"How did you ever find this place?” everyone always asks me when I take them to Mangia & Bevi. The restaurant's mailing address is on King, but the authentic Italian eatery can only be accessed either from inside the Ontario Design Centre or through an inconspicuous, almost hidden entrance on Ontario Street. Luckily, a savvy friend of mine who works in the Toronto Sun building across the street let me in on the secret.
Mangia & Bevi is co-owned by brother and sister duo Eleonora and Federico Caldato who are from Treviso just north of Venice, Italy. They grew up surrounded by good food, both at home and in restaurants owned by friends and family, and as Eleonora says, “It is a culture of food in Italy. Everybody is into it . . . it’s part of who you are.” They both had careers outside of the food industry when in Italy and didn’t consider opening their own place until coming to Canada.
After arriving in Toronto, Eleonora attended George Brown College where she completed the Culinary Management program and immediately began working in catering, eventually running her own business that served prestigious clients such as the Italian Trade Commission and the Italian Chamber of Commerce. After building her reputation for 10 years, it felt like a natural progression to open a restaurant along with her brother in the King Street East area just a short walk from her alma mater.
Eleonora and Federico opened Mangia & Bevi in March 2005 as a breakfast and lunch place with only themselves on staff and a small menu of about 20 items, including sandwiches, salads, sweets and coffee. Eleonora cooked while her brother took care of front of house. Amazingly, the chef was 6 months pregnant at the time of opening and kept working until the week before her daughter was born. Without taking any maternity leave, she returned and with the help of her family carried on cooking while her newborn baby slept in the restaurant’s office, breathing in the aroma of her mother’s delicious food.
As the years went on, they gradually added more items to the menu, including antipasto, thin-crust pizzas, and pastas, and extended their hours to include evenings and Saturdays while also providing catering services for meetings and parties.
Vibrant antipasto platters, available at both lunch and dinner, are a mix of high quality imported items, including prosciutto di Parma, bufala mozzarella, and gorgonzola and local ingredients such as vine-ripened tomatoes and mixed greens.
For entrees, there are 24 varieties of thin-crust pizza that vary from simple ones like the Marinara with fresh tomato sauce, garlic, and basil; to the Atene that is a combination of black olives, anchovies, and red onions with an egg on top that makes for a oozy, delicious mess when cut into. The time elapsed between the oven and table is mere seconds so the pizzas arrive almost too hot to touch, with a wafer-thin crust that is both tender and crispy. After devouring more pizzas at Mangia & Bevi than I care to admit, I must say my favourite is the Burina topped with tomato sauce, chunks of sausage, thick cubes of pancetta, garlic, oregano, and mozzarella cheese.
The pasta selection is small, but excellent with the most popular being the Ragu made from top quality ground veal and pork from St. Lawrence Market. This Bolognese sauce remains true to its roots by being light on tomato but full of savoury flavour. They make it in small batches to preserve quality, so it's not always available. The Affumicata with tomato sauce, sausage, and smoked provolone is also brilliant.
For dessert, tiramisu made according to the Caldatos' mother’s recipe and exclusively with Galbani mascarpone from Italy is not to be missed. It’s light, smooth, cool, and boozy with a portion size small enough to allow for a few bacetti on the side. Bacetti, “little kisses” in Italian, are bonbon-sized dark chocolate-covered ice cream treats made by Gelati De Luxe in Woodbridge.
While many restaurants in the city are closing, Mangia & Bevi is flourishing, likely due to their quality and affordability. They are currently looking for a new location in the same neighbourhood in order to expand without leaving their loyal clientèle behind. Until then, step through the barely marked door on Ontario Street to enjoy some exceptional Italian cuisine.
Mangia & Bevi
260 King Street East (entrance on Ontario Street)