The neighbourhood around Sherbourne and Richmond could hardly be called up-and-coming. It is more as if gentrification slowly crept its way up from the St. Lawrence market and stalled at this intersection. Travel a block east or a block north and you would be hard-pressed to find more than a convenience store with a microwave to warm up a frozen burrito. How is it, then, that I could have overlooked Fusaro’s, at 294 Richmond St. East? This culinary oasis is the second iteration of the popular Italian kitchen (the other location is at Queen and Spadina); and while it has been at this location since 2010, that is roughly the same length of time I have carted my knives and chef’s uniform past this intersection to the George Brown chef’s school, oblivious to its existence.
My first venture into Fusaro’s was limited by time. I had only 40 minutes before class, and quickly scanned the handwritten blackboard. I was immediately attracted by the arancini in pomodoro sauce, a dish I had learned about in my Italian cooking course. Although they have recently cropped up everywhere (Loblaw’s take-away counter, for example), arancini are the mark of a real homemade Italian restaurant, as they are made from leftover risotto, wrapped around a piece of mozzarella and then deep-fried.
The arancini at Fusaro’s are large – roughly the size of a softball. Tearing open the crisp shell of the rice ball is a delight; the scent of the yellow rice hints at turmeric, although the wait staff is blissfully ignorant as to what the magic yellow ingredient might be. Mozzarella oozes from the centre and spills into the rich tomato basil sauce in which the arancini has been presented. As the steam subsides and the dish cools, the consistency of the mozzarella changes from soft to al dente, adding excitement to the dish. The arancini are also available with beef ragú, but why would you bother, when for $7, you can have heaven on a plate? One caveat: the fourth arancino we ordered on a subsequent visit was missing the mozzarella from the centre. The helpful server brought a dish with shavings of parmesan to replace the missing ingredient, but it just wasn’t the same. And by the way, arancini are not on the printed menu. Those in the know will find them on the blackboard.
On a second visit, I brought a dinner partner, my 20-something son. I enquired about the gnocchi and learned that they are not made in-house. Instead, I ordered La Cosentina, a pasta dish comprised of penne, roasted peppers, spinach and a creamy tomato basil sauce with goat cheese. I came to dinner hungry, but this dish was substantial enough to make me glad I had not ordered a salad to start. The choice of ingredients was harmonious and held my interest. I chose a red wine, Nero D’Avola, to accompany my meal; I felt like I had been magically transported to someone’s home in Italy. My son ordered the Cotoletta of veal, which is served with sautéed vegetables and a side of linguine with pomodoro sauce. At $15, this is one of the most expensive menu items. The veal was tender, the vegetables – red pepper, yellow zucchini – sweet and well seasoned, and the linguini perfectly prepared.
The wine list is short, which means that all wines are available either by the glass ($6) or by the bottle ($25). On this particular night, there were three reds, two whites and one rosé on offer, all from Italy. In addition, a selection of Canadian and imported beers are available for $5.50 a bottle.
The motto on the blackboard, roughly translated, means “One never grows old at the table.” Despite the motto, those with weary bones will appreciate the main floor washrooms. According to its website, Fusaro’s prides itself on its Italian home cooking, and would like to become your dining room when you need a break from the kitchen. For me, it is exactly that: my go-to dinner spot just before a class at the George Brown chef school. Its hip vibe, intimate size and affordable pricing also make it a contender for a 20-something date night. Just remember to hitch the Richmond Street bus westward if you want to hang out with the cool kids.
Twitter and Instagram @fusaros
294 Richmond St. E., Toronto M5A 1P5
Open Monday – Friday 9 am – 9 pm
Saturday 10 am – 4 pm
Wheelchair accessible, with main floor bathroom
For those working in downtown Toronto, Fusaro’s can be found on rotation in the lunch delivery menu of Ubereats. Check ubereats.com for details.