Lil' Baci is one of those neighbourhood joints where you can take the whole family, yet get a really good homemade meal for a decent price in a warm, fun atmosphere.
Sitting down at one of the tables up at front, I check the chalkboard.
It states the Antipasti, which changes daily. Choose 1 for $4, 3 for $10 or 5 for $16. There's balsamic oregano roma tomatoes, roasted red peppers, roasted beets, chick peas and Italian tuna, white turnip, roasted fennel, roasted pepper squash and cremini
mushrooms and roasted garlic.
This rustic Italian restaurant is the sister restaurant to Kubo Radio, another Leslieville favourite. It is run by the same people and there is one chef doing both menus.
Lil' Baci has that same hipster feel that Kubo has, except here there's a lot of wood, an exposed brick wall with the faded original appliance store logo and a large table at the front with a door as its tabletop.
It immediately feels comfortable.
Leslie Ng, Manager and Partner, wanted it to be a place that people wanted to hang out in as well.
"When we moved in next door, we saw the opportunity to grow Kubo or another brand," Leslie says, "we knew we wanted a different restaurant."
He loved going to Terroni and places like it and when he and the other partners realized that's the kind of feel that they were going for, "We took the opportunity."
Slim and neatly dressed, Leslie tells me about the growing neighbourhood and how there was a need and demand for this kind of place.
They opened on July 10th and have made a name for themselves as a "family and kid-friendly" place. After having seen families trying to circumvent the small space at Kubo next door with kids and strollers, Leslie knew they'd have to have a larger aisle and a few large tables to accommodate groups. There is also space near the front door for parking strollers.
(And in case you're loaded down with the kiddies, there's always take-out and delivery and they serve both lunch and dinner.)
Leslie is excited about their "fine Italian wine list and grape varietals. We also have handcrafted beers from Ontario that compliments our handcrafted pizzas. Very important."
He also mentions that the wines are offered at affordable prices because "we want people to try the different varietals."
Leslie has to leave, but that's okay. I'm starving. I start perusing the menu.
There's salads and pastas, local organic and nitrate free meats, artisanal cheeses imported from Italy. It's hard to choose, but I'm going for the pizzas. I'm too excited. There's even organic spelt crust available for an extra $2.50
I have the Gorgonzola Dolce ($13.95) - white pizza with panna, guinciale new potato and rosemary to start.
The first thing you'll notice when it comes to the table is its size and shape. This is a huge pizza (big portion) and it's not a perfect circle. It's a rustic oval-ish shape that overlaps the large plate. It is not cut into even slices for you and the ingredients are scattered everywhere.
It's so much fun.
Now you just have to decide whether you'll slice it and eat it with your hands or with a fork and knife.
You might think that the potato would make it heavy, but everything's so light and delicate. The golden shredded potato is comforting, the strips of panna elegant and fresh rosemary essential oils come through each bite.
The crust is impossibly light and just golden around the edges. The edges of crust that have nothing on them? Delicious. The crust is thin and crisp but not hard. You'll never want another kind of crust after this.
And the Pizza Speziato ($13.95) is just as delicious, but this time it's got fresh tomato sauce and is more well-done than the white pie.
It is so crisp and thin, with julienne of hearty salumi piccante, minimal mozzarella and 3 huge fresh leaves of basil, slightly blackened by heat. The sauce is light in some areas and thicker in others, which I like and you can taste the good quality olive oil.
This pizza has a fresh, intense flavour and it's juicy, yet the crust stands up - how does they do that? It's just like your "nona" used to make, if you had a nona.
I manage to also have the Pesce del Giorno - priced daily and on the specials menu. Today its Rustic Red Snapper ($14.95) pan roasted on top of orecchiette with rapini and perconi oil. The snapper still has its skin and the thick orecchiette is thick and done al dente. There's a denseness to this pasta which is rare. And that's because they make it right here, in house.
There are sliced red peppers and a bright olive oil and garlic dressing that complements the chewy pasta.
I tangle my rapini around my fork and the hearty pasta stands up to the rapini's bitterness. The perconi oil adds a heat that is at first subtle, then builds throughout the meal.
The portion is so large that I have to take half of it home with me. It is hearty pasta but surprisingly light on the stomach.
Mitchell Lipperman is the boy wonder behind all of this fantastic fair. Also the Executive Chef for Kubo Radio next door, he's been running both kitchens, which he compares to the Lawrence Welk show act of spinning plates.
Mitch laughs and says, "It's good times. It adds to the mayhem."
Toronto-born, Mitch has been putting in "100 hours a week" cooking for both restaurants. But this is old hat for such a seasoned pro. He's been working in kitchens since he was 14 and has worked places such as Oliver's, the Royal York Hotel and the Air Canada Centre with Brad Long.
In 1997, he competed in Junior Culinary Olympics.
"I did pretty well. A couple of gold medals. That was an excellent experience. I took a personal Third."
Mitch has personally crafted the dough, which is just beautiful.
"We're proud to make out own dough from scratch." They also have spelt crust that is made by the neighbouring Brick Street Breads.
"As a chef, this is really boot camp," he says with a smile.
He's having the time of his life, making pizza and pasta from scratch.
Isn't this the kind of place you want to spend time in?