Solita is an Italian gourmet food shop that opened in Little Portugal on Dundas West late last year. Its name has multiple meanings: It's a nod to New York's Nolita, since the store is located South of Little Italy (although it's admittedly technically a bit more southwest); it also means "the only one" in Spanish and Portuguese, and in Italian, it can mean "the usual."
After months of renovation (it was formerly a hardware store), husband and wife owners Maurizio Galli and Vicki Bonomo managed to transform the space into an aesthetically pleasing place with exposed brick walls, raised ceilings and a warm, modern-rustic kind of ambiance.
Different areas flow into each other, with a main retail area stocked with pantry items and frozen goods, a salumeria/deli counter in the back, a small cafe with bar seating on one side, and a big communal table in the front that beckons people to come in and stay awhile.
Galli (whose family is originally from the Abruzzo area of Italy) and Bonomo (who is half-Italian, half-Egyptian, and originally from Montreal) want to offer quality, gourmet products to customers while maintaining affordable pricing. The goal is to maintain an interesting inventory of food items that is ever expanding.
They stock hard-to-find Pastiglie Leone chocolates from Torino (chocolate-hazelnut Giandujotto go for $1 each), dried pasta (gluten-free as well) and fresh pasta from northern Italy that's delivered every two weeks (it was all sold out when we visited, so make sure to get your timing right). They even carry the Il Molino brand of Italian-made, all-natural, organic skin and body products made with olive oil.
Ready-to-go meals like flash-frozen lasagna, arancini and ready-made sauces sold by the cube (150g of pesto goes for around $5) can be found in the freezer section, along with gelato that's made especially for Solita by a local gelateria. There are traditional flavours like stracciatella or pistachio and more adventurous ones like chili chocolate and apple pie (small $5, medium $6, large $7). Bonomo and Galli have plans to open a walk-up gelato window come summertime.
Fans of Blackbird Baking Co. will be happy to hear its goods are delivered here daily, so those in the neighbourhood don't have to trek over to Kensington for their fresh bread fix. Blackbird's bread is also used to make the panini they serve here (a prosciutto panino goes for $9).
The shop usually features a soup, deli item and pasta of the week; all the food served at Solita is made from their grocery offerings, so if you like what's in your panino, you can buy the separate components - like the Milano-imported cold cuts, which are dairy-, gluten-, phosphate- and trans fat-free, or the cheese from Campagna - and make it yourself at home.
Piped-to-order cannoli ($2.50 each) are the perfect accompaniment to a mid-afternoon cappuccino (small $3.50, large $4) that's made from a Neapolitan espresso brand called Caffen (although the Italians I once lived with told me they only ever drink cappuccinos in the morning - meh). Piping in the ricotta cream at the last minute prevents the pastry from getting soggy and keeps it crunchy, making for some of the nicest tasting cannoli I've ever had.
This is the kind of place where the breakneck pace of life slows down upon entering; it's a low-key, welcoming space to browse, shop and eat, run by a friendly couple who seem passionate about what they're doing. "We want people to experience the Italian lifestyle," Bonomo says. While she explains how it's about enjoying the simpler, finer things in life, she manages to sound both Italian and Canadian all at once: "That's why they call it la vita bella , eh."
Photos by Jesse Milns.