For Michael and Guy Rubino, Strada 241, their brand-new restaurant and espresso bar on Spadina, is a way for them to go back to their Italian roots (“strada” is Italian for “street” or “path”). The Rubinos have spent the past decade immersed in high-end East-meets-West fusion cuisine at Ame and Rain, which Guy refers to as “high-wire-act cooking in designer restaurants.” But it seems midlife has drawn the brothers to the traditional cuisine of their hometown, Salerno. Guy, the chef, tells us, “We’ve gotten older, we’ve become a bit nostalgic. Michael got married and had a couple of kids, and I formed a band—Curtain Call. We’re cutting a record now and we just did a tour. So we are ready for more balance in our lives.”
From the sidewalk just south of Dundas, the 90-seat spot is easy to speed right past, but once inside, the restaurant—a former Victorian glass-blowing shop—is impressive: soaring ceilings, massive timbers bolted together with fist-sized iron rivets, wide-plank floors, soft-white Italian marble. At the back of the room, the ceiling bears scorch marks from its days housing blast furnaces and molten sand. The 3,800-square-foot space is divided into separate cozy areas with their own distinct personalities, and scattered throughout is a collection of playthings: foosball, a deck of cards, a chess board that sits on the communal café table.
The menu on the restaurant side of things, executed by 13-year Rubino staffer Robert Gonsalves, is simple: salads, pastas, cured meats, rustic veggies and pizzas, all staples of Salerno. A house-made salumi plate ($12/$24) includes seasonal air-cured meats (currently, there’s wild boar and soppressata) as well as Italian cheeses and house-made peach and mustard-seed preserves. The pizzas are fairly traditional, like a classic Margherita ($12) with tomato sauce, basil and fior di latte, or the Pasquale ($15), with soppressata, roasted peppers and olives. And though Michael concedes that plenty of restaurants are doing this style of food, he believes he and his brother have an edge, and not just because of their decades of experience or their in-house bakery, which turns out fresh pastries daily for the café. “Quite frankly, I’ve eaten in places around Toronto serving a version of Southern Italian, and I think we can do it better.” In other words: it’s on.
Strada 241, 241 Spadina Ave., 647-351-1200, strada241.com