Monday, 30 March 2009

For Me, It's all About the Sauce

The Husband and I are not real restaurant goers. Given the fact that we live in a city with literally thousands of dining choices running the gamut of every possible cooking style and ethnicity, this is probably to our culinary and cultural detriment, but it is a fact of our palate-challenged lives. Due to dietary restrictions (mine) and shlep-factor (usually his), we much prefer to eat at home or frequent a few local haunts nearby.  The North Jewish Ghetto is not known as a hotbed of fine cuisine, so we have become, for better or for worse, creatures of habit. One of our favourite joints has been a neighbourhood pizzeria called Dante's. (For regular readers of this blog, I would like to point out that I rarely, if ever, use real-life names for anything or anybody, but this time I feel the need to express myself fully. Who would have thought that pasta-sauce would aid in smashing this fourth wall of blogging?) 

Dante's could only minimally be described as a restaurant. The place was truly a "joint"! For over 30 years, this wholly family-operated dive has been a fixture in the area north of Toronto. It was small and cramped and there were garlic-oil stains on the threadbare carpet. The tables while clean, always rocked from one odd-sized leg and the chairs were grossly uncomfortable. Paper place mats with maps of Italy adorned the tables along with the requisite Parmesan cheese and hot chili flakes shakers. Because of its size, waiting became the norm at Dante's, so take-out was often a more palatable option. The Dante's vehicles became recognizable friends in the area and one of the big jokes about the place was that they had more delivery cars than tables. The ordering experience was something to behold or "hold". Here was a typical ordering experience at Dante's.

Dante's operator: "Thank you for calling Dante's. Please hold!"

The Husband: "I have been holding for 15 f%*&@^g minutes!!!"

Dante's operator: (15 minutes later)" Thank you for holding. How may I help you?"

The Husband: (after placing the order) "How long will that be?" 

Dante's operator: "Well we are extremely busy this evening. (They were extremely busy every evening!) I would guess anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours!"

The Husband: "Ok, then!"

Why would we wait for up to 2 hours for pizza and pasta from a joint that is less than 5 minutes from my house? It was all about the food and especially the ambrosial tomato sauce. The food was to die for. The pastas were heavenly, in portions large enough for a family of four, the pizza divine (The Ying to the Lil Bro's Yang would often trek 1/2 hour out of her way to the northern part of the city in order to retrieve a pizza for her family) and the salads and sandwiches out of some other-world recipe book. For me, it was all about the sauce. If I could have figured out how to mainline the stuff, I would have. And then, the unthinkable happened. Dante's went upscale.

A year ago, we in the neighbourhood became aware of a new and decidedly un-Dante's like menu. Gone were many of the take-out favourites, (although you can still get some of the pastas at the eat-in restaurant) every pasta came in platter sizes that were ridiculously priced, the salads were generic and the pizzas bland. The food began arriving cold and wilted and the sauce seemed to have lost its zing. The prices have gone up while the quality of the food has decreased. The money seems to have been spent on sprucing up the restaurant. Gone are the rug stains and paper place mats, only to be replaced by a wine menu, soft lighting and wooden flooring. They have also opened up a second location. Recognizing that change can be difficult, The Husband and I have attempted to remain loyal to our favourite joint, but our last meal there on Saturday was truly our last. The pasta was cold and the chicken greasy. The salad looked like it was 2 days old and the sauce so very disappointing. When The Husband attempted to send an e-mail complaint, he was greeted by an automated response that was obviously being re-directed to a corporate hack. They still have not responded to his concerns. We think that some larger restaurant entity has bought a huge chunk in the family business and is now controlling the show. How very sad. 

Dante's was one of those places that was a constant; a neighbourhood landmark that remained for decades despite bad economies, changing food tastes and diets. In their zeal to clean up the location, they forgot the basic tenet of running a successful restaurant-"IT'S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD, STUPID!!!"


  1. Barbara Hinnecke Frisz30 March 2009 at 12:32

    If you are ready for a change (hard I know) try 'Abruzzos' on Yonge St, North of Hwy 7....defintely a joint...that we like

  2. Thanks Barb,
    You are in good company. A few people have recommended Abruzzos. I think that it might be worth checking out.

  3. Your story is so similar to one I heard last week about Dante's. I would have to agree with all your comments. I think that a lot of their regulars have stopped going and have made the switch to Abruzzo's, which of course is still a "joint" but the food is good and well priced. It is Dante's loss, although they may still have a 2 hour wait...that will disappear, along with their good service, good prices, and good food!

  4. No one went to Dante's for the service, the impossibility of finding a place to park, the "decor" of the restaurant, the difficulty in getting through on the phone to place an order, the long waits for delivery, and certainly not the high prices. There was simply one reason and one reason only to eat at or take out from Dante's - THE FOOD! Changing all of the other things is okay, but changing the food is just moronic. What brilliant business mind thought that changing the one single thing that made this restaurant popular would improve it? I bet that this 30 year old favourite will soon be history.