Grazie Ristorante
By Randi Chapnik Myers

The lucky break

When Joe Brancatella was growing up, he had lots of friends from different cultures. “I’m from a big Italian family that loves to eat and at my friends' houses, I discovered there's a whole world of food from different cultures out there,” Joe recalls. His culinary interest just grew and, at 19, he enrolled in the Chef’s Apprentice program at Humber College. To make extra cash, he took a job as a limousine driver on the side.

One night, after Joe mentioned to a passenger that he was training to be a chef, the man introduced him to a friend, Franco Prevedello. Franco was the owner of Toronto's "it" restaurant at the time, Pronto, and he offered Joe a job. “I had the great privilege of working with two great chefs,” says Joe, referring to Raffaele Ferrari and Arpi Magyar. As luck would have it, Joe would also get the chance to work with a young Mark McEwan, who bought Pronto before opening North 44 nearby.

It’s got a fun, casual atmosphere that’s noisy and boisterous, just like the scene at a big Italian family meal, where there’s great homemade food and opinions flying in all directions. - Joe Brancatella, co-owner
Joe and four business partners are the brains behind Grazie Ristorante.
Joe and four business partners are the brains behind Grazie Ristorante. Photo by Carlos Avalos

A family affair

In 1990, after a trip to Italy to learn more tools of the trade, Joe decided to open a good old-fashioned Italian restaurant in Toronto with Louie Granicolo and his mother-in-law, Rosa, joining him at the helm. The question was: where?

At first, the search was discouraging. A few lease options in various areas of the city fell through before Joe took over a friend’s space at Yonge and Eglinton and called it Grazie Ristorante. Soon, the new Italian restaurant on the block became known for its line-ups out the door. Four years later, after bringing in four partners – a friend, two brothers and a cousin – Joe moved Grazie to a bigger 3,200 square-foot space just five doors north.

Grazie Ristorante is a family restaurant like no other. “It’s got a fun, casual atmosphere that’s noisy and boisterous, just like the scene at a big Italian family meal, where there’s great homemade food and opinions flying in all directions,” says Joe. The vibe hearkens back to the Sundays of his childhood, when you’d wake up and there was nothing to do but hang out with the family and enjoy the best meals.

Grazie Ristorante serves a variety of pasta dishes.
Photo courtesy of Grazie Ristorante
Grazie Ristorante serves shrimps and clams in an oil and garlic sauce.
Seafood lovers can enjoy shrimps and clams in an oil and garlic sauce. Photo courtesy of Grazie Ristorante
Grazie Ristorante serves a variety of dishes.
Photo courtesy of Grazie Ristorante

Traditional favourites

The clientele at Grazie love the neighbourhood feel and crave the fresh, delicious food. The menu is loaded with traditional choices, from antipasti to personal 12-inch pizza options to pasta dishes categorized by four types of sauces. “No matter what your taste is, we have it,” says Joe, pointing out that everyone seems to have their favourite dish. Inspired choices include the Elena pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella, grilled chicken, spinach and goat cheese, or the Assisi pasta dish featuring fettuccine served with tomato sauce, mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes.

According to Joe, the main feeling at Grazie is "comfortable." There are warm wood tables and paintings by local artists for sale on the walls. The bar is stocked with wines at different price points that pair really well with the restaurant's delicious meals. And you can’t leave without dessert – especially the tiramisu, which is made by Joe’s mom in the kitchen. “But remember to order it early or you may be out of luck,” warns Joe. “So many people love it, we can’t keep enough in the fridge.”

Close menu
Subscribe to YP Newsletter