Negroni in Little Italy is the latest addition by the celebrated duo behind Sidecar. At the helm of this hip new paninoteca is the talented Melissa Halloran, a recent grad from George Brown. Together, the team is raising the bar on College Street with their deft sense of quality food at affordable prices.
When I'm craving Italian, Little Italy is the last place that comes to mind. Over the years the area has lost its appeal, as the standards of food, service and prices have curbed any desire to venture out to this hub of mediocrity. Sparked by Little Italy's potential, co-owner Bill Sweete came up with Negroni's simple concept: Fresh paninis at reasonable prices.
On a rainy weekday evening, we pull up to a table looking out on to the street. It's been years since I've been to this part of town after dark, but I somehow remember it to be much livelier even with the rain. Inside, the restaurant is charming and uncluttered. Converted synagogue pews, along with original movie prints from the 60's add quirky twists to the otherwise understated space.
To Italians, "panini" is just Italian for "sandwich", however one glance of Negroni's menu shows that this panini shop aims to up the ante on this lunchbox standard. Offering a range of tempting starters and affordable wines ($20 bottles!), this place is equally appropriate for a casual dinner as it is for a quick bite at noon. We start off with tomato, bufula mozzerella, fresh pesto salad ($14). The oven dried tomatoes are juicy and flavourful, a perfect match to the creamy fresh cheese and aromatic pesto. The carnivorous charcuterie plate with wild boar cacciatore, bregaola and proscuitto ($12) fails to impress, but nonetheless satisfies. The wild boar lacks in gamey taste and the variety of meats seem to blend into each other. The tangy pickled eggplant is a welcomed palette cleanser after the salt cured meats.
Our "Italian B.L.T," pancetta, arugula, oven dried tomato, lemon garlic mayo panini ($10) is delicious! The ingredients are fresh and offer a great range in texture, while the lemon garlic mayo gives a pleasant citrus aroma. The segovia sausage, fontina, slow roasted onions, sun-dried tomato pesto panini ($11) is a meatier option. The locally-sourced sausage is tasty, however matched with the other soft ingredients results in a mushy interior.
Spoiled by a sampling of all the desserts on offer, we dig in despite ourselves. House made espresso-chocolate ice cream gives a potent caffeine kick, while the velvety vanilla panna cotta with blueberry coulis is divine! The star of the night, however, is the Strawberry, Nutella, Marscapone panini. After two entire sandwiches and other bread-accompanied items, we are not looking forward to yet another panini. But with one bite, we are hooked. The toasted ciabatta dusted with powdered sugar is instantly transformed into a befitting dessert, with strawberries, ooey gooey marscapone and nutella.
Our meal at Negroni lightens my perception of this neighbourhood. While there are many other destinations for classic Italian fare, Negroni in the heart of Little Italy will definitely come to mind when I'm in need of a panini.
Photos by Claudia Lama