“Would you like to try a pizza?” asks chef Mark McEwan as he stands in front of the wood-burning oven at his newest restaurant, Fabbrica, located in the suburban Shops at Don Mills. “It’ll only take 90 seconds, and we can eat it at the bar.” Never mind that he’s expecting dozens of guests for a preview dinner or that he also has to head downtown in an hour or two to do his second book signing this week; McEwan sits down and shares a salsiccia pizza (lamb sausage, caramelized fennel, mozzarella) with us like it was a lazy Sunday afternoon.
McEwan is used to having a full plate. Last month, for example, he released his first cookbook, finished filming the first season of Top Chef Canada (it’s set to air in the spring), oversaw a TIFF party for the cast of The Town, promoted a celebrity charity cook-off, kept an eye on his year-old grocery store (McEwan), watched over three of the city’s top restaurants and prepared for the opening of his fourth.
Fabbrica’s concept: traditional Italian—the menu has the requisite antipasti, primi and secondi headings—with a push on Neapolitan pizzas. Wood-burning brick oven brought over from Naples? Check. Roma tomatoes from the San Marzano valley? Check. Hand-milled flour imported from the home country? Check. Executive chef Rob LeClair sent to New York to train under the Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani? Done and done.
“Simple Italian is always the hardest to make because it’s either perfect or it’s not,” says McEwan whose culinary background is French. “I like regional food rather than big tasting menus. Just give me three things on a plate, not eight.”
The space was designed by Giannone Petricone Associates, which has made urban-rustic Italian restaurants its bread and butter: Terroni, Osteria Ciceri e Tria, Il Fornello on Church. It’s a breezy, sun-drenched piazza in the front and a dimly lit setting with geometric motifs in the back. Bearing in mind the restaurant’s name, which means “factory” in Italian, elements of industrial design are evident in the oven’s metal and bolt façade, a decorative sewer grate on the ground and wallpaper that looks like an abstract blueprint.
There’s also a small curing room where salumi hang from the ceiling and the walls are lined with jars of pickled vegetables. Like McEwan’s neighbouring food store, Fabbrica aims to bring quality cuisine to residents north of Bloor where big box restos currently reign. “There’s a huge market up here, and it’s an untapped market. You have a lot of young professionals moving into these neighbourhoods, and so far most of the big chains own the north end of the city.”
There are, however, limits to his expansion plan. He’s still looking—but is in no hurry—to open a second grocery store downtown. He wants to find the perfect 12,000 square feet of space. McEwan also adds that he turned down an offer to open a restaurant in Las Vegas. But he then continues to say he’s already working on a second cookbook.
“Who knows. Maybe one day I’ll finally spend a year not doing anything.”
Fabbrica, 49 Karl Fraser Rd. (at Shops at Don Mills), 416-391-0307.