To truly experience this Italian eatery, step inside its dry-aged meat locker
Chef Gabriele Paganelli prides himself on his cured meats, which includes raising boars and pigs
In the last few years, Toronto's Design District corridor of Keele Street and Lawrence Avenue West has slowly been seeing a ramp up of food and drink establishments. Speducci Mercatto is one of the reasons why I venture out to this neighbourhood.
Surrounded by what seems like dozens of auto shops, the Italian mercatto pulls in a loyal cult crowd that has been visiting it since the shop opened three years ago. It is part meat shop — with a very good dry-aged beef program — part restaurant and café and part salumeria.
I want the meat to sing. I want it to be about the meat.- Gabriele Paganelli, co-owner Speducci Mercatto
Co-owned and operated by chef Gabriele Paganelli, the meat emporium is an ode to his love for northern Italian food and cured meats. Paganelli hails from Ravenna, off the Adriatic coast of Italy's Emilia-Romagna region — a region that is often described as Italy's food capital. When you think of tagliatelle, bolognese, parmigiano reggiano or balsamic vinegar, it is all thanks to the various cities in Emilia-Romagna.
Paganelli grew up surrounded by food, and his passion for curing meats developed at a very early age. In 1991, he moved to Canada to "do prepared food, which was my specialization in Italy," he said.
He was the chef of the now closed Romagna Mia restaurant in the St. Lawrence Market area, a restaurant that was known for its northern Italian cooking. "I had it for sixteen years. During this time, I began making my own charcuterie, slowly perfecting my practice to what it is now."
After years of honing his curing skills, he opened Speducci Mercatto with restaurateur Rosie Scavuzzo. During this time, Paganelli started to invest in raising his own animals. He wanted to control the flavour of his product from beginning to end, and started raising boar and pigs at his farm near Wasaga Beach.
To me, what is most striking about the 40 or so cured meats that he does is this sense of terroir. He knows where all his meat comes from, if not, from his own farm, and that is reflected in the product.
Canadian cured meats tend to have a slightly more buttery texture and flavour than Italian meats and a hint of sweetness that follows at the end. When it comes to old school Italian techniques with high quality meat products, the best example of this is the wild boar prosciutto.
Cured for nearly two years, Paganelli slices it paper thin, presenting tender slivers of meat that disintegrate on your tongue — a soothing wave of nuttiness, buttery texture, a slight herbal quality and that finishing sweetness. For a full sensory experience, you have to walk into the glass-covered meat locker located at the back of the restaurant. Paganelli has stocked dozens of kinds of cured meats along with hanging prosciutto legs.
While the salami is top notch at Speducci, there is also great prepared food coming out of the kitchen. People come from far and wide for lunch for big bowls of pasta and Italian craft beer.
Personally, I love the porchetta sandwich. Paganelli stuffs the "trunk" of a pig (loin) with a mixture of herbs and spices, wraps it in pig belly and lets the marinade sit for a few days before he slow cooks it at 63 degrees for eight hours.
"The slowness is important to let all the flavours seep in," he said. Then he cranks up the heat in the last hour to crisp up the belly. He serves the porchetta thinly sliced, layered with house-cured mushrooms, hot peppers, rapini and provolone cheese.
"This is my version. I don't want sauce because I want the meat to sing. I want it to be about the meat."
It's all about subtlety with his porchetta; the nutty and herbal characteristics from the cured meat, along with a slight kiss of smoke. The crackling is there but in small amounts, adding bits of crunch, and the rapini brings a slight bitterness to each bite. You can also go for breakfast and get a fried egg thrown into the sandwich, with the yolk adding a level of luxuriousness to the sandwich. Just don't leave without some guanciale or wild boar prosciutto.
Speducci Mercatto is at 46 Milford Ave.
Suresh Doss's weekly food segment airs every Thursday on Metro Morning. Watch for video of his jaunts across the city on CBC Toronto's Facebook page.
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