Toronto, Ontario M4P 1E8
Cass Avenue is all about that Detroit rock 'n' roll aesthetic. The restaurant is the brainchild of co-owners and chefs Vittorio Colacitti (Top Chef Canada season 4 finalist), Nicholas Bourget, and Tim Lampitoc and is located a block east of the busy intersection at Yonge and Eglinton.
"We’re filling a much needed void in terms of a late-night spot that offers elevated snacks and cocktails," says Chef Lampitoc — who previously worked at Pangaea, George Restaurant (where he met Vittorio and Bourget) and The Good Son.
Cass Avenue is open everyday from 4pm to 2am, patrons are greeted with garage-band aesthetic and decor to match. Portraits of pop culture icons dot the walls, along with a sprawling ‘True Romance’ movie mural painted by local artist Emily Conlon.
The restaurant can accommodate more than 175 guests and offers a variety of seating options, from a sociable bar, corner nooks in the back for more intimacy (with opportunities to host parties and corporate events), to seating on the patio for people watching.
“This design was intentional. We wanted to create a space that appeals to not only those seeking out happy hour drinks and snacks after-work, but that it could also welcome everyone from families with infants to couples out on date night,” says chef Bourget (whose previous work stints have included George Restaurant and Frank’s Kitchen).
While Cass Avenue’s ethos and appeal is rooted in musical greats that stretch back from The Temptations to the White Stripes, the menu proudly showcases all things Torontonian.
“We wanted to embody Toronto in menu form," says chef Lampitoc. "We are representing these melting pot of cultures in the best way possible; it’s fun and exciting."
"You see a bit of everything on here: Italian, American, Mexican, Filipino to Canadian,” adds chef Bourget. "Our food concept is also cheap and cheerful. We offer $5 and $10 dollar items — but the difference with our dishes is that it’s all playfully refined, perhaps unexpectedly so, because we’re elevating ‘snack’ items.”
In regards to the dishes, the chef trio insists they don't cut any corners. They opt for a fine dining approach to munchies, where everything is thoughtfully made from scratch. Favourites include the caco e pepe popcorn and chicharrones dusted with dill pickle seasoning. Each dish is $5.
At the $10 level, popular items include the soon-to-be famous Filipino pork belly skewers.
“We marinade pork belly slices in a sauce for 24 hours. The mix includes soy, pineapple, vinegar, garlic, black pepper, banana ketchup, brown sugar, and a few other secret spices,” says chef Lampitoc, who then cooks it a la plancha to get the meat caramelized with sweet crispy edges.
Also crispy is the deep fried brussel sprouts, which offers a sweet and spicy flavour thanks to use of sambal and maple syrup in the glaze; and Korean fried cauliflower is flash fried and finished with fermented chili paste, onion, rice wine, sesame.
The chefs describe Cass Avenue's smash burger as a refined McDonald’s burger. The ground beef is griddle-smashed with French’s mustard seared onto on side of the burger. Along with lettuce, cheese, and tomato, it’s finished with a ‘dirty sauce’ that includes ketchup, chipotle, onions, and pickles. The margherita pizza is also a staple on the menu with the master recipe coming from their sister restaurant — The Good Son. It’s topped with san marzano tomatoes, fior di latte, and basil.
And the chefs add that if you really want to go for the glory, you can select items from the “Baller” section of the menu (which range in price from $19 to $65). These include oysters (6 for $19) from the East Coast (featuring the more rare New Brunswick variety) paired with a house fermented pineapple hot sauce; and 28 day dry-aged ribeye steak ($65) from Woodward Farms served with house-made chimichurri sauce and a mountain of french fries.
As for quenching your thirst, the bar program is robust and spearheaded by Nicholas Masci, whose desire was to create classic drinks with a twist. “They’re easy sippable drinks and not heavy duty — perfect to pair with any of our dishes" says Masci. "They are fun and cool drinks that have a summer state-of-mind.”
The rhubarb mule features rhubarb-infused rum with fresh lime juice and is topped with ginger beer.
For something with a bit more heft, there’s the Redbreast 12 year-old Manhattan finished with Dolins red vermouth. Beers and Wines are also available; the former offers a wealth of local craft beers, including 15 varieties on tap that span from ales and sours to IPAs and black lagers. Wine selections (by the glass and bottle) were chosen by Chef Vittorio - who opted to showcase plenty of VQA and local wineries; the concise list offers bubbles, rosés, whites, and reds.
Lastly, dessert ($5 each) is not to be overlooked. The team makes an old-school upside down pineapple cake that’s finished with Kraken rum. Or there’s always the classic chocolate brownie, which tastes more like a soft fondant, and is house-made with 54 per cent dark Callebaut chocolate and drizzle with dulce de leche (cooked down for four hours into thick golden brown sauce).