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!!!"