A tantalizing tale...Lately I’ve been invited to eat at a few newly opened restaurants. While food-wise it’s been a mixed plate of experiences, mostly pleasant, I will be honest, esthetically, the surroundings I’ve had to dine in had me wondering what I’d gotten myself into.
As a food and restaurant lover and a former food establishment owner myself, I understand how difficult it is to juggle the details of opening a restaurant and being ready for opening day. It’s a logistical nightmare. Not to mention that the mounting bills of said process often force restaurant owners to open their doors before they are fully ready to; a soft opening of sorts.
The idea is that a restaurant owner, gets the kitchen up and running to a degree, launches the menu (often only part of it), and opens the doors to the restaurant to start generating business while some organizational, decorative and food details are still getting finessed. A couple of months down the road, with appropriate amounts of buzz and a building reputation, the Grand Opening occurs. I get it.
It was recently suggested to me to try a brand new bistro opening in picturesque Jackson’s Point, Georgina Ontario. I’m always game to try a new eatery and I always get caught up in the energy and excitement around the opening of a new food place. So off I went, with family in tow.
When I first walked in, I thought I was in the wrong place. There were tables and chairs stacked to one side covered in paint cans, wall art waiting to be hanged and various hardware items. There were sliding door refrigerators that were yet to be filled. There was a general seating area attempted but the bistro tables and chairs were scattered here and there. I froze at the door. Not sure if I should exit quietly, I turned around to hold back the troops as they were exiting the car but it was too late. I heard a “Hello, hello! Welcome, come in!”
A lovely gentleman, Leo, with a shock of white hair and his lovely wife Sylvia, the quintessential Italian grandparents, stood beaming with arms out stretched. “Come in” they beckoned and went about rearranging the furniture to accommodate the small tribe that had accompanied me. As they wiped down tables and chairs, my family and I exchanged glances and shrugged to each other as if to say, “Well, we have to stay now.”
We were seated and the owners made apologies about the state of the dining area. They had been open for almost two months they explained and things were taking longer than expected. But the kitchen was open, they assured us and with the exception of a few items, we could order just about anything.
The menu featured typical, home-made Italian fare; Minestrone soup, veal and meatball sandwiches, artisanal pizza, a variety of focaccia, pastas and house-made gelato, espresso, tiramisu. We decided on a platter of home-made meatballs in sauce as a shared appetizer and each person also ordered their own pizza. Our hosts took our order and went about preparing our meal.
The kitchen was an open area but tucked away to the side. It was small and unassuming. There was nothing that said “restaurant” about it. I noted that there was only a regular household stove in the kitchen and in the back of the restaurant, a stone pizza oven. But that was about it.
Leo went to the back of the restaurant to make the pizza and Sylvia retreated to her kitchen where she chopped and stirred and darted about the small space with ease.
We settled into our seats and my 6 year old announced loudly that he was thirsty. “Help yourself” responded Leo, from the pizza prep area. The fridge held regular sodas, Italian sodas, chinotto, San Pellegrino Lemonade, Orangina… A nice selection. My 6 year old walked over to the only fridge that had been stocked and brought each of us the drink of our choice.
People were also starting to arrive. The small number of tables were quickly filled and some customers opted for take-out instead. Some families ordered minestrone soups and meatball sandwiches to go. A few men, just off a house painting shift, ordered veal sandwiches smothered in peppers and onions, a couple of teenagers came in for the gelato. The couple went about their business, methodically and lovingly preparing the food.
Shortly, our appetizer arrived. Two platters, not one as we had ordered, “Don’t worry about it!” said Leo. Mounded with steaming meatballs in sauce our platters were set down before us. The smell was heavenly and the taste was well, out of this world, as my little guy likes to say. They were fluffy and tender orbs of pork and veal that melted in your mouth, having been simmered in a most flavourful fresh tomato sauce. I could taste the garlic and the fresh basil. We gobbled them up tout suite and sat there wide-eyed, pleasantly surprised and even hungrier now!
A few minutes later, our pizzas arrived piping-hot from the oven. I had a prosciutto and grilled eggplant pizza topped with a handful of fresh arugula, drizzled with good extra virgin olive oil. My little guy had a margarita pizza, the others had goat cheese and sundried tomato pizza, Italian sausage and peppers pizza and one person had pepperoni, hot peppers and sundried tomatoes.
These “personal” size pizzas were what most places call a medium nowadays, a very generous amount of food indeed. The crust was thin, with just the right balance of crisp and chewy. The sauce was fresh and had the sweetness of vine-ripened tomatoes a perfect complement to the saltiness of my prosciutto and grilled eggplant. The arugula on top balanced it out with was just the right amount of “fresh”.
We all ate happily, chatting with the owners, with other customers and chatting amongst ourselves. This was to be their retirement Sylvia and Leo told us. Things were taking longer than expected because it was just the two of them. But they were going to finish the tidying up, the painting and hanging of pictures on the walls very soon and then they would do a Grand Opening and maybe take out some advertising to spread the word.
I laughed and my tribe and I all looked at each other with knowing smiles. “You don’t need to worry about advertising and Grand Openings”, I said looking around at the satisfied faces filling the tables and the small line forming once again at the door.
“Your food is saying everything that needs to be said.”
Congratulations to Leo and Sylvia. Busy owners of The Lake Side Scoop Italian Pizzeria and Osteria in beautiful Jackson’s Point, Ontario
913 Lake Drive E., Jacksons Point