Janet Zuccarini opens an Italian restaurant in Regent Park and it’s just like eating at your cool Nonna’s house

After much success with some of the city’s most beloved eateries, including Gusto 101, Gusto 501, Trattoria Nervosa and Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen, the Gusto 54 Restaurant Group has added yet another Italian eatery to its lineup.

Officially open to the public as of March 11, Zuzu, located in Toronto’s Regent Park community, was born as a nod to Gusto’s humble beginnings and Janet Zuccarini’s father, Giacomo, who brought the first Italian espresso machine to Canada.

“Regent Park is a wonderful space filled with neighbours who care about the community and how businesses and organizations interact with their goals,” says Tyler Rutherford, director of business operations at Gusto 54 Restaurant Group.

Along with providing a welcoming addition to the restaurants in the area, Zuzu’s business model also has a charitable component, and offers various community programs to support the local area. For example, the Mini Chefs program, which is part of Gusto 54’s charitable arm called Gusto Gives Back, provides students with a unique and fun food-based learning experience to understand the fundamentals of nutrition. In addition, the Regent Park Community Program offers a free space for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and organizations to gather and achieve their goals while supporting initiatives that help the Regent Park community.

“We also collaborate with local organizations to advocate healthy eating and to eliminate hunger and poverty,” Rutherford says. “Every Monday, we donate $1 from every macchiato sold to Fred Victor, a social service charitable organization dedicated to creating lasting positive change in the lives of individuals experiencing homelessness, and low-income individuals across Toronto.”

An overarching aesthetic that’s a nod to 1950’s Italy is reflected in Zuzu’s interior design and exudes a warm and welcoming atmosphere that channels the convivial spirit of Italian cafés.

“Our hospitality is soulful and attentive and our dishes are approachable and thoughtful, focusing on fresh, seasonal ingredients,” Rutherford says. “We strive to create a nostalgic and contemporary experience where guests can relax and enjoy a taste of la dolce vita.”

The restaurant seats 100, with an additional 60 seats on the outdoor patio.

Photo: Gabby Frank

On the menu, diners can expect to find classic Italian cuisine but with a modern twist. Much like in Italy, it’s characterized by antipasti, salate, primi, pasta, secondi, and dolci.

“We offer a range of dishes that are comforting, soulful and craveable, just like the meals you might enjoy at your cool Nonna’s house,” Rutherford says. “We take truly iconic and classic dishes and find a modern take on how we eat and share food today with our loved ones. You can’t go wrong when making these dishes with high-quality ingredients and thoughtful plating.”

Some of the must-try dishes include the cacio e pepe arrancini; the roasted acorn squash served with agro dolce, caramelized onions, sage, pepita, and pecans; the brussel Caesar salad, which features grana padano, pine nuts, candied pumpkin seeds, crispy shallots, and dill; and the rigatoni with spicy vodka, pomodoro, cream, and parmigiano. Baked ziti and chicken Milanese are additional favourites. To top it all off, Zuzu’s rum-soaked baba pastry is a sweet and boozy dessert that’s perfect for sharing.

Over at the bar, Zuzu’s wine and beverage director, Matteo Floris, and his team have crafted a beverage menu that echoes Zuzu’s approach to food, offering modern takes on Italian classics. The wine list features a range of options, including low-intervention wines that pair perfectly with the dishes. As for cocktails, some must-try drinks include the Café Negroni with gin, campari, red vermouth on a cold brew cube, or the Nitro Espresso Martini made with vodka, coffee liqueur and nitrogen.

Zuzu is located at 555 Dundas St. E. The restaurant is open Wednesday to Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m. The cafe is open Tuesday to Sunday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Monday from 8:00 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO