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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
“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.