By: Joe Lofranco
Inspired by the New York Times Food and Dining section, we’re implementing a new feature here at the Same Page: a $25 and Under Toronto food column with an added twist at the end. Keep an eye open on Fridays for a review of this city’s best cheap food. To begin with, the problem Joe Lofranco had was where to start! Well, that’s not really a problem. To him it’s obvious, of course: we start with the Holy Trinity.
I was born in Toronto. So were my parents, and their parents before them. My family has, essentially been in the same two block area since the early 1900s. Only now, after my parents sold their place on Grace Street last year, is the neighbourhood completely devoid of any remnants of my family. But there are a few reminders of the life that once was. A few landmarks that bring back memories of the Prosperos and the Lofrancos. St. Francis of Assisi’s Bell Tower looms over the corner of Grace and Mansfield. We’d congregate there every Saturday afternoon for 5 o’clock mass and afterwards we’d end up at one of the three restaurants around the corner: Bitondo’s, San Francesco, or California. Of the three, I’d say California was The Father within the Trinity.
I’m sure to most of you, this isn’t news. If you’ve lived here for any length of time, hopefully someone has pointed you in the right direction. So this is more an homage than anything else, and hopefully we’ll catch a few of you who didn’t know.
There’s actually quite a bit of variety at California. The available sandwiches are: a chicken ($7.74), meatball ($7.08), eggplant ($7.08), veggie ($7.08), steak ($7.74), sausage ($7.08) or a veal ($7.74). You can get them sweet, medium, or hot. Hot is hot. Not weird Thai Chili Sauce hot, but hot enough. You can add a variety of toppings; mushrooms, cheese, peppers, onions, etc. They are ALL good sandwiches. All of them. But why would you get good, when you can get the greatest?
I went there with my friend Mike last Saturday afternoon and he got the chicken. I asked him what the hell he was doing: “You get the veal! Not the chicken!” He explained he always found veal in general to be too tough. I just shook my head. We sat and ate and talked. He said his chicken was really good. He was satisfied. I had one bite of my veal left. “Here. Take the last bite.” “Get outta heeere!” “No, seriously, take it! I’m telling you!” He took it. His reaction was not a surprise to me. He said he’d never had veal like that before. “Oh my God! It’s so tender!” And this guy calls himself Italian. For shame. But it’s true. That’s what you’re in for. The sauce is perfect and makes the sandwiches just a little sloppy. Just sloppy enough really. The buns are kaisers, unlike Commisso’s long rolls (which are delicious as well), and they do a great job of soaking up some of the sauce, giving the bread an added little flavour. Do yourself a favour: go get a veal. Delicious. Get a Brio with it.
The Son, as it were, would be Bitondo’s, the pizzeria around the corner on Clinton. My great-grandmother lived up the street and would routinely send my brother down the half a block to get her a sandwich, slice ($3.25) or panzo ($6.50). Their sandwiches are decent. No shame in grabbing one from there, but why would you when California is right down the street. No, at Bitondo’s you get either a slice or a panzo. Nowhere in the city has a better panzerotti. It’s outside of the dough is slightly crispy, just enough crunch to make a sound, the inside is wonderfully chewy. Inside is about 47lbs of gooey mozzarella cheese. And it really is gooey. It’s amazing. The tomato sauce is wonderful and the slight acidity of the sauce cuts the fat of the cheese perfectly. The slice is great. The crust is just thick enough, but not too thick. It’s not some shitty hipster-piece-of-shit slice with arugula or that bull. It’s not some super-thick Pizza Hut. It’s just good ol’ fashioned Italian-Canadian pizza. Cheap, big slice, perfect if you need a quick bite on the go!
San Francesco is the Holy Spirit. The Ringo of The Holy Trinity, so to speak. It’s there, it’s good, but nobody talks about it much. That’s because, despite being adequate in all it’s offerings, it’s competing against two juggernauts in Bitondo’s and California. But, there is one spot where they outshine their companions: Steak & Onions ($7.00). I don’t need to talk much about it, you just need to go try it. In fact, odds are this is the only spot, of the three, you haven’t been too. So go there first.
So Mike asked how hard it would be to make these sangwiches ourselves. To be honest, it’s both impossible and quite easy. We can make a good veal sandwich, but it’ll never be as good as California. But anyway, here’s our best shot at it.
Joe’s Veal Sangwiches
First, start with a simple tomato sauce. Very simple.
For the Sauce:
2 Cans of Tomato Juice
2 Cans of Tomato Paste
5 Cloves of Garlic
2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Grated Parm Cheese
Using a large knife, smash five cloves of garlic and toss them into a sauce pot to sauté in the olive oil for a few minutes.
Add the two large cans of tomato juice and the two cans of paste. Stir and bring the sauce to a boil. Turn down and let simmer for a few hours, reducing the sauce until it’s nice and thick, stirring occasionally throughout.
Take your Parm and, once the sauce has been simmering for maybe an hour, sprinkle some on top, not too much, and then stir it in. We’re not putting all the cheese in at once because we don’t want it to sink to the bottom and just stick there. We want it to melt right into the sauce. So sprinkle a bit in, stir, sprinkle more, stir. Be liberal with it.
The reason the sauce has no extras; no onions, no peppers, is because I want the veal the bring the flavour, not the sauce. If I were making some pasta, I’d make a sauce with more ingredients, as the pasta is merely a conduit for the sauce. But go ahead and make your own, or even buy a jarred one that you love.
For the veal:
1 or 2 eggs, beaten
Veal Cutlets – From The Loin
3 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Soak the veal in a bowl of milk in the fridge over night.
The next day, preheat your oven to 350C.
Beat your eggs in a bowl. In a separate bowl or plate, spread some bread crumbs.
Coat the veal in the egg wash, then dredge in the breadcrumbs and throw it on a another plate.
I’d use one hand for the eggwash, then once the veal’s in the breadcrumbs switch to the other: Wet hand/Dry hand.
Once all the veal’s battered, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.
Fry the veal until the coating is a nice golden brown, usually about a minute a side. Don’t overcook it! It will make the veal tough.
Remove the cutlets from the oil and put them on some paper towel on a plate to soak up some of the oil.
When all the veal’s been fried, take a a small, square roasting dish and cover the bottom with your tomato sauce. Layer a few pieces of veal on the bottom, then throw a few pieces of mozzarella on top of them.
Continue to layer: meat, cheese, sauce. After each layer, crack some pepper over it, sprinkle with a bit of salt.
When you’ve reached the end, top off with lots of mozzarella and throw it in the oven at 350C for 20 minutes.
If you want, throw the broiler on for the last 3 minutes and move the pan to the top shelf to crust up the cheese.
When it’s done, let it sit for a few minutes to cool down. Slice up your kaiser, scoop the veal out of the pan, and toss it on the bread. All done.