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What’s on the menu at Porzia’s, chef Basilio Pesce’s long-awaited lasagna restaurant

The popular pandemic pop-up finally has a brick-and-mortar home

By Caroline Aksich| Photography by Joshua Best
What's on the menu at Porzia's, chef Basilio Pesce's long-awaited lasagna restaurant

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Name: Porzia’s Contact: 319A Oakwood Ave., porzias.com, @porzias_lasagne
Neighbourhood: Oakwood Village Owner: Basilio Pesce (Cheese Boutique, Osteria Rialto, Canoe) Chefs: Head chef Basilio Pesce and sous-chef Samuel Suge Previously: Extra Burger Accessibility: There’s a two-inch lip at the entrance   Most people who have gazed upon the mesmerizing layers of Basilio Pesce’s four-inch-tall lasagnas haven’t experienced the joy of tasting them. During the pandemic, getting your hands on one of these saucy trays was almost as hard as landing Taylor Swift tickets. “They’d sell out in under a minute! It was actually pretty anxiety inducing,” says Pesce. Now, pasta-lovers needn’t stare longingly at Instagram wondering what one of these 14-layer feats of culinary engineering tastes like because it’s possible to go order a slice—or even a whole tray—at Porzia’s.

Chef Basilio Pesce sits at the bar inside Porzia's, his new Italian restaurant

Although the name is familiar, Porzia’s is not a reincarnation of Pesce’s Parkdale restaurant, which he shuttered in 2015. “I added an apostrophe!” says Pesce, as if that underscores how different the two restaurants are. “When I was younger, I felt I needed to prove something,” says Pesce. “My food is less fussy now, more approachable. It’s all about comfort.”

The exterior of Porzia's, an Italian restaurant in Toronto's Oakwood Village
A spread of Italian dishes at Porzia's, a restaurant in Toronto

 

The food

The food at Porzia’s is simple: homey Italian plates made with local ingredients from small Ontario farms, with almost everything—from the bread to the pasta to the aioli—made in house. That is, except for the things—like bomba and mortadella—that Pesce thinks Italians do better than Canadians ever will; those he imports from the Boot.

Chef Basilio Pesce shows how thin he makes his lasagna sheets at Porzia's

Pesce wants people to know, “We serve more than just lasagna!”—but the lasagna is still the star. Each tray starts with the dough: a mix of semolina and 00 flour bound with eggs. After going through the sheeter, it’s thin enough to just about see through but still robust enough not to tear. “It’s about as thick as 10-point card stock,” says Pesce.

The salad misticanza at Porzia's
The salad misticanza changes based on what greens are coming in from Ontario farms like Blue Goose, Top Tomato and Ohme. Right now, it’s a pile of castelfranco, radicchio, puntarelle, fennel ribbons, pickled red onions and chopped pistachios, all dressed in a tangy blend of olive oil, lemon juice and condimento bianco. $15

 

A plate of gluten-free calamari at Porzia's
Gluten-free calamari is dredged in a blend of chickpea flour and cornstarch. The resulting rings are exquisitely crispy. $26

 

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Each serving of lasagna at Porzia's weighs almost a pound
Each serving of lasagna weighs almost a pound. Most of the bulk can be attributed to the noodles, but there’s also a ton of cheese (pecorino romano, parmigiano reggiano, shredded mozzarella) and an all-beef bolognese slow-cooked with San Marzano tomatoes. $28

 

An extreme closeup of the lasagna at Porzia's, an Italian restaurant in Toronto
EXTREME CLOSEUP

 

A plate of Porzia's ricotta agnolotti with mushrooms is finished with ricotta salata
All the pasta at Porzia’s is made in house, including this agnolotti stuffed with ricotta and pecorino. The plump dumplings are tossed in a buttery mushroom sauce and plated with browned maitake mushrooms, honey mushrooms and a flurry of ricotta salata. $28

 

The Barese sausage at Porzia's is a mix of nitrite-free lamb and pork
“Both my parents are from Bari, so we ate Barese sausage regularly—in our house, it was as common as a loaf of bread,” says Pesce, who worked with Off the Bone butcher Alfredo Santangelo to perfect this coil. The nitrite-free sausage is made from a mix of lamb, pork and tomato paste. It’s finished with a sprinkle of pecorino and a pile of peperonata. $34

 

Tiramisu soft serve at Porzia's
“I was real stuck on getting a soft-serve machine,” says Pesce. For his ice cream take on tiramisu, a twist of vanilla soft-serve sits atop a coffee-soaked ladyfinger base and a mousse made with mascarpone and cream. $12 Photo by Joshua Best
The drinks

This is a wine list that refuses to be pigeonholed. Yes, more than three quarters of the bottles are eco-certified, but the list isn’t fettered by buzzwords like biodynamic or natural. Nor is it a list bound by geography. “There are great wine from everywhere,” says general manager Aaron Van Hoffen, who wasn’t tempted in the least to make an all-Italian list. His goal: build a collection with some affordable weekday sippers (like a rosé from Rosewood that goes for $12 a glass) as well as a few celebratory hard-to-find bottles like a 12-year-aged Tempranillo blend from Spain’s R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia.

The cocktail selection is tight and currently includes classics like sazeracs and sidecars. As for beer, the options are entirely domestic: the half-dozen cans on offer are all from Ontario breweries.

A selection of wine currently on offer at Porzia's, an Italian restaurant in Toronto
Although the wine card doesn’t scream “Mamma mia,” Italy’s wine regions are well represented with bottles from Abruzzo, Tuscany, Veneto, Puglia, Piedmont and Friuli. The rest of the list is dominated by Spanish and French selections, with a cursory nod to North American wines. Guests can expect familiar varietals (Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese, Chardonnay) as well as some lesser-known grapes like Picpoul and Xarel-lo

 

A can of The County Bounty, a zero-proof soda
There’s also a big emphasis on ABV-free drinks, like locally made flavoured sparkling water and soda

 

A booze-free cucumber-lime shrub at Porzia's
There are booze-free shrubs too, like this tart and refreshing cucumber-lime quencher. $8
The space

“I wanted Porzia’s to be a cozy neighbourhood spot,” says Pesce. “Opening somewhere like Ossington or Dundas, with all that density, you’d just be another restaurant. Here, on Oakwood, we can be a fixture.” Pesce hired Commute Design, the Toronto-based firm behind Byblos, Alo and Oretta, to overhaul the 26-seat space. “We get a lot of compliments saying that this space looks like it’s been here for 30 or 40 years—in a good way.”

There are no tchotchkes decorating the shelves here—Pesce hates clutter. He did put up a few vintage family photos, though. It’s appropriate, considering the restaurant is named after his mom.

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A view of the dining room and open kitchen at Porzia's
The dining room at Porzia's, an Italian restaurant in Toronto
A look into the open kitchen at Porzia's, an Italian restaurant in Toronto
The bar at Porzia's, a new Italian restaurant in Toronto's Oakwood Village
A view of Porzia's dining room, looking from the bar to the front of the restaurant
A closeup of the bar seating at Porzia's
Wine and beer available for purchase at Porzia's
The entrance of Porzia's, chef Basilio Pesce's new Italian restaurant

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