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Chef Cory Vitiello is an enthusiastic champion of Toronto's culinary scene. The man behind the fast-casual empire, Flock, which focuses on rotisserie birds, sandwiches, and salads, is devoted to his favorite establishments and is eager to share his tips.
After spending 10 years running The Harbord Room, Vitiello decided to move on to new ventures. Along with Iron Chef America champion chef Rob Feenie, Vitiello helped open the newest Cactus Club Cafe restaurant location inside Sherway Gardens where they showcase modern Canadiana on a plate with an emphasis on offering sustainably-sourced seafood.
In working with an endless bounty of diverse local ingredients, for Vitiello, Toronto offers gastronomes a world of tastes, textures, and satiates all of one’s “cravable senses”. “Toronto is filled with a multitude of ethnic backgrounds and we see this manifested in the inspiration it brings chefs, their respective food and drink menus, and the endless dining options available in the city," he said.
For Vitiello, Toronto offers its citizens and visitors the brazenly bold, the mouthfuls of the multifaceted, and all of the sweet serenity to savor. Which means that an epicurean sojourn through the “6ix” is imperative. Here are a few food and drink spots chef relishes with gastronomic gusto.
Situated in Toronto’s financial district, King Taps is one of Vitiello's favorite watering holes, with over 50 local and international brews on tap, convivial atmosphere, and popular plates such as their Stinging Bee pizza. The thin crust has raised, puffy-chewy edges and is topped with soppressata salami, kalamata olives, mozzarella, plus an ample drizzle of feisty, spiced Calabrian honey—ideally washed down with a frosty pint of Ace Hill Lager. Or if with a group of friends, the lively list of cocktails provides instant gratification; the Passionate Mule is a prime example: Four Roses Bourbon saddles up with Fever Tree Ginger Beer and is topped with Drake Drank Passion Fruit Slush.
Bakerbots satiates chef’s enduring sweet tooth. He’ll opt for owner and baker Rosanne Pezzelli’s 'Everything Cookie' with peanut butter ice cream. “It hits the spot every time and for me, ice cream and cookies is a daily activity.”
It’s currently the hottest meal ticket in town with reservations being difficult to land, but owner and chef, Rob Rossi, offers hope: “We’ll always keep the bar open for walk-ins”. Vitiello added that the restaurant oozes “modern Italian flavors that are light on its heels—thanks to Rossi’s razor-sharp palette.” Tuck into chewy-creamy Cacio e Pepe spiked with kampot black pepper; and delicious sous-vide octopus that’s finished in a wood-fired oven to give the coils burnished ends and placed on a bed of cannellini beans with herbaceous salsa verde.
“Rude Dude is simple but done well. It’s like a diner-style double cheeseburger; the patties are griddle-smashed and sandwiched between a soft potato bun. It’s a three bite burger situation,” said Vitiello.
Situated in an unassuming strip plaza at the west end of the city on the Queensway, Vitiello advises that diners “get a counter seat and watch chef Mitsuhiro Kaji work his unique brand of charisma on the room.” The magic he wields with his omakase is transformative. Every dish is a masterful work of art and a painter’s palette of flavors unfold in your mouth, course after course. “The freshness of the sushi and sashimi courses is unparalleled but it’s also the food coming out of the hot kitchen that astounds. I love the Chawanmushi (steamed egg custard with crab). It’s one of the best experiences I’ve had in this city and beyond.”
Situated on the second floor of sister restaurant, La Palma, the space is punctuated with intimate lighting and features small eclectic tapas. Which is code for “anything is fair game”. The menu reads like a love letter to Toronto, which runs the gamut of Vitiello’s must-order pillowy Green Pea Falafels and Nova Scotia Lobster Rolls to Tempura Squash coils that are amply drizzled with tangy local late harvest apple vinegar sauce.
“It’s my utopia,” Vitiello said. Inside Maître Fromager Afrim Pristine’s 10,000-square-foot store is a shrine to all things cheese. “I usually just show up and put my trust in Afrim. He has a talent for tailoring to your taste buds.” However, if you’re not apt to throw caution to the wind, Vitiello offers the following solid choices: “Figaro is a must. A creamy, lush local cheese produced in Ontario. It’s mild and eater-friendly. I enjoy it with Spanish tortas (a sweet/savory cracker with a bite of anise). Twilight is another and Afrim makes it in-house; it’s his rendition of a Beemster style cheese. It’s bold, nutty, and quite sharp. It’s a fantastic snacking cheese or for grating over pasta.”