JOHN'S ITALIAN CAFFE (27 Baldwin, at McCaul, 416-596-8848) Wide range of designer pizzas, pasta and panini. Complete dinners for $20 per person ($10 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a $4.50 Moretti. Average main $10. Slices for $4.50 to $5.25. Open Sunday to Thursday 11 am to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am to 2 am. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms upstairs. Rating: NN Rating: NN
This is a lament. For two decades John's has been a reliable destination, whether for a quick lunchtime slice or an after-work gathering of friends.
It's been the site of birthday celebrations and various commiserations, a date or two, business meetings and farewell dinners. The food always had integrity, the wait staff were professional, and it felt like a little bit of old Europe in Toronto.
Back in May, I spent the first balmy evening of the year on its familiar patio, where a band of charming young musicians played Roma songs and jazz standards. Their talent and enthusiasm almost compensated for our disappointment with the food.
Our goat cheese pizza was so bland that we salted it; not even a liberal sprinkling of chili flakes was enough to make it work. The artichokes and black olives had drowned in a can, and their presence caused the pesto's watery death.
Returning for this review, I hope the pasta and panini will alleviate my fear that the John's I've known is history.
Starting with bruschetta ($5.50), I begin to worry anew. I'm expecting toasted bread with garlic and olive oil augmented by sun-dried tomatoes and crumbled goat cheese, but what arrives is reminiscent of one of those Kraft recipes for party spreads that used to be on TV.
The panino ($7) is not a grilled sandwich, and its prosciutto is not thinly sliced cured ham. It resembles fatty raw bacon and resists mastication. The meat lasagna ($9.95) is no more interesting than something out of the frozen food section at your corner store.
Disappointed again, we don't even care enough to move indoors when the rain begins and pours off the awning onto our plates. The abandoned sandwich, sitting in a puddle with its contents spread out for inspection, elicits no concern from our waitress. As she takes it away without comment, I tell her it's dreadful, but she doesn't know the meaning of the word.
She does, though, understand "disgusting" and removes the item from the bill.