We know we are back in Toronto when we can walk around the corner from where we live and find a first-rate new restaurant. “Y Not Italian!” is very small, with 24 seats inside and just a few tables on the patio. Last Saturday afternoon, our son and daughter-in-law suggested we try it. I assumed a reservation would be necessary and was sceptical that we could ever get one on such short notice. When I phoned, they had a table for 5:00 p.m. which was just what we wanted.
“Y Not Italian!” Is an off-shoot of the larger (96-seat) EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) restaurant at 138 Avenue Road. It opened in mid-February and closed because of the pandemic less than a month later. During the pandemic, it has survived preparing take-out and also Meals for Front Line Workers, twice a week, for several local hospitals. Its menu is similar to the pop-up patio menu at EVOO, and features delicious, home-baked EVOO bread and EVOO olive oil. Both restaurants are owned by Peter and Nikole Catarino. Prior to opening EVOO in 2016, Peter had a restaurant called Spuntini (meaning “appetizer”) on Avenue Road for over twenty years.
We had three courses each and were delighted by what we ate. My daughter-in-law had the Sardine alla Griglia as an appetizer, which featured three large sardines. I had the Melanzane Parmigiana, eggplant topped with tomato sauce and cheese, which was the best eggplant I have ever tasted. Among us, we had two salads, the Insalata Caprese like no other such salad we had ever had. The Gnocchi con Formaggio was very good, and the Fettucine al Divo with chicken, roasted red peppers, white wine, sun-dried tomato pasta, and cream sauce delicious. My husband had a veal scallopini with mushrooms in Marsala wine sauce. Probably because we were having such a good time, and the early evening air was so pleasant, we all opted for dessert. My Tiramisu was a real treat. All portions are very substantial.
Prices are more than reasonable. The three-course meal for four people, without drinks and tip, came to $150. The service was excellent. The waiter was masked, the food was nicely paced, and we had no sense that we had to hurry. Because I had made a reservation, the restaurant had my name and telephone number to meet the public health requirements.
During the pandemic, take-out has been the mainstay of the restaurant. One Google reviewer noted, “the kids loved it and even better, the adults loved it as well!” Other reviewers have called it “a little gem.” The promo indicates that the take out is “good for groups.”
“Y Not Italian!” is at 538 Manning Avenue M6G 2V9, at the corner of Harbord Street. Reservations are essential for the patio. It is open after 5:00 p.m. to 9:00, Tuesday to Sunday. The telephone number is (416) 546-7576. Delivery can be ordered through Uber Eats.
Ziggy’s at Home offers the epitome of good taste in furniture, design, lamps, housewares, bath goods, and gifts. Modern and eclectic, proprietor Julie Fass shops the world for her unusual and elegant stock.
Bath and beauty products, Lampes Berger, and BacSac outdoor planters from France, Fatboy chairs and Secrid wallets from Denmark, Chilewich indoor-outdoor carpets from the United States, Sloane loose leaf teas, Cate and Levi stuffed animals and puppets, EvJewels from Toronto, a range of lighting… a huge variety of quality products are found in the store and on her website.
Customers often browse the Ziggy’s website, then visit the shop to enjoy the best of personal service. Furniture pieces in her store are samples of lines available through catalogue order. As part of the personal service she provides, Julie will help source exactly what her customers want, and send them to the manufacturers’ showrooms to see for themselves. Complimentary gift-wrapping is an added touch of care which is much appreciated.
When Julie Fass opened her business ten years ago, she gave it the nickname of her grandfather, Zelig Fass, to honour his history and the family tradition of personal service in retail sales.
For 50 years, until just before Zelig Fass died at the age of 91, Fass Leather Goods at 794 College Street was the place to go for purses, wallets, luggage, and briefcases. Ziggy Fass and his wife were Polish Jews from Krakow who had escaped to a displaced persons camp in Russia, and then immigrated to Toronto with their son after World War II. Initially, they operated the store in the front half, and lived in the back. They made holsters for the RCMP, medical sample bags for the pharmaceutical industry, and briefcases for Grand & Toy. As the business expanded, the family moved upstairs.
Although the family ultimately moved to the north of Toronto, the shop on College Street remained the centre of family activities. Mrs. Fass had been the salesperson working the front of the store and she knew all the customers. After she died in the 1970s, the grandchildren and their cousins worked in the store on Saturdays and Sundays, helping their grandfather. Julie remembers that her grandfather always had work for them to do. Once, when she was very young, he gave her a jar of keys and asked her to find the key that would fit the lock he had. An impossible task? Not for Julie. See the video of Ziggy Fass in action on the Ziggy’s at Home webpage.
The style has changed, but the passion for customer service remains the same. Julie Fass is a board member of the local Promenade Business Improvement Area, and is as determined as her grandfather was to make the retail shops on College Street a destination. The store hours are Monday and Tuesday 11:00 to 7:00; Wednesday to Saturday 10:00 to 7:00 and Sunday 11:00 to 5:00. The shop’s telephone number is 416-535-8728.
Monday (April 7th) felt like the first day of spring in Toronto. After the longest, coldest, most miserable winter in recent memory, spring is finally here… nearly three weeks late. At 7:00 in the morning, the sun was shining, the air warm, the birds singing, there was no wind and it just felt like spring. So much so that, for the first time in months, I actually left my car at home and walked through Little Italy to the Y. Ah, the joy of walking again in the early morning. I saw my first robin, and the crocuses are coming out in the community garden at the corner. A mother rode by on her tandem bicycle with her child peddling along behind. My comment: “Great pace.” Her reply: “Feeling great.”
At the Y, everyone felt the same way. Dana, our noted aquafit instructor, put us through our routines, did our stretching exercises, and then bid us enjoy “the first day of spring.” In the change room, one woman mentioned that she had given up the T.T.C. and come on her bicycle for the first time since last fall. Another was wearing long dangling Spanish-style earrings. When I admired them, she said that since it was now really spring, she could give up her hat and wear her earrings instead. We all had a spring in our step (I know, a terrible cliché), a smile on our faces, and were inexplicably friendly one with the other. How we have all longed for spring to come.
Walking home, I had a chance to rediscover the neighbourhood after its long winter hibernation. There seem many more stores with windows covered in paper, a sign of shops come and gone. But there are many new pop-ups as fifth- or sixth-floor additions to the older buildings on the blocks. These have large windows and big balconies and must be new luxury condos or rentals, built to take advantage of the downtown location and the great views. I knew there were such new residences built over the medical-dental building at the corner of Euclid and College, but I hadn’t before noticed the equally large dwellings built above the popular Chiado restaurant further west. They add to the residential densification which city planners are so anxious to promote. When luxury properties sell for many million dollars, and rents are several thousand dollars per month, is it any wonder that landlords along College Street are looking to capitalize on the value of the air rights above their properties?
Further signs of spring were everywhere. The corner of Clinton and College was once rated by Utne Reader as one of the hippest corners on the continent. In the winter, you wouldn’t notice the difference. In the spring, it resumes its status as the pace-setter for the neighbourhood. Sure enough, there was music from speakers nearby, and the Café Diplomatico and Red Sauce across the street had set out their tables and chairs in the hopes of attracting a patio crowd. The forecast may have been for rain in the afternoon, but hope springs eternal (ouch!!!). And children in the Clinton school playground were blowing bubbles. What better harbinger of spring is there?
By the afternoon, it had clouded over, the winds picked up, a heavy rain warning posted. And the temperature was dropping to a low of 4 degrees. As they say in Vancouver, at least we don’t have to shovel it. And maybe by the time this post goes public, spring will last all day. Hope springs… etc.