2011 has been a big year for ephemeral eating in Toronto. There was the (sort of) rise of food trucks, the smash-hit Toronto Underground Market and, of course, pop-up restaurants. The latest of these is Fidel Gastro’s, a one-man sandwich operation that’s the brainchild of Italian-born 27-year old Matthew Basile, the self-appointed leader of Toronto’s “sandwich revolution” and, not surprisingly, an ex-marketer.
While his pop-up has only just come on scene, Basile’s Fidel Gastro brand had been in development for a year and a half. “Building brands is something I’ve always had a knack for,” Basile told us. “I thought of Fidel Castro and, for whatever reason, I changed the C to a G and I was like, I think I have something here!” Basile initially wanted to open a 1,000-square-foot storefront, but he soon found the risks involved with starting a business from scratch were too much. Instead, Basile took a $180,000 idea and made it work for $5,000 as a pop-up sandwich shop. Signatures offerings include the Havana Club (ham, beer- and cilantro-marinated pulled pork, cheese, caramelized onions and chili aïoli) and the Cuban Mac, a carb-happy beast that features fresh-baked macaroni and cheese, spicy pancetta and sausage from The Butcher’s Son (whose commercial kitchen Basile uses), all tucked inside a “Cohiba” bun, made especially by Cobs Bread. Basile admits that the combinations are unusual, but insists they go through his highly trusted panel of taste testers, one of whom is his high school friend Andrew Martino, better known as the drummer from Down with Webster.
Basile notes that Fidel Gastro will eventually make its way to a food truck or go brick and mortar (he confessed to us he’d like to see a Fidel Gastro in every major Canadian city where there is a university). For now, though, he’s content to work the pop-up and private party circuit. His most recent appearance was at a pop-up last week appearance at Mercury Espresso Bar with Steve Shienfield (Tuxedos and T-shirts Catering and Personal Chef ), where he debuted Ole!Ole!Ole!, a spicy poutine and bacon sandwich. “I quit my job two months ago to do this,” he told us. “I was up for a promotion, but it didn’t matter what I was going to be offered; I needed to create this.”