Forno Cultura has dropped a traditional Italian bakery onto the King West strip.
Just after the lunch rush on a humid spring day, three well-dressed twentysomethings from a nearby office wander into Forno Cultura, the recently opened, cavernous bakery. Like a lot of first-timers, they’re not certain what to make of it. Sure, it’s a bakery, but where are the croissants, cupcakes, baguettes, and tarts? From behind a well-organized display counter, a young worker plies the three with samples—chocolate and coffee biscotti, almond amaretti—that have been made with decades-old recipes. They may be unconventional treats for King West, but the goods at Andrea Mastrandrea’s new place right underneath WVRST are quick to win over skeptics.
In the works for the better part of a decade, Forno Cultura is Mastrandrea’s passion. In fact, it may be his birthright: Not only did he grow up in a bakery (the almost-50-year-old Aida’s Pine Valley, owned by his family in Woodbridge, Ontario), but as babies, he and his brother actually slept under the table in a crib fashioned from flour sacks while their parents worked nearby. And although Mastrandrea is an architect by trade, baking has been a constant in his life. “I’ve always treated architecture and food in similar ways—as part of the creative process,” the 39-year-old says. “The difference is that with baking, the development of an idea, from the conception to the end result, is a lot quicker.”
Given Mastrandrea’s background, it’s not surprising that aesthetics are an integral part of his new venture. Accenting the space’s polished concrete floors with an industrial-chic theme, he designed Forno Cultura to function as a working bakery. This means that when you come in for a midafternoon snack, you can catch a glimpse of someone de-seeding and roasting banana peppers for pizzas and sandwiches, or watch pastry chef (and Mastrandrea’s right-hand woman) Laura White manipulate a 10-kilo ball of cornetti dough. Buzzers and timers are always going off—reminders that something’s ready to be yanked out of the oven.
Much of the food has been designed to be portable: Pizza is served al taglio ($3.50), a rectangular Roman-style that’s all wrapped up (Mastrandrea refers to it as pizza a cammino, or walking pizza), while the cestini di uova ($2.75) is a crispy, handheld breadbasket filled with a baked egg, sautéed mushrooms or roasted peppers, and finished with an herb pesto. “A bakery should be a place where people come in for a quick espresso, pick up something to eat, and go. It’s a stand-up culture, and that’s what makes it different from a café,” says Mastrandrea.
Honouring time-tested recipes is something Mastrandrea takes seriously. “People in my generation were exposed to a fantastic landscape of food, because many of our parents were immigrants and we only learned to make things the old-school way,” he says. But even though the biscotti and pasta di mandorla are staunchly traditional in taste and shape, made to Mastrandrea’s father’s specifications, the bakers are constantly experimenting with new products. Take, for example, the tortini di olio di olive ($2.50), which has fast become one of the most popular items. It grew out of a simple idea: making a cake that captured the essence of really good olive oil. Once that was accomplished, however, Mastrandrea and White wanted to add a sweet component. Cacao and chunks of dark chocolate were folded in to provide richness, but something was still missing, and White, who comes from a French background, thought a salty component would round it out. Mastrandrea suggested black olives, and the moist, earthy result is curiously great.
In many ways, the concoction typifies Forno Cultura: It’s a mix of different techniques, with a nod to tradition as well as a playful spirit. And, most importantly, it’s delicious.
609 King St. W., 416-603-8305.