Cantina Mercatto brings the Tuscan countryside to the St. Lawrence Market area
Looking for a place to close your next deal? Let ‘Power Lunch’ be your guide to the most delectable spots in the city. The latest from Mercatto Hospitality, Cantina, continues on the group’s established legacy of veritable Italian dining.
Location: 20 Wellington St. East, Toronto, ON M5E 1C5
Must-try eats: Executive Chef Doug Neigel recommends the stracciatella with watermelon, preserved zucchini, spiced cashew, and vincotto.
Libations: Try the best bellini in Toronto — as per the cocktail menu — made with prosecco and fresh white peach purée from Village Juicery, and presented the way Hemingway and Capote would have sipped the original at Harry’s Bar in Venice.
Where to sit so you’re in-and-out in 60 minutes: Pull up a seat at the ornate Bar Maxime — with gorgeous dark wood finishes — near the entrance of the restaurant.
Walking into Cantina Mercatto is an assault on the senses in the best way possible. Like happening upon a bustling open air market in Italy — after turning the corner at Yonge Street, the restaurant’s vibrant energy is palpable and infectious.
Designed by Studio Munge, the restaurant is Mercatto’s biggest ever with 200 seats in 5300 square feet of space. Mercatto’s much smaller first location on Toronto Street, only a few blocks north, served its last plate in May 2018. Three weeks into their opening in the St. Lawrence neighbourhood on a sunny afternoon in December, nearly every seat was occupied.
“In the original location for 20 years we were pretty close to St. Lawrence. I think we’ve gotten just close enough now that we’re in the family,” executive chef Doug Neigel says in an interview with Bay Street Bull.
Large floor-to-ceiling windows shine light into the dining room where a mural of a five feet tall lemon-grasping octopus occupies the farthest wall. The mural is a bespoke creation by Candice Kaye, who was inspired by the Tuscan countryside, and the motif carries through elsewhere in the space (inlcuding the ceiling) where octopuses and other creatures of the sea are surrounded by cascading citrus fruits and vines.
Stocked with all the classics — familiar plates available at most Mercatto locations around the city — Cantina’s menu also includes happy hour friendly snack items, antipasti and many vegetable-forward dishes.
About the size and variety of options, Neigel says the menu explores simple food that is more complex behind-the-scenes. Of note, the cavatelli features a house-smoked rabbit accompanied by hand-made pasta.
“This menu definitely represents seven years of my time here — and the chefs that I work with,” Neigel says. “We know what we’re good at, and we’ve gotten better at that.”
The team at Studio Munge designed Cantina to resemble an underground wine cellar brought into the warm Italian sun, so it goes without saying that the wine list would have to be straight out of an Italian sommelier’s reverie. From crisp and tropical whites to bright and volcanic reds, the list is filled to the brim.
As for cocktails, the cantina sour — created with Hayman’s Gin, Campari and hibiscus-infused Lillet Blanc — goes great with something spicy like the pollo alla diavola. Or, try out the St. Lawrence Shandy with Bearface Whiskey, Cointreau, ginger beer and Brickworks cider for its own kick of spice.