Marvellous house-made $10 pappardelle
This pasta-spinning joint is the linchpin in this up-and-coming nabe
Every once in a while a restaurant opens and captures my heart instantly. I can see myself stopping in every week, the servers, no matter their age, morphing into favourite aunts and uncles whose pleasure it is to make me happy — and well-fed. Annabelle is that place. And such a bummer that they don’t take reservations. But persist. Sunday at 6 p.m. is a good time to get a table. The downstairs is cosy, entertaining with the bustle of the open kitchen, a few small oak tables: homey. Upstairs I like better. No winter draft, more tables (two of them hightops), warm brick walls, with giltframed mirrors and antlers, and a casual vibe. One wall is black and white toile wallpaper. Neighbourhood toddlers scarf down their pasta and learn epicurean gentility. It’s all just cool enough to be the new epicentre of the up-and-coming Christie and Davenport neighbourhood.
Annabelle’s owners also own BOB Coffee Bar at Christie and Davenport. Casual hipster Italiana is their middle name.
Forget the different takes on Negronis. The two I tried (frizzante and orange blossom) were highly forgettable, a way to detract from the intensity of my second favourite cocktail.
The chalkboard menu and pasta choices change daily, but holy cow, $10 buys their marvellous housemade pappardelle with zucchini ribbons and fresh ricotta, full of flavour. And $10 also buys their splendid rigatoni with super pork sausages in rich tomato sauce jazzed with the bitter of rapini and the mellow of romano beans. Among their pasta offerings avoid only the crab cannelloni, whose contents taste canned.
I love the burrata. Who doesn’t love mozzarella with a heart of cream? The blackboard informs about the daily burrata. My fave sits on puréed butternut squash (clearly enhanced with the demon butter) with walnuts and beets. I am also entranced by shrimp and polpo with fingerling potatoes. The octopus are just slightly charred, and it’s all bathed in wonderful spicy red sauce, Annabelle’s house-made answer to Sriracha.
Spicy pork meatballs with romesco are cute little meatballs awash in spicy romesco, a splendid Spanish sauce built of puréed nuts, chilies, red peppers and garlic. For $8! You can’t beat that in Toronto.
This is a kitchen with heart. They cook with soul and passion, and they’re charging $10 for a plate of marvellous pasta! As if that were not enough, try the salted caramel panna cotta dessert. It looks like a panna cotta I might make — as if somebody had a problem getting it out of the mould, they cursed out loud and then served it anyway. So it’s all broken up in unattractive pieces. But oh the taste! Salted caramel and cream is the (animal fat) hill I could die on.
Clockwise from left: the cosy upstairs, spaghetti with shepherd pepper pesto, their daily burrata
JOANNE KATES Joanne Kates trained at the Ecole Cordon Bleu de Cuisine in Paris. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Maclean’s and Chatelaine.