Chef Brian Ho of Bar Mordecai on Dundas West knew that the realities of a winter lockdown meant a lot of changes for the restaurant industry. He already adapted to pandemic life with summer collaborations with Venice Beach Bar and Unboxed Market, but the winter lockdown meant a new challenge. Looking at his own restaurant‘s menu, he realized that it was difficult to adapt his offerings to a takeout-only service. So, he and co-owners Josh and Emily Leblanc came up with an artful solution: they opened up a fictional, takeout-only restaurant.
The name Westside Maria’s came from a joke at Bar Mordecai, a play on gigantic Italian eatery chain East Side Mario’s. It stuck for the delivery venture when they realized that both the restaurant’s landlord and property manager, who have been instrumental to the Bar Mordecai’s survival in the pandemic, are both named Maria. The name became an homage to the two women for their patience, support and understanding.
Playing on the theme, they created a delivery-friendly menu, packed with authentic Italian recipes chef Ho has carried from early in his career. The food’s backbone is red sauce, and chef Ho was excited to use his own pomodoro and bolognese creations to provide the backbone of the menu.
Ho also worked with Impossible Meat to develop a vegetarian-friendly bolognese option, adhering to the restaurant’s belief that all dishes should easily accommodate vegetarian or gluten-free diners. The menu is designed to be as authentic Italian and as adaptable as possible.
“Among ourselves, we have several food requirements, be it gluten allergies or vegetarianism,” says Josh Leblanc, of Bar Mordecai. “When we had the idea for this red sauce, family restaurant-type of delivery, we wanted to make sure it was accessible to as wide a range of diets as it could be.”
Classic Italian dishes include spaghetti bolognese, a veal parmigiana sandwich and baked ziti doused with red sauce as well as rose rigatoni and sides such as Caesar salad with pancetta, rapini, fried artichokes and mozzarella sticks. Dessert offerings include tiramisu and cookie boxes.
The Leblancs and chef Ho realize that part of the fun of eating out is a restaurant’s ambiance. So, to help transport diners to a classic family restaurant, they will soon introduce takeout kits that include a side of colouring sheets and crayons with your meal for the kids, or an ambiance package complete with a taper candle in a wine bottle and a checkered tablecloth.
Westside Maria’s is open from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, for both takeout and delivery. They will soon launch on Uber Eats and SkipTheDishes.