A Little Italy restaurant trades in its chef whites for some red sauce.
Even if it’s your first time visiting Red Sauce, the restaurant will feel familiar. With its mint-coloured wainscoting, soda-shoppe dinette sets, and red-and-green menus, the room is reminiscent of a small-town pizza parlour, and the playlist, pumping out Bob Marley and AC/DC, sounds like it was lifted from a retro roller rink. That makes Red Sauce a drastic departure from its fine-dining, chef-driven predecessor, Acadia—but one that owners Scott and Lindsay Selland say was due.
After the arrival of their second child, the pair viewed dining out in a different light. Date nights were less of a priority; they wanted to bring their daughters to places that were affordable and welcoming. As for their restaurant, Lindsay says, “We wanted something that represented us more.” With a flood of young families moving to Little Italy, Scott decided that it was time to “be a part of the neighbourhood, not just in the neighbourhood.”
“Acadia’s menu scared some people,” he adds, referring to the ingredients and cooking methods (dehydrated tongue-pastrami powder, say). “So [with Red Sauce], we wanted to be approachable for guests of all ages.” Both stress the importance of family-friendliness: High chairs and crayons are scattered through the room. A kids’ menu is available, but most minor diners order from the main one, which leans heavily towards Italian sandwiches and snacks. While the food has changed, the technique remains the same—some sammies even get the sous-vide treatment. “People don’t need to know how we get it delicious,” Scott says. “We just need to make sure it’s delicious when it goes out.”
It is—starting with the garlic knots ($4), a basket of soft pretzel-like balls that come dusted in sharp cheese. The kitchen offers a few ways to get your greens, including blistered shishito peppers ($5) that are the vegetable version of Russian roulette: One in 10 is fiery hot. For the main event, sandwiches come in three sizes (roll, hero, and platter), and the meaty muffuletta ($8–$14) on focaccia comes in two (big and even bigger).
The basil-inflected veal parm is a good choice, but this might be the only time when you should actually say yes to a knuckle sandwich ($9–$17). The panko-crusted pork-trotter patty is crispy on the outside, but once that barrier is breached, the meat completely melts in your mouth. Slathered with tangy tomato sauce, this little piggy is topped with spicy rabe for crunch and a hit of bitterness to balance out the knuckle’s softness. Says Scott, “We want it to be a new classic.”
There are cocktails, too, all priced at nine bucks. The Boozy Brio, the bar’s take on the popular Italian soda, comes in a glass pop bottle with a straw. A gently rummed-up caramel-popcorn float doubles as dessert “for the kids,” says Scott. (He’s kidding.) But the house specialty is the $6 draught negroni. The perfectly potent refresher is poured liberally over ice and served in enamelware, making it “indestructible for patio season,” he says. While the plan is to switch up the cocktail menu as the seasons change, the negroni “is not going anywhere,” he promises.
Open seven days a week, Red Sauce offers take-away and delivery, which explains the menu’s emphasis on sandwiches. “The big word for us is accessibility,” says Scott. He wanted something that would transport well and even improve on the trip—unwrap a chicken parm after it’s had some alone time, and you’ll see what he’s talking about. The kitchen also serves the same menu at lunch as it does at 1:30 in the morning, which means it’s popular with restaurant industry staff post-shift and bar-hoppers looking for something to help sober up. “What we’ve learned is that the food my two-year-old daughter likes to eat is the same food that drunk people like,” he says. “So the calzones are very popular.”
50C Clinton St., 416-792-6000, redsaucetoronto.com.