This Etobicoke deli is a 'cornerstone' of comfort food
Buon Giorno Caffe & Panini is located at 1134 The Queensway in Etobicoke
Suresh Doss: I picked Buon Giorno café to kick off this year for a few reasons. It's a place with this wonderful story of community building and multi-generational ownership. It's also a place that is a cornerstone in Etobicoke. I would go as far as saying it's a rite of passage, not just if you're Italian, but if you live in the city.
Ismaila Alfa: What makes this place so special?
Suresh Doss: First of all, it's somewhat easy to miss this place. If you're on the Queensway, Buon Giorno is kind of tucked in the corner of a plaza. But what makes it special is how much of a family and community business this is. It is celebrating 23 years as a deli now but, prior to that, the Di Principe family ran it as West Farm Meat and Cheese, a butcher shop.
Joe, the son, talked about how he joined the business. "Since 69, we've been here ... I was born upstairs. A little apartment upstairs is where it all started from."
Ismaila Alfa: I'm sorry. Did I hear that right? He was born above the deli?
Suresh Doss: He was born in the building upstairs when the business was the butcher shop, literally born into the business, as he says. I mean, how often do you come across a story like this? Soon enough, he was helping his parents run the business. And eventually, as they got older, they decided to scale down the butcher shop and they converted it into a deli.
Ismaila Alfa: I like a good deli and I also like having the inside track. What's good to order there?
Suresh Doss: This is the best place to get a veal sandwich. Picture a soft roll that's kind of cut in half and then it gets smothered with tomato sauce that they make daily. Joe kept saying that the tomato sauce is the backbone of the business because it goes into 80 per cent of the dishes.
So, sauce on the bun, then a few strips of breaded veal cutlet. Then you get to choose the toppings, which is kind of the fun part; sauteed mushrooms, peppers, onions. Or you can do like the regulars do and just say, "run it through the garden."
Ismaila Alfa: Give me all the onions, all the peppers, both sweet and hot. That sounds delicious.
Suresh Doss: Yeah, you want a loaded sandwich. That sandwich is the biggest draw. It's then finished with thinly sliced provolone and it travels really well. With our current situation, I'm going to recommend places and foods that travel well because we're all getting takeout.
So by the time we get home, the cheese will have melted just a little bit. And you have this incredibly satisfying bite to with all the different textures and nice pops of spice and tomato sauce.
Ismaila Alfa: This is what I need to hear about, Suresh; the comfort food that travels well and, in some cases, may even be just as good, if not better, the next day. But what if you don't eat meat?
Suresh Doss: The second best thing there is the eggplant parmigiana. You get this wonderfully luxurious, creamy eggplant when you bite through. It's a great sandwich.
Ismaila Alfa: Other than sandwiches, though, what do you go there for?
Suresh Doss: Lately, I've discovered that they have amazing lasagna. This is something that started off as a special once in a while. But, because it became so popular, they now have a tray of it every day. It's this luxurious assembly of pasta and meat sauce, which is then finished with a generous dusting of cheese. You'll want to order with some rapini on the side, which nicely complements the creaminess of the lasagna.
Ismaila Alfa: This is almost overwhelming for me. You hit on a few of my favourite comfort foods here, especially lasagna.
Suresh Doss: And it travels really well, too! And there are other pasta dishes. Joe mentioned that, because of COVID-19, he noticed more of his customers will come in and order a customized plate. They'll come in and say, "Give me a taste of everything, put it on one plate and skip the bread."
He attributes this to the fact that people are missing the restaurant and they want a bit of nostalgia. I mean, this is a place that has been around for decades, first as the grocery store and now as a deli. I would say it's a business that was a foundation for the Italian community in Etobicoke.
It is absolutely a place where Joe will greet customers by the first name and knows exactly what they will be ordering. In my case, that's the veal sandwich, run it through the garden, add provolone and please finish with a little bit more tomato sauce.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.