A beloved mainstay at the corner of Avenue and Davenport, modern Cantine Bar & Grill is a welcoming place for brunch, lunch or dinner. Part of the well-known restaurant family run by Joey Bersani, founder of Bersani & Carlevale, Flo's Diner and Byzantium, this Italian bistro has been welcoming diners since 1999.
Unlike many of its Yorkville counterparts, Cantine's relaxed ambience isn't for the A-list or the visiting celebrity – it's a beloved local hangout for Yorkville residents. Featuring monthly art installations in its dining space, the contemporary-styled restaurant's consistent offerings for lunch, dinner and brunch are what have made this one of the favourites of the neighbourhood. And the restaurant's has one of the neighbourhood's best kept secrets: the leather club chairs, a coveted lounging area for end of day drinks at the bistro's light-filled entrance.
At lunch hour, reservations are recommended as this restaurant is rarely empty from 11:30am to 2:00pm, thanks to the senior set, who claim this bistro as their meeting place, after shopping in nearby Hazelton Lanes or picking up fresh flowers at the restaurant's well-known florist neighbours.
For midday or evening, diners can whet their whistles with a choice of eight brews on tap, or make a selection from the extensive wine list, featuring well-known old world and new world vintages.
Highlights of the lunch menu include the Quebec Blue Cheese, Pear and Arugula salad ($12.95) the crispy Fried Calamari with chipotle mayonnaise ($10.95) or the classic Caesar Salad ($10.95), each easily shared thanks to generous portions.
Cantine's popular pastas such as the tasty Spaghettini with Tomato and Basil ($13.95) or the Penne with Asparagus and Mushrooms in lemon white wine cream sauce ($14.95) will easily satisfy a craving for quintessential Italian cuisine. A regular indulgence of many diners is the Penne with Chicken, roasted red pepper and mushrooms in a tomato cream sauce ($14.95). All these traditional Italian options are found on both lunch and dinner menus and diners would riot if any of these three options were ever removed from the menu.
Dinner time reveals a different mix of diners - from couples meeting after work for glasses of wine and antipasti to family and friends, gathering to share their stories and tasty eats.
Hearty classic entrees to consider at dinner include Pan Seared Calves Liver in a wine reduction sauce with vegetables and polenta ($18.95) or the Grilled Atlantic Salmon with wasabi drizzle and vegetables ($19.95). And for those who prefer simple fare, Cantine's list of burgers and sandwiches are inventive and hearty – like the Grilled Turkey Burger ($13.95) with numerous options for cheese, Yukon Gold or sweet potato frites or the healthy choice of salads.
But for many regulars, it's the brunch menu that keeps them returning (regulars aged eight to 80 are easily spotted around any table) – especially for the classics like Eggs Benedict ($12.95) or tasty savoury crepes such as Black Forest Ham & Gruyere or Diced chicken, bacon, fried onion and cheddar, both served with a decadent white wine cream sauce ($11.95)
The inventive omelette options are a standout on Cantine's menu: such as the flavourful Caprese with roasted tomato, basil and Fior di Latte, the Florentine with spinach, mushroom and goat cheese or the Sweet & Savoury with poached pear, roasted red pepper and brie (all $12.95, including home fries, salad or frites).
For those who need a sweet start to the day – there's French Toast ($9.25), Waffles ($9.25) and Sweet Crepes, like Apple & Cinnamon ($10.95) or Strawberry, Banana, Yogurt with port wine reduction ($11.95). And since this is an Italian restaurant, a perfectly made cappuccino to finish a meal is always on offer ($3.50).
Yumm, waffles by Ralph Daily
The lasting presence of Cantine for almost 15 years is due to its devotion to offering a welcoming atmosphere, where classics are king and everyone becomes family.
Note - during the busy periods of lunch and brunch, service can be slow.