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Brook Kavanagh and Lara Roberts's seemingly impractical Italian restaurant concept came to life for very practical reasons
Sprezzatura (216 Ossington, 437-242-5991, sprezzaturaspaghettidisco.com) is a word for an air of breezy nonchalance, a sort of Italian je ne sais quoi.
It’s also the name of a spaghetti disco (you heard me) from Brook Kavanagh and Lara Roberts, the married couple behind locavore quick-service spot Season Six.
What’s a spaghetti disco? In this case, it’s a neon-bathed takeout counter inside a tiny Ossington basement – specifically, the basement that housed Season Six’s first location – that serves up fresh pastas, antipasti, secondi (meaty mains) and cocktails to the sound of whistling synths and bloopy Italo disco beats.
When I meet up with Kavanagh, who’s decked out to match the space in rimless orange sunglasses and a lobster-embroidered button down shirt straight out of the Yacht Rock hall of fame gift shop, my first question is: “Why?”
The answer lies in one magical night in Florence – and in Kavanagh’s lifelong love of Italian food.
Kavanagh started his career in Italian butcher shops at the tender age of 14. After logging 11 years at La Palette (where he met sommelier Roberts, who was a customer dancing on the bar one night), his career took him to Hong Kong, where he worked as a corporate chef heading up a number of brands. A particular favourite was a “quick-service, affordable luxury, Italian noodle bar – the kind of place where for $20, you get an amazing plate of noodles in three minutes.”
Kavanagh and Roberts married, and they embarked on a long-awaited Italian honeymoon. In Florence, the couple stopped by Pasta Fresca, a pasta bar in the Mercato Centrale.
The meal made a lasting impact on Kavanagh. “There’s like six pastas to choose from and within two minutes, you’re chowing down on a paper plate of perfect noodles at a counter, sitting down in the middle of the market shoulder to shoulder with strangers.”
That night, he found himself rubbing shoulders with the locals in a very different way. A long-time dance music fan, Kavanagh had wanted to find a retro Italo disco party while in town.
“Couldn’t find anything,” he says. “It’s like, Italians don’t do disco that much.”
(As a lifelong Italian, I can confirm that they also don’t really do irony. If they’re pumping the Eurobeat tracks of yesteryear or wearing spandex and track suits, they’re doing it because they objectively think it slaps, no winks or nudges needed.)
What Kavanagh did find on Florence’s events calendar: A rare live appearance by Giorgio Moroder at the Nelson Mandela Forum. The legendary synth maestro, then in his 70s, played to a crowd of thousands, “many of whom were, like, Italian grandmothers standing on their seats clapping.”
Accompanied by singers and a live orchestra, Moroder ran through all the hits, from The NeverEnding Story theme and Donna Summer’s legendary track I Feel Love to Cat People, with footage of David Bowie piped in on the big screens. “It was beautiful,” Kavanagh recalls. “Just beautiful.”
Brook Kavanagh is Sprezzatura’s co-owner/DJ.
Fast-forward to April 2020, and the duo had returned to Toronto to open Season Six, their first official outing as restaurateurs. “Everyone was like, ‘Oh, you’re opening your restaurant at the beginning of a pandemic?’ You’re done.’”
But Kavanagh and Roberts were committed to their vision of sustainably-sourced, home-style chef-made meals at a reasonable price, and they did it by limiting real estate and staffing the place entirely themselves. “For the first year, it was just the two of us busting our butts out of a 250-square-foot space, feeding 150 people a day,” he says.
It got so busy, they had to expand – and the perfect space soon manifested itself just down the street on Ossington. The new Season Six was 10 times the size, with an enormous commissary kitchen, and Kavanagh and Roberts soon realized that to justify that kitchen, they would need a second dining room.
“Lara said, ‘Why don’t we do a spaghetti disco?’ And the idea stuck,” he says.
Thus, a seemingly impractical concept came to life for very practical reasons. But according to Kavanagh, the clandestine basement-party vibe that Sprezzatura now fully luxuriates in was always there, waiting to be drawn out. Last year, when COVID loosened its grip on the province, Kavanagh would sometimes invite friends over in the basement for evening shindigs.
“Just something about the space felt right,” he says.
A fateful Giorgio Moroder in Florence sparked the idea for Italo disco resto Sprezzatura.
Now, on top of takeout service (and a little patio table set up streetside), you can also enjoy the pasta party hall as it was truly intended, via private bookings of small groups.
“Sprezzatura is living its best life when it’s operating as a spaghetti disco,” Kavanagh declares.
“We set up an open bar so it’s sort of like you’re getting bottle service. We set up an antipasti platter, and we cook noodles as the night goes on, and we have a DJ that plays Italo disco.”
The concept has proven popular with people who want to recapture some of that club feel during COVID, but aren’t yet comfortable partying with strangers. Kavanagh says they’re already booked for private gatherings through October.
Many nights, you’ll find Kavanagh himself on the decks. “I’m not a DJ, but a lot of my friends are, and they’ve taught me over the years, so now I get to DJ,” he says.
Wait – was this all just a ploy just to get to spin at parties?
“That’s what my friends would say. They’re all making fun of me for creating this elaborate scheme,” he laughs.
“Sometimes, you have to have a 25-year career in food so you can DJ for 15 people.”
Italian classics like Campari and Lambrusco spritzes feature heavily on the cocktail menu, along with fresh, simple concoctions like a chili margarita.
Kavanagh’s twist on a crowd-pleasing blush sauce is the rigatoni diavola: Crushed San Marzano tomatoes, good cream, and nduja sausage from Calabria, with a little Calabrian chili paste.
The tonnarelli cacio e pepe is a pitch-perfect take on the official dish of Rome: Just pecorino romano and pepper, emulsified with the pasta water the kitchen produces in ample amounts and tossed with fresh tonnarelli (a long noodle with squared-off edges).
Kavanagh wanted to make a smooth, non-oily pesto; his solution was to use tons of toasted pine nuts, slowly emulsifying them with water-soaked herbs to create a creamy (and dairy-free) sauce that stays light and airy instead of splitting. Here, it’s served on fusilli with cherry tomatoes.
Kavanagh’s pine nut pesto also accompanies the burrata dish.
Meatballs come three to an order and topped with a generous grating of parmigiano.