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SUGO (582 Church, at Dundonald, 416-929-9108, sugotrattoria.ca) Complete dinners for $45 per person (lunches $30), including tax, tip and a glass of vino. Average main $16. Open daily 5 to 11 pm. Bar till close, except Saturday and Sunday (July 2 and 3), 11 am to 4 am. Rating: NNN
Cucina della Nonna wasn't Cucina alla Moda when Lia Buggemi brought rustic southern Italian cooking to Church Street's Voglie five years ago.
As at Rosa Gallé and Aggie Decina's original Black Skirt around the corner on Charles before they resurfaced on College this spring, hers was a kitchen based on timeless recipes passed down from mothers and grandmothers, and not the latest industry buzzword. We're looking at you, Enoteca Sociale, Briscola, Hey Meatball et al.
Just this January, Voglie morphed into Sugo. "No one could pronounce it," laughs owner/chef Buggemi.
The new name might be easier on the tongue, but the retro Sicilian card served on its two garden terraces - one of them cheek-to-cheek with chichi Fuzion next door - has never been tastier.
A basket of napkin-wrapped slices of Ace Bakery baguette is first to arrive, followed by spouted bottles of superior olive oil and balsamic vinegar for mopping and sopping. Sugo's Caprese salad ($12) sees alternating layers of vine-ripened Roma tomatoes and creamy fior di latte on a bed of organic greens doused with nutty basil pesto and a splash of buttery oil.
Olives incassati ($7) turns out to be a trio of deep-fried house-made Casalinga pork sausage meatballs stuffed with green olives stuffed with salty diced pimento. Calamari ($12) comes perfectly à point, its light, feathery batter sweet with oregano, a dip of spicy peperoncino pepper aioli on the side.
Irregularly shaped pizzas show up dressed with Buggemi's classic family-recipe San Marzano tomato sauce, crumbled sausage, local ricotta, fire-roasted red peppers and house-pickled peperoncino chilies (the Calabria, $15), their cracker-thin crusts made with the same imported Tipo 00 flour used by Pizza Libretto and Queen Margherita, the mark of a true Neapolitan pie.
Buggemi gladly switches out the peppery sausage that accompanies her just-like-Mom gnocchi Matriciana in house sauce for the beefy veal meatballs, snippets of basil and fresh shavings of sharp Parmigiano that normally come with made-from-scratch spaghettini (both $16).
And what better way to finish than with textbook tiramisu ($10), a massive brick of house-baked ladyfingers lashed with chocolate, mascarpone, Marsala and Illy espresso?
"People want regular food that's well made and doesn't have a lot of crazy ingredients in it they can't pronounce," says the one-time owner of a restaurant called Voglie. "They want to feel full. That's the Nonna concept - no one gets up from the table hungry."