Where chef Rob Gentile eats lamb biryani, bone broth and doughnuts in his east-end neighbourhood
Lupini beans give chef Rob Gentile life. He shows off a jar of the savoury, silky legumes that he received from his relatives, while admiring the backyard garden of his Leslieville home. Surrounded by a bounty that includes eggplants, zucchinis, tomatoes, peppers, herbs and one small cannabis plant (“It’s just something random I wanted to grow”), he says lupini beans are the quintessential ingredient in any Italian home kitchen. “They’re placed on the table and enjoyed as a snack, or eaten as an appetizer before a family meal.”
The beans also foreshadow what’s to come at Gentile’s new restaurant, opening later this year on St. Clair. “The new place falls under the Buca family but this concept is more about going back to basics and emphasizing dishes inspired by what’s served in Italian homes,” says Gentile. “Along with focusing on quality ingredients and seasonality, I envision more family-style dishes.”
Gentile has called Leslieville home for the last five years and, as a new dad, he thinks the east end is perfect. “It’s youthful and family-oriented. It’s an exciting time to live here because of all the new artisan shops and independent eateries.”
573 King St. E., 416-306-1986, impactkitchen.ca
Gentile, with his wife, Audrey, and daughter, Clarice, frequents the Corktown location of this wholesome chain founded by personal trainer Josh Broun and Frank Toskan, one of his clients. Everything is made in-house, from the cold-pressed juices to the baked goods. “Audrey and I are big health nuts, so it’s great for a post-workout bite—we work out at Forme Fitness, which is right around the corner. But the food is so good that we’ll just come for brunch every now and then.”
Go-to item #1: Power Bowl with kale caesar and grilled chicken.
Tasting notes: This salad is riddled with healthy stuff: kale, roasted chickpea croutons, pumpkin seed parmesan and cashew caesar dressing. “The beauty of this dish is that it tastes indulgent, but it’s actually delicious and good for you. The cashew-based dressing is addictive.”
Go-to item #2: Lean Bowl with flank steak, arugula, avocado and grilled zucchini in a lemon and olive oil dressing.
Tasting notes: “It’s so refreshing. Again, it’s just a simple but well-done dish. I don’t like overly sweet or balsamic-based dressings, so the lemon and olive oil is perfect for me. And the avocado and steak combo is hearty but doesn’t weigh you down. I’ll usually have this for brunch and lunch—sometimes even breakfast.”
Go-to item #3: Chicken bone broth.
Tasting notes: “I came out of the womb drinking brodo, so this reminds me of home. Italians will always have a brodo cooking away on the stove top. It’s so nourishing.” Impact simmers bones from antibiotic- and hormone-free chickens overnight along with onions, lemon, apple cider vinegar, carrots, parsley, garlic, thyme, celery and black peppercorns. The ingredients are strained out and the fat is skimmed off, so what’s left is a clear, silky broth.
Go-to item #4: Protein force bar.
Tasting notes: Gentile isn’t really big on dessert but when he does want something sweet, he’ll opt for all-natural. “I’ll smash this back after a workout or just for a snack.” The bars, which are made with rolled oats, chia and pumpkin seeds, protein powder, dates, bananas, maple syrup and coconut, are vegan, and dairy- and gluten-free.
Lahore Tikka House
1365 Gerrard St. E., 416-406-1668, lahoretikkahouse.com
“My go-to spot when I lived near Bloorcourt was Banjara, so when we moved to Leslieville, I asked locals where I could find excellent Indian fare, and they recommend this spot for their Pakistani and North Indian cuisine.” Opened in 1996 by Gulshan Alibhai and her husband Alnoor Sayani, the popular eatery serves halal dishes made using family recipes. “It’s so good that you never stop wanting to go. You think you’ll tire of it, but give it a week and you’re craving it again,” says Gentile. On the weekends, it’s packed. “The patio is jammed with families from Friday to Sunday, and there’s usually a lineup out the door. When you’re seated and waiting for food, they’ll come by with chili peppers on a spit as a pre-meal snack. They are absolute fire bombs, but I’ve seen people devour them in one bite.” To order, guests write down what they want on a whiteboard and bring it up to the counter.
