La Bettola di Terroni
La Bettola di Terroni, aside from the yet to open Summerhill location, is the most recent addition to the ever-expanding Terroni empire. The restaurant's website explains that in Italy, a place that is referred to as a bettola is a hole in the wall that's been around forever. The inspiration makes sense, but this casual new spot is far from an old hole in the wall, and no one's complaining.
The restaurant shares an adjoined space on Victoria Street with Osteria Ciceri e Tria . We arrive at our destination through an entrance enclosed by a glass case filled with cured meats and cheeses, a hint of what's to come once we get inside. Tiles on the floor to our right spell out Osteria, and to our left La Bettola. At 6:30 p.m. both locations are already bustling with what looks to be predominantly an after work crowd from the area. Upon greeting us, the hostess immediately explains that she won't even try to seat us at Osteria as it's already full. Thankfully we're here for La Bettola, which still has a vacant table or two.
The atmosphere at La Bettola is very lively, and from our seats we watch servers run back and forth purposefully while crowds of people drink and dine, voices buzzing over top of a steady stream of Motown being played by a live dj. This space shares the rustic appearance common to all Terroni locations, but with a hint of modern sleekness thrown into the mix.
From a list of classic aperitivi, mainly campari or aperol based cocktails, we opt for the aperol spritz ($10), a refreshing mix of aperol (think campari but sweeter), prosecco and soda. La Bettola also offers a comprehensive list of Italian wines, and eventually we switch to the aglianico ($30/half litre), a red from Campania that arrives in the familiar, ill-pouring ceramic jugs.
La Bettola describes their menu as Terroni's greatest hits, and indeed, some items are comfortingly familiar. We begin with the antipasto della cassa ($14), a platter including tender culatello from Niagara, slightly spicy grilled zucchini and eggplant, some rich, tangy gorgonzola, a small slice of zucchini frittata, and a stuffed pepper, accompanied by three rounds of soft, warm bread. All the bits making up this platter are quite enjoyable, except the disappointing stuffed pepper, prepared with what seems to be an anchovy-laced breadcrumb filling, not particularly appealing in flavour or texture.
We decide to try a pizza and a pasta, and when I notice gnocchetti alla norma ($17) on the menu, my decision is instantly made. Pasta alla norma, a classic dish with tomatoes, fried eggplant, basil and ricotta salata, is one of my favourites, and once I see it's paired with gnocchi, there's no going back. This dish is without question exactly what I'd hoped for. Fluffy, tender dumplings in a coating of sweet, simple tomato sauce dotted with pieces of perfectly fried eggplant and topped with gratings of dense ricotta salata and fresh basil leaves is the perfect pasta. Really. This dish alone is enough to assure a return visit to La Bettola in the near future.
Upon our server's recommendation, we also order the smendozzata pizza ($16 - top photo) with tomato, mozzarella, gorgonzola, red onions and homemade Italian sausage. The crust is crisp and blistery (uncut of course) and the toppings very complimentary, the bite from the gorgonzola and red onion just right to balance the savoury sausage.
Though my dining companion and I can barely finish our entrees, we look over to the people beside us who are loudly and dramatically swooning over their frittelle di nutella con gelato ($8) and decide we can manage dessert. "You have to order this!!" one woman exclaims when she sees us looking curiously at the confection. The crispy, sugar-encrusted fritters filled with gooey, melting nutella and served with a dollop of silky homemade gelato did not disappoint. Espresso in cute, brightly coloured cups make for a nice accompaniment, though the rich crema I would hope for in coffee made at a good Italian restaurant is sadly lacking.
Terroni has its lovers and its haters, but it would be hard to criticize this meal. There's something so comforting about Southern Italian food, and the minds behind Terroni just know how to do it. La Bettola Di Terroni's menu is short and simple, and though some items are available at other locations, there are also some special items that make this particular spot worthwhile to visit. Throughout our entire meal we watch as servers whisk by with plate after plate of attractive dishes, and we leave wishing we could have eaten more. Next time.
Photos by Taralyn Marshall