Brook Kavanagh and Lara Roberts’ seemingly impractical Italian restaurant concept came about for very practical reasons
Sprezzatura (216 Ossington, 437-242-5991, sprezzaturaspaghettidisco.com) is a word for an air of playful nonchalance, a sort of Italian I do not know what.
It’s also the name of a spaghetti (you heard me) nightclub run by Brook Kavanagh and Lara Roberts, the married couple behind the locavore Season Six fast-serving spot.
What is a spaghetti disco? In this case, it’s a neon-bathed take-out counter inside a tiny basement in Ossington – specifically, the basement that housed the first location of Season Six – which serves fresh pasta, antipasti, secondsi (meat dishes) and cocktails to the sound of whistling synths and bloopy Italo disco beats.
When I meet Kavanagh, who is wearing rimless orange sunglasses and a lobster-embroidered button-down shirt straight out of the Yacht Rock Hall of Fame gift shop, my first question is, “Why?” “
The answer lies in a magical night in Florence – and Kavanagh’s long-standing love of Italian cuisine.
Kavanagh started his career in Italian butcher shops at the age of 14. After spending 11 years at La Palette (where he met sommelier Roberts, who was a customer dancing on the bar one evening), his career took him to Hong Kong, where he worked as a business manager at the head of several brands. A particular favorite was an “affordable luxury, quick-serve Italian noodle bar – the kind of place where for $ 20 you get an incredible plate of noodles in three minutes.”
Kavanagh and Roberts got married and embarked on a long-awaited Italian honeymoon. In Florence, the couple stopped at Pasta Fresca, a pasta bar in the Mercato Centrale.
The meal had a lasting impact on Kavanagh. “There are like six pastas to choose from and in two minutes you are eating a paper plate of perfect noodles at a counter, sitting in the middle of the market side by side with strangers.”
That night he found himself rubbing shoulders with the locals in a very different way. A longtime dance music fan, Kavanagh had wanted to find a retro Italo disco party in town.
“I couldn’t find anything,” he says. “It’s like the Italians don’t do a lot of disco. “
(As a long-time Italian, I can confirm that they aren’t really ironic either. If they’re pumping the Eurobeat tracks of yesteryear or wearing spandex and tracksuits, they are doing it because they objectively think it’s banging, no winks or nudges needed.)
What is Kavanagh made find on the Florence events calendar: A rare live appearance by Giorgio Moroder at the Nelson Mandela Forum. The legendary synthesizer maestro, then 70, performed in front of a crowd of thousands, “many of whom were, like Italian grandmothers standing in their seats clapping”.
Accompanied by vocalists and a live orchestra, Moroder walked through every hit, from the theme of The NeverEnding Story and Donna Summer’s legendary track I Feel Love to Cat People, with footage of a then-recently deceased David Bowie. broadcast on the big screens. “It was beautiful,” Kavanagh recalls. “Just wonderful.”
Brook Kavanagh is the co-owner / DJ of Sprezzatura.
Fast forward to April 2020, and the duo had returned to Toronto to open season six, their first official outing as restaurateurs. “Everyone was like, ‘Oh, are you opening your restaurant at the start of a pandemic? ” You have finished.'”
But Kavanagh and Roberts were committed to their vision of reasonably priced, home-cooked, sustainably-sourced meals, and they did so by limiting real estate and staffing the place entirely themselves. “For the first year, the two of us were just racking our brains in a 250 square foot space, feeding 150 people a day,” he says.
There were so many people they had to get bigger – and the perfect space quickly manifested just down the street on Ossington. The new season six was 10 times the size, with a massive commissary kitchen, and Kavanagh and Roberts soon realized that to justify this kitchen they would need a second dining room.
“Lara said, ‘Why don’t we have a spaghetti club? “And the idea stuck,” he says.
Thus, a seemingly impractical concept was born for very practical reasons. But according to Kavanagh, the underground party vibe that Sprezzatura now fully basks in was still there, waiting to be extended. Last year, when COVID loosened its grip on the province, Kavanagh would occasionally invite friends to the basement for parties.
“Just something about space felt right to me,” he said.
A fateful Giorgio Moroder in Florence sparked the idea of the Italo Sprezzatura disco restaurant.
Now, in addition to the take-out service (and a small patio table set up by the side of the street), you can also enjoy the pasta room as it was really intended, through private bookings for small groups.
“Sprezzatura lives its best life when it functions as a spaghetti disco,” says Kavanagh.
“We’ve set up an open bar, it’s kind of like getting bottle service. We’ve set up an antipasto platter, and we’re cooking noodles as the night goes, and we have a DJ playing Italo disco.
The concept has proven popular with people who want to regain some of that club feeling during COVID, but are not yet comfortable partying with strangers. Kavanagh says they are already booked for private meetings until October.
Many nights you will find Kavanagh himself on the bridges. “I’m not a DJ, but a lot of my friends are, and they’ve taught me over the years, so now I’m getting into DJing,” he says.
Wait, was this all just a head-turning ploy at parties?
“That’s what my friends would say. They’re all laughing at me for creating this elaborate diagram, ”he laughs.
“Sometimes you have to have a 25-year career in gastronomy to be able to DJ for 15 people.”
What’s on the menu at Sprezzatura
Italian classics like Campari and Lambrusco spritzes feature prominently on the cocktail menu, along with fresh, simple concoctions like a chili margarita.
The variation of Kavanagh on a blush sauce that everyone will love is the rigatoni diavola: crushed San Marzano tomatoes, good cream and nduja sausage from Calabria, with a little Calabrian pepper paste.
Cacio E Pepe
Tonnarelli cacio e pepe is a perfect version of the official Rome dish: just pecorino romano and pepper, emulsified with the paste water that the kitchen produces in large quantities and mixed with fresh tonnarelli (a long noodle with square edges ).
Fusilli with pesto
Kavanagh wanted to make a smooth, non-greasy pesto; his solution was to use tons of toasted pine nuts, slowly emulsifying them with water-soaked herbs to create a creamy (and dairy-free) sauce that stays light and airy instead of splitting. Here it is served over cherry tomato fusilli.
Kavanagh pine nut pesto also accompanies the burrata dish.
The meatballs come in sets of three and topped with a generous grater of Parmesan cheese.