MANGIACAKE (160 McCaul, at Elm, 416-260-5156) Complete meals for $13, including all taxes, tip and an Italian soda. Average main $7. Open Monday to Friday 9 am-ish to 4 pm-ish and for brunch Sunday 11 am to 4 pm. Closed Saturday, holidays. Unlicensed. Access: four-steps at door, washrooms on second floor. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Location, location, location! This industry mantra known to restaurateurs and real estate dealers describes the three most important ingredients for launching a successful eatery. They are the obvious reason why a long list of diners have opened and swiftly closed on the stretch of Dundas opposite the AGO. Why, even Agora, the art museum's own resto in its sculpture court - one of the most spectacular spots in town - only managed to open for lunch and brunch during its recently completed 10-year run.
I guess gallery-goers aren't a hungry group. But what about the scads of starving art students from nearby OCAD, the thousands of office drones brown-bagging it in the office towers along University and the hordes of hospital workers sick of the bad cafeteria food found on Bed Pan Alley? Surely, they sometimes fancy a decent $6 sandwich?
They're in luck now that Mangiacake Panini Shoppe, as it's known in full, has opened a block north of the perpetually under-construction AGO. South of busy Baldwin Village, its obscure-to-most location has allowed this casual Milan-style café to build a loyal customer base by word of mouth.
The eponymous panini ($5.95) come layered with smoky deli-style sliced turkey, smokier provolone, lettuce, tomato and spicy house pesto pipotto sauce on crisp, sandwich-pressed calabrese brushed with herbed extra-virgin olive oil. Both the Vespa (super prosciutto, creamy bocconcini and fresh basil) and the Top Gigo (melted Brie, sun-dried tomato and arugula, both $7.50) on Riviera Bakery's rustic ciabatta get the same delicious grilling.
Pair them with a very good soup ($2/$3.50 à la carte) - creamy sweet potato purée slung with chickpeas - or a commendable though hardly correct Caesar ($2.50/$4.95/$6.50). Most days, owner-chef Martin Szajer also offers calzone ($xx), his vegetarian version loaded with large leaves of wilted lettuce, cubed Italian eggplant, plump seedless tomato pulp, bell pepper and lotsa mozzarella, its upper crust thin and crisp, the bottom doughy and firm. There's a terrific daily pasta special, too - say, a high, white-walled bowl of penne drenched in Parmesan, good olive oil, a fresh spinach leaf or two and a dense chili-spiked tomato concassé.
The set-up's unusual, too. Housed in a well-worn Victorian, the café's prep kitchen is located upstairs so staff are constantly on the go. It's self-serve, too, which isn't a problem during off-hours, but come lunch the joint can get chaotic.
I ask Szajer if his resto's potentially contentious name ("Mangiacake" was the insulting name given by local Italian-born construction workers back in the 50s to describe their English-speaking bosses' predilection for sandwiches made with North American white bread) has raised any eyebrows.
"Most people find it humorous," says Szajer, who laughingly describes himself as a Jew-Wop. "Only one person has complained, and he was Italian."