Go-to item #1: Lamb biryani.
Tasting notes: Fluffy basmati rice with hunks of bone-on lamb shoulder that’s flavoured with garam masala, cardamom, turmeric, cumin and coriander. The dish is finished with yogurt, mint, lemon, tomatoes and onions. “Look at the friggin’ portion!” exclaims Gentile. “And I only ordered a small! The portions here are massive—it’s such great value for your money.”
Go-to item #2: Hara chicken and butter naan.
Tasting notes: Alibhai notes that “hara” means “green” in Hindi. For this verdant dish, chicken thighs are marinated in coriander, mint, garam masala, yogurt, lemon, ginger and garlic for 24 hours, before being cooked over a flaming tandoor. It arrives to the table on a sizzling platter. “I love watching how deftly and quickly they slap the dough for the naan onto the sides of the tandoori oven,” Gentile says.
Go-to item #3: Aloo gobi.
Tasting notes: For this dish, cauliflower florets are slow-cooked with peeled white potatoes, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, red chili, turmeric, onion and garam masala. Gentile offers a delicious hack to makes use of the leftovers: “Sometimes, I’ll take the sauce from this dish, along with any leftover bharatha and butter chicken, reduce it all slightly and then poach eggs in it for breakfast—it’s kind of like a Pakistani shakshuka, if you will, and it’s fantastic.”
Go-to item #4: Bhartha.
Tasting notes: Charcoal-roasted eggplant is puréed with garam masala, turmeric, tomato, ginger and garlic. “You know it’s gonna be good when it arrives at the table glistening and shining with all that ghee on top.”
Go-to item #5: Pistachio kulfi.
Tasting notes: “This is incredible, especially on a hot summer day,” says Gentile. Alibhai says that it’s made from milk solids, otherwise known as khoya or malwa, with added sugar and cardamom. Before freezing the kulfi, they add fresh pistachios for colour and flavour.
White Lily Diner
678 Queen St. E., 416-901-7800, whitelilydiner.ca
Gentile enjoys chef Ben Denham and Ashely Lloyd’s almost-three-year-old spot for brunch. “You need to arrive early—otherwise, expect to wait in line, even on weekdays. It’s a cool neighbourhood spot and the quality of the food is incredible because they use top-notch ingredients.” Pointing to the chalkboard sign listing the kitchen’s suppliers, Gentile says that Buca uses some of the same ones. “So you know they’re legit, and it adds a sort of wow-I-wouldn’t-have-expected-that-from-a-diner kind of experience.”
Go-to item #1: The White Lily Standard.
Tasting notes: “I love breakfast, especially classic breakfast like this that includes toasted rye bread, sausage and bacon. And while it looks like your typical diner breakfast, everything is made in-house, because they care.” Denham explains that for the bacon, they cure whole pork bellies before smoking them out back, and even their bread—rye, whole wheat, sourdough—is made in-house daily.
Go-to item #2: Tomato salad.
Tasting notes: “What makes me so happy is seeing these wicked tomatoes on the menu. It shows that the chef knows that this is the perfect time to buy them as they’re in-season and perfectly plump, juicy and naturally sweet.” The tomatoes for this salad are sourced from 100km Foods Inc., and finished with a green olive chimichurri and garlic aïoli.
Go-to item #3: House pickles.
Tasting notes: “These are heaven’s snack. You can eat pickles at any time of day or in the middle of the night.”
Go-to item #4: Traditional caesar.
Tasting notes: “This is a classic weekend drink. Here they use Dillon’s vodka, Clamato, their own steak spice mix, house olives and a lemon wedge. It’s simple but it’s perfect.”
Go-to item #5: A duo of house-made doughnuts. Today chef chooses apple cider and double maple w/ custard.
Tasting notes: The doughnut flavours change daily, and on this day included apple cider and double maple with custard. “That’s fucking good. It’s like eating a light and fluffy cloud. And that perfect creamy custard inside. Damn.”