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Food & Drink

What’s on the menu at Cafe Elte, an Italian restaurant and wine bar inside a North York furniture store

Couch purchase not required to dine

By Liza Agrba| Photography by Jelena Subotic
A spread of food and wine at Cafe Elte, an Italian restaurant inside a Toronto furniture store

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Name: Cafe Elte Contact: 80 Ronald Ave. (inside Elte), elte.com/pages/cafe-elte
Neighbourhood: North Fairbank Owners: Elte (Andrew and Jamie Metrick) Chef: Mauro Ritacca (Cucina Mauro) Accessibility: Fully accessible

Last winter, a salesperson at Elte—a fourth-generation family-run home-furnishings showroom in an industrial park near Dufferin and Eglinton—had a meal at Cucina Mauro, an Italian lunch counter nearby. She raved about the food to Andrew Metrick, one of Elte’s co-owners, who just happened to be in the process of reimagining the store’s café component.

As anyone who’s been sofa shopping knows, buying furniture is serious, tiring business that tends to make one peckish—which is why Elte has always had an onsite café. But, when the store was closed during the pandemic, they started thinking about partnering with a chef to overhaul the café‘s simple offerings.

Cafe Elte sous chef Cosimo Learacci and executive chef Mauro Ritacca
Cafe Elte sous chef Cosimo Learacci (left) and executive chef Mauro Ritacca

Enter Mauro Ritacca. In 2016, he quit an office job and started Cucina Mauro on the back of a handwritten recipe book passed down by his mother, Francesca. Over the years, the cozy counter café bloomed into a beloved neighbourhood staple, complete with loyal regulars and a rotating selection of specialties like lasagne calabrese and eggplant parm. For the Metrick brothers, Ritacca was a perfect fit—he knows the neighbourhood, he downs espresso shots with regulars and, with his deft understanding of southern Italian cooking, he had the right culinary sensibility for their vision.

Staff work behind the counter at Cafe Elte, an Italian restaurant and wine bar in Toronto's North Fairbank neighbourhood
The food

While Cucina Mauro leans casual and rustic, with a menu inspired by Ritacca’s childhood favourites, Cafe Elte takes cues from its parent furniture company, with slightly more refined and composed dishes. This food is not about breaking new ground—there’s familiar brown-butter sage gnocchi, crisp arancini stuffed with melted provolone, and ciabatta paninis layered with rapini and crisp oyster mushrooms. But the magic is in the execution. There’s not so much as a misplaced salt crystal on these plates, and glossy finish notwithstanding, you can taste the deep roots they’re grounded in. Can’t stay? A grab-and-go section offers things like Roman-style pizza, freshly filled cannoli and adorable individual cups of tiramisu.

A take on beef carpaccio made with bresaola, arugula, burrata and aged balsamic vinegar
The foundation of this dish is thinly sliced bresaola, one of very few Italian cured beef products (as opposed to the country’s profusion of cured pork). Its umami-rich, moderately salty flavour makes it a solid base for this take on beef carpaccio served with baby arugula, creamy burrata and 12-year-old balsamic vinegar. $28

 

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Cafe Elte's take on Neapolitan zucchini alla scapece
This is a version of traditional Neapolitan zucchini alla scapece, a specialty of Ritacca’s mother, Francesca. The vegetable (or fruit, botanically speaking) is normally fried, but Ritacca grills it with artichoke and laces it with mint, crunchy breadcrumbs, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It’s finished with ricotta salata and more toasted breadcrumbs. $14

 

The panelle sandwich, a ciabatta bun stuffed with a chickpea fritter and arugula, at Cafe Elte
The panelle is a bona fide sleeper hit. It’s a ciabatta bun with lemon-and-olive-oil-dressed arugula and a parsley-spiked chickpea fritter that has absolutely no business being as delicious as it is. It’s best hit with a squeeze of lemon right before biting in. $12

 

A plate of gnocchi
Classic, pillowy gnocchi in a simple brown-butter-and-sage sauce, topped with more fresh sage and grated parmigiano reggiano. $18

 

A plate of casarecce at Cafe Elte, an Italian restaurant in Toronto
A star of the menu’s pasta selection, this is casarecce in a Sicilian pesto of pistachio and fresh tomato. It’s much lighter than a traditional basil pesto and tastes emphatically of sweet, buttery pistachio. It’s finished with good olive oil and parmigiano reggiano. $22 (an extra $3 for a gluten-free option)

 

A Sicilian salad of orange, fennel, mint and sun-dried olives is dressed with olive oil and orange juice, and topped with seared salmon
Here we have a traditional Sicilian combination of orange, fennel and mint, finished with sun-dried black olives and dressed with olive oil and orange juice ($16). For an extra $11, customers can add four ounces of pan-seared salmon (or chicken breast or flank steak)

 

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Cafe Elte's grab-and-go counter features a selection of ready-made sandwiches, cannoli and tiramisu
There’s always a selection of grab-and-go goods, a highlight of which are the cannoli. The shells (in the cake stand on the counter) are always filled to order for maximum contrast of cream and crunch. $3.50 each
The drinks

No Italian café would deserve the designation without very good coffee, and between its drip and standard espresso-based bevies, Cafe Elte does not disappoint. (The decaf is, somehow, also top-notch.) There’s also whole-leaf tea and a tight selection of Italian vino and beer, including a refreshing pale ale from Rome’s Linfa Brewery and a floral lager by Piedmont’s Menabrea.

The space

Between stone-topped tables, leather seating and a neutral palette with black oak panelling, the room is sleek, chic and understated—all the better to make the food pop. It’s more or less seamless with the furniture showroom, though set a ways back from the front, and more than comfortable enough for a full-fledged meal—regardless of whether you’re in the market for a top-of-the-line dining table.

The entrance to Cafe Elte, an Italian restaurant and cafe inside Elte
The counter at Cafe Elte, an Italian cafe and restaurant in Toronto
The sit-down dining room at Cafe Elte, an Italian restaurant in North York, Toronto
The dining room at Cafe Elte, an Italian restaurant inside Elte, a high-end furniture store in North York, Toronto
An exterior shot of Elte, a high-end furniture showroom and store in Toronto

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