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Glenn J. Nashen: Welcome home at Bistro Amerigo

    Momma’s kitchen table might seat more guests than you can fit into Bistro Amerigo but that makes this small, comfy Italian restaurant an even more special find. Located a few blocks west of the hustle and bustle on Monkland Avenue near Grand Boulevard, this little place will do any Italian Momma real proud.

    Bistro Amerigo’s owner, Steve (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

    The menu is simple and holds the essentials: from classic appetizers like Antipasti di Prosciutto, Calamari Fritti and Mozzarella di Bufala, to pasta specialities such as penne with roasted eggplant, spaghetti puttanesca and the deliciously unique fresh squid ink linguini with seafood. The ‘Terre e Mare’ menu consists of breaded chicken breast with spaghetti, cod with Sicilian olives and capers, braised veal shank better known as Ossobuco, and rosemary lamb chops with polenta and rapini. Soup or salad is included with most dishes. Moretti Italian beer is on the menu along with native white and red wine, cocktails and aperitifs such as Grappa.

    Cod and seafood ravioli

    Owner-operator Steve was inspired by his father’s culinary teachings starting at just three years old. His father taught him to keep things simple and fresh, not fancy or complicated, but utterly delicious. He always remembered his father’s teachings and eventually placed his dad’s name, Amerigo, on the marquee.

    Steve opened the “Garde Manger” (i.e. kitchen pantry) across the street from Bistro Amerigo’s current location in 2010. This little grocer and coffee shop served up classic Italian staples such as quality cheeses, tasty pastries, luscious meatballs and perfect pastas. They also carried delicacies such as Guaciale, or pig cheek, a good Roman dish. “This is an extension of our own pantry that we use in our kitchen,” said Steve. “And these items are beautiful gifts.”

    Bistro Amerigo Restaurant owner Steve and Master Chef Giuseppe (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

    After one year of running the pantry on one side of the street and the restaurant on the other Steve merged both into the current location. One of the long serving waiters, Bappi, was scooped up from the previous Indian restaurant at that address and has been with Steve ever since. Good move, as he is always friendly and accomodating. Another veteran server, Roberto, has been around the block more than a few times. Schooled in the Old Country, Roberto will give you expert advice on every dish, explain the details of each menu item and steer you toward the best wine. Michael manages the restaurant and 12 staff. “He’s like a brother,” Steve said. “It’s important to build a team that enjoy working all together.”

    Steve takes pride in this homestyle, corner store. Amerigo’s local dining experience is akin to ‘Cheers’ of 80s and 90s TV fame, because at Amerigo, “Everyone knows your name.” Regular customers make up the vast majority of diners in this wonderful eatery.

    There is a slow constant change in decorations to keep the place from getting stale or boring. “It keeps my regulars happy to see the constant updating,” said Steve, on a cool spring evening. The decor is eclectic to be sure, with framed posters and photos all with an Italian theme. Even Steve’s father’s old coffee pot hangs on the wall.

    We started our meal with the beet salad known as Barbietola. Heirloom beets on thin-sliced oranges, toasted breadcrumbs, pine nuts and ricotta salata with shaved croutons made this a delicious starter for our gastronomic evening. “Each ingredient is well thought out with distinct tastes and flavors,” my dining companion said.

    We really enjoyed the Mozzarella di Bufala. The fresh cheese was creamy and drizzled with high quality Italian olive oil. It lay upon a bed of bruschetta tomatoes with basil pesto. Next I savoured the Polpette, a juicy braised veal meatball that sat atop a thick and well-spiced tomato sauce strewn with shaved fresh Parmesan.

    Bistro Amerigo veal meatball (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

    Steve explained each and every dish is created with a precision that only a master chef could identify. At that point he let us know that he studied cooking at St. Pius Culinary Institute in Montreal. This spurred him on to follow one year in a culinary school in Italy. “It’s a passion,” said Steve. “I love what I do.”

    Master chef Giuseppe came to check on us to make sure we were enjoying each plate. It was evident that the owner, chef and waitstaff were consumed with excellent customer service and quality dishes.

    Bistro Amerigo’s Mozzarella di Bufala (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

    As the Italian extravaganza continued, I enjoyed the Baccala Fior del Mar which consisted of seafood filled ravioli with capers, black olives and pesto served with two fillets of lightly breaded crispy cod. It was absolutely delightful, sprinkled with fresh lemon.

    Bistro Amerigo’s Gnocchi in pesto sauce (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

    Next we were served a dish of Spaghetti Puttanesca with black olive tapenade, anchovies, capers, oregano and tomato concasse. The pasta was cooked to perfection with just the right seasoning. Gnocchi alla Genovese came next: potato dumplings in basil pesto and cream. Outstanding!

    Bistro Amerigo’s Spaghetti Putanesca (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

    Steve explained that they finish off the cooking of the pasta in a pan adding in a bit of water from the pasta itself to bring out just the right flavour and consistency.

    Bistro Amerigo’s Barbietola, Beet Salad (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

    Roberto insisted we try his handmade Cannoli, made with creamy Ricotta, lighter than Mascarpone. It was velvety, not overly-filling, with a sprinkle of chocolate in a crispy pastry shell made of fried biscotti. The Tiramisu is made fresh by Steve with Mascarpone and Espresso. “Each chef makes it just a bit different,” he said.

    Bistro Amerigo’s Waiter extraordinaire, Bappi (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

    We couldn’t eat another bite so Sicilian-born Roberto brought out the Grappa, an alcoholic dessert beverage. It is a fragrant, acid-based pomace brandy of Italian origin that contains 35 to 60 percent alcohol by volume . The flavor of grappa, like that of wine , depends on the type and quality of the grapes used, as well as the specifics of the distillation process. Grappa is made by distilling the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems (i.e., the pomace ) left over from winemaking after pressing the grapes. Roberto told us that this Grappa was distilled in an 18 year old oak barrel giving it a golden hue. “It’s good for you. You’ll sleep like a baby,” Roberto assured us.

    Bistro Amerigo’s Roberto serves up his famous canoli (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

    Bistro Amerigo does a healthy takeout business both from their pantry as well as orders cooked to go. With a mere 10 tables and six barstools they do not take reservations and the delicious local fare ensures a lineup on many nights. But make no mistake, it is well worth the wait to taste chef Giuseppe’s wonderful Italian dishes. Fortunately, on warm spring and summer nights the spacious terrasse seats another 14 patrons.

    The first time Amerigo stepped foot in his son’s bistro and had a meal he actually cried. Today he still shows up from time to time to make the meatballs. “Dad really likes the food here,” Steve proudly stated.

    Dishes run a reasonable $7 to $28. They also cater corporate and personal events and work with their customers to suit their needs.

    Bistro Amerigo is open seven days a week, 12 hours a day. You may not cry when you set foot in the place but your mouth will surely water.

    6127 Monkland between Hingston and Beaconsfield 514-507-6121 and on FaceBook.

    Glenn J. Nashen

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