Taste lasagna like nonna used to make at this Whitby deli
Antonio’s Deli is located at 105 Byron St. S. in Whitby
Antonio's Deli is an Italian food emporium that is part deli, part grocery store and part lunch counter. I've learned over the years that it is many things to many people, but at the centre of it is a hub for Italian hospitality.
The signature lasagna at Antonio's strikes the classic chords just right; you'll find those slippery sheets of pasta tucked between layers of meat. The sauce, which sings of harvest season, is savoury, laced with herbs and a touch of sweetness.
If you're lucky enough, you might get a corner piece, which brings some toothsome texture to the beloved dish with a crisp burnt ridge.
"Everyone has a food memory from their childhood they go back to time and time again," owner Tony Colucci said as he stirred a big wooden paddle through a vat of tomato sauce in the kitchen of his shop in Whitby.
After months of pleading, Colucci finally invited me into the kitchen to show me how his nonna's famous lasagna is made daily. While he was carefully tending to a pot of sauce, I asked him to share what inspired him to put this dish on the menu and why it's so popular.
"This is my childhood memory. Lasagna is about pasta, meat and sauce. In my family we made it by hand on Sundays. No shortcuts. So I do the same here."
Colucci's desire to simplify the dish is a testament to how he refuses to compromise his family's tradition.
"You don't mess with classics; you don't mess with nostalgia," he kept saying.
I'm guessing you've had your fair share of bad lasagna. Dried out or mushy noodles covered in a soupy sauce and cheese that has deteriorated from perfectly oozy to a sad congealed state. Lasagna entered my life through the canteen hallways of my high-school cafeteria. It was a weekly lunch special prepared by a group of Italian women.
Those who were lucky to be at the front end of the lunch line were treated to a thin layer of velvety pasta coated in a thick tomato sauce. It was mind-blowing to a teenage palate exploring a new world of comfort foods.
In the years following high school, I would occasionally chase this craving, visiting places across the GTA for layered pasta. A number of years ago I was tipped off to Antonio's by a cook in Whitby who preached that it was just like how a nonna, an Italian grandmother, would make it.
I was back at the high school cafeteria again after having a slice of Antonio's lasagna.
Colucci smiled when I told him the story.
"I think it's the same for a lot of our customers. During the day it's downtowners and in the evenings it's families in Durham. Lasagna has this property; it's a comforting dish for many people regardless of their background."
Every day at Antonio's, Tony and his son Nicholas prep a few versions of the lasagna. There's now a vegan version and one with chicken for those who don't want beef.
Tony prepares the filling for the dish as well as the tomato sauce. His son, Nicholas makes the pasta.
"It's very much a sense of pride for our family. Hopefully, one day I'll get to run the business and continue this tradition," Nicholas said.
If you're looking to try something else, lean in for the Italian veal on a bun. It's a personal favourite of mine at Antonio's.