Franco Pronesti of The Rushton.
Address: 740 St. Clair W.
Lunch: Mon - Fri from 11:30
Dinner: Mon - Sat from 5 pm; open till 2 a.m. on Fri & Sat
Capacity: 45 (patio: 65)
Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip: $80
*** 1/2 (out of 5)
The stretch of St. Clair West on the furthest eastern border of Toronto’s Corso Italia was a sleepy one when Franco Pronesti and his brother opened Ferro there almost 15 years ago. The brothers, who had been working in restaurants since their teens, and had run some downtown clubs, persevered, and built a following for the stylish pizzeria.
Franco grew fond of the area, and eventually set his eye on a corner location just a block east, where the Di Maria Market had been in business for 45 years. The neighbourhood was changing, and he wanted to be ready to cater to his new neighbours when the opportunity came.
"A lot of great people moved into the neighbourhood here, driving real-estate prices through the roof," Pronesti says. "But there was nothing for them to eat — there were a few good places. There was Ferro, there are a few good Italian places, there’s some Mexican, some West Indian, but there was no bistro."
Some discreet inquiries with a local realtor were turned down, until the phone rang one day around two years ago. "The timing wasn’t right, but I didn’t want anyone else to come in and open another Italian restaurant, so I just signed the lease."
He promised the owner of Filippo’s Gourmet Pizzeria, on the opposite corner, that "he wouldn’t see an Italian thing on my menu, and I’ve kept that promise. I’ve just recently added two bottled of Italian wine to the wine list, but no Italian food. It was basically to complement, so if people came here and wanted Italian, they had Ferro to go to."
Franco filled two dumpsters full of junk from the Di Maria, put the old butcher block from the store front and centre, and covered the walls in layers of warm stone that evoked a post-war L.A. bungalow. Then he had to design the menu. "It was a menu of things I would eat — I like watching sports, so if I went to a sports bar, I’d have fish and chips or that burger. If I went to a French restaurant, I’d have the duck confit. I have two TVs here, so if you want to go out and watch a sporting event, you don’t have to eat that frozen hamburger or fries — you can come here and have that same comfort food, made fresh and in house."
The menu features a rich French onion soup, gooey with melted gruyère, two kinds of calamari, steak frites, a braised lamb shank, roast chicken and grilled salmon, all available as half or full orders, so you can mix and match with sides like mushrooms and onions, mac and cheese, veggie pakoras, wings, short ribs and poutine. Everything, including the wine, is priced to sell.