Sort-of Secret: Morts, a new mortadella sandwich business from Il Covo chef Ryan Campbell
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The sort-of secret: Morts, a mortadella sandwich and snack business running out of Il Covo
You may have heard of it if: You follow chef Ryan Campbell (Il Covo, Buca) on Instagram
But you probably haven’t tried it because: The operation is barely two weeks old
Mortadella—the silky, unpretentiously delicious lunch meat—has enjoyed a recent renaissance on Toronto menus. Around this time last year, we used the phrase “peak mortadella,” but it turns out that we spoke too soon. With the launch of Morts—a mortadella sandwich pop-up from Il Covo chef Ryan Campbell—the city is now officially obsessed. The menu has not one but eight different (though all mortadella-based) sandwiches, along with a bevy of sides, including—wait for it—mortadella salad.
Campbell is no stranger to building a business around a single item, having also opened Gertie’s—a pie company that sells exactly one product (an intensely nutty peanut butter pie, which guest stars on the Morts’ menu). “I wanted to open something casual and fun, like the pizza and burger joints that have been so solid during the pandemic,” he says. “But I also wanted to do something a little different—and having lived in Italy, I’ve been exposed to a lot of mortadella.”
Campbell dreamed up the menu in a single night and went to work testing concepts with Samantha Lamanna, Il Covo’s chef de cuisine. The result is a menu of sandwiches and snacks that, while simple enough, preserves the thoughtful finesse you’d expect from a chef of Campbell’s caliber.
Take the Total Mort, an indulgent creation of fantastically juicy fried chicken, pickled piparra peppers and house garlic mustard sauce on a soft, griddled bun. Piparra peppers—a mildly spicy variety from the Basque Country of Spain—feature heavily on this menu; Campbell chose them for their balance of sweetness, acidity and spice. The garlic mustard sauce, cheekily named “Morts famous dipping sauce,” has an ineffable quality thanks to the inclusion of senape, or mustard essential oil, instead of traditional mustard.
The Hot Fugazi features griddled mortadella with the aforementioned peppers, sauce and bun. Fugazi means fake in Italian-American slang—it’s a nod to the idea that this menu is more about having fun with mortadella than it is about authentic Italian fare. As for the griddled meat: when mortadella meets the Maillard reaction, magic happens. The ends get delightfully brown and crispy, and the rendered fat infuses everything around it with smoky, meaty goodness.
At $18.99, the most extravagant item is the Truffle God—truffle-studded mortadella served with a wildly luxurious whipped truffle cream for dipping. It’s one of a few sandwiches on the menu on chewy, house-made ciabatta—one of Lamanna’s specialties. If you like truffles, this is probably among the more affordable ways to practically bathe in them. (And if you don’t like truffles, steer clear—this aptly named sandwich packs a serious punch of their unmistakable earthy flavour.)
Dipping sauces—the garlic mustard and a tomato and chili diablo sauce—are available on the side. The latter is made with Ciligenio, sweet cherry tomatoes from Sarafino Foods. They’re also known as “seaside tomatoes,” since they grow 30 feet from the Mediterranean. They’re eat-out-the-jar delicious, and though the menu makes no mention of their idyllic origins, it’s another place where Campbell’s attention to detail elevates this deceptively simple fare.
As for sides, there’s an actual mortadella salad that tops shredded iceberg with red onion, piparra peppers, and yes, strips of mortadella. “It reminds me of all the things that fall out of your sub when you’re eating it,” says Campbell. There are also crispy, cayenne-dusted polenta fries, blistered shishito peppers, and the aforementioned peanut butter pie for desert.
Right now, Mort’s is running out of Il Covo, but Campbell eventually hopes to turn it into a standalone shop. (At which point we’ll have to think of a new term for peak mortadella). Order Morts for pickup or delivery on UberEats.