You might think one can’t mess up brunch, but trust me, I’ve had enough disappointing experiences to draw the conclusion that yes, one can. Whether it’s the undercooked pancake or the premature deliver of the bill, which we all know means “it’s been great, but you gotta go”, I had my share of unfulfilling brunch experiences. But this story is NOT about those times. This story is about a little Italian joint called Gusto 101 in King West.
The Scene…Located at 101 Portland Street, it’s hard to believe that the space used to be an auto body shop and although it’s been redesigned, it still retains the original exposed brick walls and steel beams. The bare cinderblock walls are outfitted with industrial-style light fixtures, and old licence plates hang on a wooden beam. The open kitchen shows off the restaurant’s centerpiece: a Tuscan-style wood-fire grill. Despite the industrial feel, the space is warm and undemanding.
The Play-By-Play…I walked in around 11:30am and right away I was greeted by one of the pleasant staff and offered a choice of tables. As my friend was running a bit late, I ordered a cappuccino and have been left to take in the atmosphere. I admit I’m somewhat of a coffee snob, and I have to say, Gusto 101 had me at the cappuccino! It was so good I had to order another…got so much done that day. Shortly after my friend arrived we placed our orders – I had the omelette with fresh herbs, sauteed spinach and fresh ricotta (11.50), my friend had the poached eggs on brioche, baby spinach and crispy prosciutto (11.50). Both were prepared just right – light and fresh. After our meal we were served a complimentary shot of strawberry and banana smoothie which was actually a good alternative to dessert. Ok, so you can’t really go wrong with a smoothie, but brownie points for the offer alone are much deserved.
As to the drink menu, if cocktails are too much for you before noon, the restaurant offers a robust selection of Italian wines and Vini di Gusto, Gusto’s own wine, which is on tap for a buck an ounce. The wine is made in the restaurant’s own winery located in the basement, where stainless steel vats of malbec and sauvignon blanc are hooked up to the taps upstairs. The operation is a branch of Vintage One, an urban winery based in the Junction.
The Wrap…Gusto is a great start to a lazy Saturday. There is no rushing you out here. The staff is attentive without being intruding, jovial but not forced. The restaurant does not take reservations, so although I had no problem with getting a table, be prepared to wait…so worth it. But with the rooftop patio opening up soon, there will be more ample opportunity to snag a table. Although there are a few kinks to be ironed out as expected with any new restaurant, I suspect Gusto 101 has the legs to become a fixture of Toronto’s Italian dining scene.