Vesuvio's Pizzeria & Spaghetti House is the first and oldest pizzeria and spaghetti house in Toronto. And Piera Pugliese and her husband Ettore know Italian food.
Ettore and his brother Corrado have had the restaurant since 1957 - over 50 years! And Ettore, who just celebrated his 70th birthday, is still making the pizzas! Piera, her beautiful daughter, Paola and Corrado's wife, Rita also work in the restaurant, making it a true family affair.
Never before have I been to such a family
-run neighbourhood restaurant. Tonight, a Friday night, is busy with families with young children, couples on dates, groups of friends and large families out to share a meal together. There is such a comfortable feel to the room that although this is my first time here, I feel incredibly welcome and a part of something more than my table of one.
Of course that has everything to do with the family, the food, and the decor.
Piera is a jovial lady with a passion for the arts and is herself a painter. She has created a changing art show every month at the restaurant that has been so popular, she has exhibits booked until May 2009. Tonight, Marzena Kotapska's dark oil paintings hang above my table, evoking a dark, yet warm evening at a billiards hall.
Piera tells me that their take-out and delivery service is unbelievably successful, yet many diners don't know about it until after they've eaten in and "realize that they can have the same meal at home." You have to wait for a little longer, but who wouldn't wait for Southern Italian homemade food like this? Especially at these reasonable prices!
Vesuvio's is known for its pizzas (all made from scratch) and pastas (many made in-house), but there are lots of other items to choose from. I stick with pizzas and pastas mostly. After all, I came all the way from downtown-I want to see what made them famous.
I have Calamari Fritti ($10), which comes out hot and crisp. A light, thin batter covers tender squid rings and is accompanied by a fresh lemon wedge and a zesty tomato dipping sauce.
The pizzas arrive quickly after. The Mediterranean Pizza ($16.50) is topped with sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, black olives & feta and the other is Hot Capicollo sausage and Onions ($13.50).
The pizzas are 11" personal pizzas with 8 slices per pie and trust me, there's more than enough to fill you up.
One of the many extraordinary qualities about Vesuvio's pizza is the crust. There is nary a cornmeal crumb to be found, yet how do they get it light and puffy? The crust is thin, yet holds up against the weight of the cheese (and there's a lot of it) and other ingredients. The toppings are cooked just enough to be hot, but each ingredient is still moist and chewy. And these are the freshest, tastiest sun-dried tomatoes I've ever had.
Another neat feature of the restaurant is the Build Your Own Pasta, where you pick your pasta, sauce and additional ingredients. I choose Homemade Gnocchi ($10) with Rose Sauce ($3). The garlic-clove-sized gnocchi are light, but not airy and are covered in a rich, thick, creamy sauce-the perfect comfort food for a cool night such as this.
All of the baked pastas (Pasta al Forno) are also made in-house. I order the Lasagna ($13.00), which arrives in a ceramic dish, browned and bubbling. Once it's cooled down, I take a bite. Thick noodles nest between layers of meat and cheese. It is hearty and moist and absolutely delicious - just like your nonna used to make.
So with a large space in front with tables (along with a banquet room in the back that seats 80) and the Christmas season coming up, you can imagine how busy it's going to be here.
Baptisms, birthday parties, weddings and Christmas parties will certainly add to the crowds. But maybe it's just the charm of the Puglieses; the space that was formerly a furniture store has survived a number of changes and renovations (it was just recently repainted) and the craft paper topping the tables is complete with crayons for the kids.
I'm simply calling it a home away from home.