Perched on the grittier edge of Trinity Bellwoods Park next to Oyster Boy, co-owners Kianoosh Khalili (former chef of Bradgate Arms and Kensington Cafe) and Kendall Collingridge have a new little boite to brag about. It may only seat a mere 30, but it sure fits the longest park bench you've ever seen. The pine-clad room with exposed brick is as rustic and outdoorsy as an interior can be, hence the unpretentious name, Parkette. A dash of kitsch with framed pennants from various Canadian cities an
d an old Coca-Cola sign graces helps to add warmth to its industrial design influence that include operating room-sized spotlighting.
Executive chef Collingridge (formerly of Le Petit Castor; and don't get me started on that one), comes to Parkette with a well-rounded pedigree. Having cut his teeth as sous and pastry chef, chef de partie and cuisine, and poissonier for Buca, Forte Bistro and Lounge, Cru and Crush Wine Bar, he can handle any part of the huge kitchen that takes up pretty much half the space. And for a kitchen that most chefs would gladly slice their baby finger off for, one might think that Parkette would be more adventurous with its carte.
But Parkette is far from inventive, and refreshingly so. Instead it is a place for honest food that's not plated as if it were some precious mini-art installation; but what they may lack in wild creativity, they well make up for with well executed, affordable, Italian comfort food that satisfies the soul. In a campy but warm atmosphere with tonnes of heart, server Omar makes the rounds with equal parts charm and flirtation -- the biggest topic of discussion among neighbouring tables is not the food, but what wonderful cologne he is wearing.
The food, too, thankfully brings with it some fine aromas. A plate of artichokes ($10) are served carciofi alla giudia style (from the Roman Jewish ghetto), cut in wedges, studded with mint and garlic breadcrumbs, and sided with lemon aioli, and fried until each leaf is as crisp as a potato chip. But a carne cruda ($11), in essence a steak tartare, fares less well as the heavy-handed addition of anchovy totally overwhelms the decadent flavours and texture of raw ground beef. But don't go changing the rustic margherita pizza to try and please me ($12); I'll take you just the way you are. Finely dusted in cornmeal, the magnificent crust captures the same crispy chewiness you long for in a perfect French stick. While the simpleness of a nicely sweet, not sour, sauce, is an ideal complement to the topping of creamy sweet buffalo mozzarella.
And though a shrimp and scallop mousse ravioli ($14) with a tomato nage may be a trifle waterlogged at first glance, with a salsa verde unattractively applied to look like squeeze cheese, it is, believe it or not a satisfying surprise. A reasonably priced cornish hen ($16) is cooked to crispy perfection with well-paired sweet fig and peppery wilted arugula and a wine reduction. But a wrapping of an over salty prosciutto really only marred the marriage of flavours. Sides of overcooked rapini and fingerling potato (each $5) are serviceable standard fare to round out any meal. But a ricotta ($7) dessert is anything but. Don't let the simple title fool you into thinking this is something dull and uninspired. Not quite as dense as a cheesecake, the light vanilla-flecked dessert, topped with candied blood orange and grapefruit is a refreshing perfect end to this hearty Italian repast -- even if you might need to ask for toothpick to get at little bits of raw honeycomb stuck between your teeth; it's all part of the fun.
Parkette impresses as a nice neighbourhood haunt even if the food is a bit less artsy-fartsy than you would expect for this area of town. But sometimes all you want is a meal as relaxing and unpretentious as sitting on a park bench with friends. And that's exactly the experience of Parkette, only indoors with four walls, and no ants.