522 King Street West
Italian Food Emporium
The first thing I noticed when I entered Alimento Fine Food Emporium from King Street, were the sun beams that illuminated the space. This natural light, flooding in from floor to ceiling, seemed to accentuate the combined aromas emanating from the bakery, cheesery, open bar and grill, within the expansive space that occupies over half of the warehouse floor.
The original brick walls are exposed and the wooden floors and beamed ceilings add to that open air feeling. I returned a second time early evening to experience the transition of sunlight that warms the space throughout the day.
The concept, explained Marco Contardi, owner, is a combined, three-pronged approach to an amazing Italian food experience. “We wanted to do something different, while being entrepreneurial. We’re growing with the King West neighbourhood, organically and naturally.” he said.
In addition to a great selection of gourmet foods, mostly shipped straight from Italy, the produce is organic, preservative free and locally grown. An Italian friend of mine said, “It brings me back home to Italy as I would walk through the Mercato.” There is a huge selection of specialty pantry and cooking items that would delight any chef. Grab-and-go meals are also created on the premises.
A large island area that divides the restaurant is devoted to the noble art of cheese selection with an Italian focus. There are a multitude of aromatic hard and semi-soft cheeses. And if you love cheese, like me, I’ll see you at the sample bar. Locally made cheese, and a good portion imported from Italy, including the best of the family’s Grande Cheese shops in and around Toronto, are all here too. Cacio di Fossa ($40.99/lb), Bra Duro ($35.99/lb), or plain old Ricotta ($8.99/lb) are just a few of the specialties.
Unique deli items including fresh meats, sausages and primo pastas and sauces make up the high-end plentiful displays that tantalize every taste bud and stimulate every sensory aspect of one’s brain.
I hadn’t planned on eating when I first visited, but after wandering the market I suddenly felt hungry. I ordered a Antipasti platter with Buffalo Mozzarella, fresh Parma Procciutto, Cippolini and a Crostini Tower drizzled in fresh extra virgin olive oil from Italy. I had just enough to entice my taste buds.
I then tried the Sprout Salad knowing that I could conserve the energy absorbed from the crispiness of the flashed brussel sprouts combined with tart shaved apple, piave, and drizzled with an incredible carmelized honey vinaigrette. A perfect pancetta garnished my healthy-sized serving that was as fresh as spring and equally as perfect for mid-day.
THE RESTAURANT & BAR
Marco’s grandfather, who founded the family cheese business, graces the wall at Bar Mozza in an antique frame. Together, the family welcomes both curious first-time visitors and eager regulars who enter from the wide southern doors.
“King West is becoming more dense and it’s a vibrant area. People want high quality food that is healthy and simple,” said Marco. Beyond the novelty, the obvious uniqueness to the emporium includes a totally integrated approach from shopping — to preparing and eating — the finest and freshest foods.
A full lunch and dinner menu of new and traditional Italian offerings borrow ingredients directly from the adjacent market. Your selections are prepared in front of you at the open Antipasto bar and presented with gusto by servers who are equally as passionate about the food experience as the owners.
While serving my Il Ciudo Pizza, Jordon, age 26 said, “If there’s such a thing as Toronto urban Italian cuisine, this is where you’d find it.” The pizza looked utterly enticing and as its aroma filled the air, a smile played across my lips.
The crust was perfectly handmade, stretched thin, dressed with tomato, fior di Latte, Ruliano proscuitto D.O.P. and arugula. It was then oven baked to a crispy, golden brown. I knew I would be able to extend my pleasure well into the next day, as the portion was much more than I could manage at that moment. Ideally, it was to be shared between two. Having someone else there could have also solved my other problem — trying to cut the pizza with the jagged edged knife that was provided. Either the knife wasn’t sharp enough or I didn’t have the right technique.
The most surprising thing on the Bar Mozza menu was the prices! Unlike the market, the value far exceeded my expectations when it came to the flavour, portions and extraordinary quality of my $19 pizza. They start at $11. Other options on the menu included original pasta recipes, cheese bar selections, antipastos, salads and favoured Italian sandwiches.
Pastry chef, Michelle Lee, (formerly of Soma) was recently invited to join Alimento’s team to expand and create a unique foodie experience with her complementary specialty, baking.
She’s putting her own spin on the in-house desserts to craft mouth-watering treats by mixing both Italian and Canadian flavours. There is no other real Italian bakery like this, especially close to the King West neighbourhood. They bake fresh and deliver. The Italian specialty home baked goods and focaccia are one-of-a-kind.
Morning espresso, coffee and fresh pastries are ready for take-out early in the day. Light lunch meals including salads, pizza and deli sandwiches are also available throughout the day. Alimento recently increased their hours of operation to include Sunday’s from noon until 5pm this summer. They offer a selection of summer specials and discounts on their website.
The restaurant is also the perfect venue for celebratory dinners and can accommodate 49 for dinner or 70 for cocktails. The open space allows for an unforgettable ambiance for your next party or special event. What else does the King West Italian food emporium have in mind? The owners are all about keeping creative and open when it comes to maximizing and sharing their beautiful space and Italian food experiences.
Let them know what you think!