I’ve gotten a couple of e-mails from readers asking me for Italian restaurants with gluten-free menus in different neighborhoods around Toronto. Oddly enough, my answer has been the same each time: Il Fornello. This small Toronto chain has become an institution with nine outposts in and around the city. There’s one across from Roy Thomson Hall (with easy access to the Theatre District), another at Queen’s Quay by the waterfront, and still another in the middle of Greektown on the Danforth. It feels as if Il Fornello is never far away, wherever you are in the city.
That’s a good thing because all Il Fornello restaurants offer celiac-safe options. They always stock rice pasta (which can be substituted in most pasta dishes for an additional $1.75) and gluten-free Quejos pizza crust (for an additional $3.75). The pasta is always a good bet, and I’m particularly fond of the Pollo e Pesto dish (an excellent combination of chicken, pesto, plum tomatoes, and pine nuts). The pizza, in my experience, is a tougher proposition — literally. The Danforth location consistently gets it right, and options like the Fig Pizza (think mascarpone, prosciutto, grana padano, honeyed arugula, and figs) are heavenly. The downside of the Quejos crust is that if it’s overcooked, it becomes rock-hard, a fact I’ve discovered much to my chagrin at some of the other locations. Il Fornello also offers excellent salads (the naturally gluten-free Roma salad is a mix of greens, goat cheese, walnuts, and roasted peppers), and a reasonably priced list of wines by the glass, including several from Ontario wineries.
I recently discovered that the Zagat guides named Il Fornello as one of Toronto’s top ten restaurants. Initially, I was shocked. Toronto is foodie heaven, with chefs like Jamie Kennedy, Mark McEwan, Marc Thuet, Greg Couillard, Chris McDonald, and Susur Lee (for now — Mr. Lee is heading to New York to open a new restaurant). Putting Il Fornello on that list seemed like a stretch. But in all honesty, Il Fornello is a place I hit at least once (more often twice) when I visit Toronto. It’s not glamorous, but it offers good value for the money, and peace of mind for gluten-intolerant diners.
Il Fornello [web] www.ilfornello.com; nine locations in Toronto, including:
In the Theatre District [address] 214 King Street West (west of University Avenue) [tel] 416-977-2855
On the Danforth [address] 576 Danforth Avenue (west of Pape Avenue) [tel] 416-466-2931
At Queen’s Quay [address] 207 Queen’s Quay West [tel] 416-861-1028
North of Rosedale [address] 1560 Yonge Street (north of St. Clair Avenue) [tel] 416-920-7347