By YP Contributor

The King of Queen West

When Queen Street West institution Terroni opened its doors in the early 1990s, the strip between Bathurst and Trinity Bellwoods Park was one of the scrappier parts of Toronto. At the time, it was lined with old-school Eastern European businesses or small, storefront art galleries (usually with the artists living in the back rooms).

“My brother Cosimo started Terroni in 1992,” says part-owner and general manager Vince Mammoliti. Rooted in the regional Southern Italian cuisine of their parents, the restaurant originally served panini and espressos, and sold a selection of imported Italian groceries (you can still take home such delicacies as imported pasta, olive oil and San Marzano tomatoes). “I started there less than a year later,” he says of his humble introduction to the business. “I was working part-time making coffee, washing dishes while I was going to school.”

“The neighbourhood has really grown up over the years,” says Vince. “People dress a little better, they drink better wine, eat better food. At the same time, the neighbourhood hasn’t become too commercial — it’s not just restaurants, but independent shops and galleries.”

The Queen West location itself has expanded to include an open-air patio in the summer months, a second floor, and even the space in the building next door. Still, there are lineups out the door most nights. Patrons include loyal locals, chefs and chow-hounds from across the country.

Our culture is to stay true to our roots and to bring that sense of Italy to this corner of the street. - Vince Mammoliti, part-owner and general manager
Coffee, Wine, Pizza, Food, Events, Cuisine

Piece of the Pie

Consistency is a big part of the restaurant’s enduring success, but some Terroni traditions are more famous than others, such as the strict “no modifications, no substitutions” policy in effect. This includes not providing Parmesan cheese for certain dishes. Servers will not slice pizza, either. Because the restaurant works hard to source the most authentic foods and ingredients, each dish is prepared to create a specific flavour and experience. “Our culture is to stay true to our roots and to bring that sense of Italy to this corner of the street,” says Vince. “Sometimes people come in and want different things, but we want them to at least try it this way first.”

With over 25 pizzas to choose from, it’s easy to find a dish that should suit your sensibility. The most popular pies on the menu are the Smendozzata (tomato, mozzarella, homemade sausage, Gorgonzola and red onions) and the San Giorgio (tomato, mozzarella, Calabrese salami and mushrooms), named for the mountainous San Giorgio region of Calabria, from where the Mammoliti family hails.

While tradition is important, Terroni’s menu has also grown up alongside the neighbourhood. While some favourites will never change, “We evolve and try different things.” Salads change up according to season, to ensure the freshest of ingredients. New wines are constantly being sourced, and the kitchen is always experimenting with delicious desserts.

Coffee, Wine, Pizza, Food, Events, Cuisine

Reasons to Celebrate

“The root of the word ‘Terroni’ is ‘soil’ or ‘earth,’” says Vince. “Terroni are the people of the earth. Northern Italians used this as a derogatory term for people from the South, but we have reclaimed it.”

For loyal customers, that earthy charm is a big part of Terroni’s appeal. “You can come in and feel comfortable,” Vince says. “We touch on all demographics: young families and people who’ve been coming in since the beginning.” Part of the appeal is that customers can come in for any occasion. Birthday parties, anniversaries — there have even been weddings in the restaurant. “You can even come alone and sit at the bar by yourself and read the newspaper,” he says, “though you might not be alone for long.”

Coffee, Wine, Pizza, Food, Events, Cuisine
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