abruzzo Pizza, a pizzeria in Richmond Hill, Ontario

This is childhood nostalgia to the max! It’s been a Richmond Hill staple for over 40 years, and Vince Mazzotta has been in charge since 1981. On Friday nights, my parents would treat me and my sister to takeout or delivery to eat while we watched movies together. Abruzzo was our go-to. And as a teenager, I hung out here with my friends. I would always get the deep-fried panzo with a side of bolognese. It’s the type of fast food that makes you happy.

A woman stands next to her order of pizza and wings at Abruzzo Pizza

Go-to dish #1: A pound of deep-fried wings

I like to order my wings dry to taste the seasoning, which includes a bit of oregano, and so that the skin stays nice and crispy. But then I like to dunk them in their house honey garlic and hot sauces. I go all in and get super sticky.

A pound of deep-fried wings at Abruzzo Pizza

Go-to dish #2: Deep-fried panzerotti with ground beef and onions

This is at least two pounds, and I used to be able to eat the entire thing as a kid. There’s no way I could do that now, but it’s still as good as ever. The dough is airy and puffy with this bubbly texture on the exterior, the sauce is cooked down and not too tangy, and then you have the layers of cheese and meat. It’s rich but somehow doesn’t sit like a rock in your stomach. This is the kind of dish you need to eat immediately—do not let it sit out. It’s best fresh and piping hot.

A person holds half of a deep-fried panzerotto filled with meat and cheese from Abruzzo Pizza

A person dunks a chunk of panzerotto into marinara sauce

Go-to dish #3: Abruzzo special salad

This is a top seller. Surprising, right? A salad. But it’s one of those stick-to-your-ribs kinds of salads that eats like a meal. It reminds me of giardiniera with meat or antipasti with greens. It’s very hearty—chock full of cold cuts—but balanced out with a tangy balsamic dressing.

A salad with Italian cold cuts in a takeout container from Abbruzo Pizza

Go-to dish #4: Chicken cutlet sandwich

We’ve come full circle with this cutlet sandwich. Whereas the one at Lago is veal, this one is made using chicken breast. It can be so easy to overcook white meat, but here it stays soft and tender. They’re also very generous with the portion sizes and give you two cutlets per order. For me, this is a perfect sandwich: the bread is crusty on the outside but pillowy on the inside, and it cushions the meat, which is slathered with tomato sauce. And that’s it, nothing else. I’m a fan of dishes made with minimal ingredients but done well—and this hits all those marks.

A woman holds an Italian chicken cutlet sandwich from Abruzzo Pizza