il covo toronto

This popular Italian spot has stepped up to become Toronto's restaurant incubator

Il Covo, a popular Toronto Italian restaurant, has become an unlikely incubator for new food projects, and is now stepping up to welcome outside businesses to collaborate with them in their space.

Il Covo is still operating as a takeout operation, but is now also home to Radio Cocktails and morts, and has welcomed Pastaio David into their space as well to collaborate on a pop-up series.

Il Covo on its own is normally known for upscale Venetian-inspired food, cocktails and an impressive wine list usually served in their dark, moody interior.

With the team's creative and enthusiastic outlook on collaboration as well as the "pivoting" others dread, Il Covo seems poised to become the next hub for incubating new restaurant concepts from within and without. 

Radio Cocktails is run by Il Covo bartender Luca Cesaretti and his wife Gina Aguilar, an opening team server at Il Covo. Both have previously bartended in Rome, Aguilar at Mezcaleria La Punta and Cesaretti at the 1920s-themed Jerry Thomas Project.

"We have always been fortunate to have such an amazing team and the pandemic forced us to get creative," Il Covo owner Ryan Campell tells blogTO. "So we created Radio Cocktails."

Billing itself as a "virtual cocktail bar," Radio Cocktails makes "nimbly crafted and ready-to-drink cocktails" for delivery. Expect bottled versions of classics like margaritas, Torontos, Manhattans and martinis.

morts is what you might call a virtual restaurant or ghost kitchen operating out of Il Covo and serving all things mortadella, inspired by Campbell's and chef de cuisine Samantha Lamanna's shared love of mortadella sandwiches of all stripes.

"We made a menu, chose a bunch for beers from my upbringing and put the whole thing together," says Campbell.

"Rumour has it burgers and pizza has prevailed during the pandemic," he says, "so I thought maybe mortadella could be the hook on sandwiches to appeal the mass but make us a little different. It's just a jolly looking piece of meat that so many people love."

If you're not familiar, mortadella does have a fun look to it, a sliced deli meat that's a baby pink colour, often studded with olives or other additions that give it a polka dot look.

The beers from Campbell's upbringing he's referring to are selections like Olde English and Labatt 50.

Pastaio David is run by David Marcelli, who Campbell says is "is one of the best pasta makers in North America." ("Pastaio" is Italian for "pasta maker".) They’re collaborating on a pop-up series that will last about a month or two before, according to Campbell, "David moves into his new secret project that he won't tell me about."

The two met back in 2012 when Campbell returned from Italy to help open Buca Yorkville. He knew Marcelli from his time as chef de cuisine at Buca on Portland, where Marcelli had just started as the pasta maker. They worked side by side for two years, and are now using that experience as inspiration for the pop-up series.

"He would make the pastas, I would make the sauces and components. Just like today," says Campbell.

"When it comes to pasta making, David respects tradition and at the same time likes to invent new shapes, flavours and textures through trial and error."

Campbell says the "concepts are working great together and are progressing cohesively, it's a beautiful thing. Prior to the pandemic Il Covo was pretty fancy and these days our main focus is to just live a little and have fun. Great food, great cocktails, easygoing vibe and a happy team. That's all we can ask for."

Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez

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