Last summer, Mike Nicastro told us about his family’s plans to shut down the restaurant Caffe Ventuno after 7 years and then to expand the “negozio” part of the business — the Italian food emporium — to include a traditional espresso bar and café under one banner: Negozio Nicastro.
I like to think of it as mini Eataly.
The renovations have opened up the space to take advantage of the natural light pouring in (the dividing low wall has been removed) and a small seating area remains next to the window. Customers can also seat themselves at the handsome new zinc-top bar with a grand espresso machine as the focal point. Nicastro says he’s hoping the casual neighbourhood vibe makes the place feel “even more of a little slice of Italy right here on Wellington.”
So imagine the corner café, deli, grocery, pizzeria, and pastry shops in Italy — all rolled into one. Nicastro opens up early in the morning (say buongiornoto an expertly made cappuccino starting at 7 a.m.!) and the doors remain open all day for whatever snacks, meals, beverages, ingredient,s and take-out food you need.
The decision to increase the number of take-out/eat-in prepared food offerings is a response to the changing needs of the neighbourhood, with its trendy condos and food-obsessed (and time-pressed) professionals and young families.
He says, “As time goes on and as the neighborhood continues to change, we really do hope to become a place that is frequented on a much more regular basis; sort of the “go-to” place for the locals.”
Which brings me to lunch. Sure, there’s the excellent made-to-order (or grab-and-go) cold deli sandwich menu that have always been on offer, but now we can choose from a list of pressed focaccia sandwiches (on homemade rosemary bread), including house-made traditional porchetta or a grilled cheese with caramelized balsamic onions.
As well, we can choose from the new prepared-food section in the centre of the shop — with its fresh baked focaccia, meat dishes, grilled vegetables, and salads — any item can be purchased by weight (as much or as little as you want) and served in the café. And they’ve added a selection of in-house sweets, pastries, and desserts too.
And did I mention the liquor license? So a late-day snack can easily turn into pre-dinner aperitivowith a glass of wine ($6.25) or a beer.
For my lunch last week, I had the house-made rare roast beef with provolone on a grilled whole wheat panini and a trio of colourful sides from the take-out counter: beet salad with cider vinaigrette, roasted sweet potatoes with herbs, and a scoop of fresh rotini Greek pasta salad.
To accompany my espresso (bravo for heating the cup with hot water before pulling the shot!) I chose the tiramisu cupcake — moist, not too sweet, and tasting as close to its namesake dessert as I could imagine.
Cost: Pressed focaccia $4.99-$7.99; panini classico $3.99-$6.99
Negozio Nicastro, 1355 Wellington St., 613-729-9100.