Italian-Canadian actress Paula Brancati certainly knows a thing or two about Italian culture and food AND where to find the best of both in her hometown of Toronto. Best known for her role as BFF Jenny Zalen on Being Erica , we asked Brancati for her best-kept secrets and she happily divulged. From Queen West to Woodbridge, here’s where to go for truly delizioso pasta and ‘za.
SDTC: Where is your favourite place to go for classic spaghetti in Toronto?
Paula: Nove Trattoria at Yonge + St. Clair is an authentic, family-run restaurant. The owners are wonderful and friendly and have created a menu filled with tasty and creative dishes from the homeland. Try Fettuccine Della Nonna (Nonna’s Fettuccine), it is deelish!
SDTC: Where do you find the best ready-made pasta for dinner parties or cozy nights at home?
Paula: I would skip buying ready-made and try cooking it yourself for a cozy stay-in date night! Go for a delicious imported brand – Barilla is a definite go to.
SDTC: Do you have a must-have brand of olive oil?
Paula: I always use Imported Extra Virgin Olive Oil (I’m a fan of Primo.) You can find it at any major grocery store.
SDTC: Italians are known for their large family gatherings. Where in the city would you have yours and why?
Paula: Hands down, Vaticano in Yorkville! Chef/owner Felice Vaca will come around to chat about his shared love of food and tease you with clues about his secret tomato sauce recipe. Enjoy the restaurant’s beautiful patio out front in the summer or reserve their private room in the back for a dinner party. Be sure to try their Melanzane Parmiggiana (Eggplant Parmiggiana) – it’s to die for!
SDTC: Tell us where to find the best slice of pizza in the city.
Paula: I once had a great date reconnecting with a high school crush at “The Big Slice” at Yonge + Gerrard. It’s got a very casual vibe but don’t let that fool you! “The Big Slice” certainly lives up its name with huge slices that are topped with cheesy deliciousness – and for me personally, the eating experience is chalked full of sweet memories!
SDTC: Where do you and your friends go for antipasto and a bottle of wine?
Paula: Terroni on Queen West – there are a few locations around the city but this one is definitely my favourite. Their patio is the perfect place to unwind on a hot Toronto summer night- the Being Erica cast has shared many a glass of vino over delicious antipasti once shooting has wrapped for the day!
SDTC: What about gelato? Are you a fan? Where is THE gelato place in the city?
Paula: Zaza on Bellair, in Yorkville. A cute guy working there served me my espresso the other day and though I was momentarily distracted, I could still appreciate the authenticity of the espresso, not to mention how yummy the gelato was! If ice cream isn’t your thang, skip the gelato and go for traditional Italian canoli – these are an especially popular dessert in Sicily (where my family is from).
SDTC: What is your favourite home-cooked Italian meal?
Paula: My favourite home-cooked Italian meal is simple: fresh tomato sauce with penne. September is what I like to call “sauce season” – the family gets together and makes bushels of tomato sauce to last through the winter and the following spring.
SDTC: Are there any amazing Italian restaurants in the suburbs? We want seriously authentic!
Paula: Mastro Roberto Trattoria in Woodbridge is definitely authentic! To this day, my best friend and I cannot stop talking about their Chitarrine ai Frutti di Mare (Homemade spaghetti in a white wine sauce with clams, mussels, calamari, shrimp, scallops, and king crab legs). I would highly recommend it!
SDTC: Do you have a Sunday night dinner tradition?
Paula: After dinner, cut up fresh peaches from the garden and dip them in homemade red wine! It makes for a yummy dessert. Also, in the winter, roast chestnuts to have alongside your wine. Nonna + co. spend a great deal of time getting the wine for the year just right so it’s only appropriate to sample it with just about everything!
SDTC: Romance! You have a sexy date and want to go for an intimate meal – where do you make reservations?
Paula: Pizza Libretto on Ossington is great for a first date. It’s tucked away in such a cool area of the city, with a lively vibe and arguably the best pizza in the city! Café Nervosa in Yorkville is also a fave – lots of plates to share which breaks the ice and makes for tons of flirty eye contact as you clumsily bump hands, drop your forks, and giggle while tasting your food (or maybe that’s just me?).
SDTC: What do you love most about your heritage?
Paula: I love learning about my family’s history, my roots, and how hard my grandparents worked to build a life for themselves once they immigrated to Canada with their siblings. It is incredibly inspiring. I love visiting Italy whenever possible and immersing myself in its endlessly fascinating, laidback lifestyle – it is a great reminder to slow down, put things in perspective, and take the time to enjoy a meal with friends as often as possible!
Okay, now we are very hungry.
Being Erica airs Mondays on CBC at 9PM.
~ Lindsay Tapscott