Roberto Mandarino isn’t one to be rushed. The coffee beans brewed at The Slow Room, a new espresso bar on Ossington Roberto opened with his wife Sandra, come from a Vaughan-based supplier of sustainable coffee and only nitrate-free, artisanal salumi make it into sandwiches.
The teeny kitchen behind the cash register at The Slow Room is equipped with only a meat slicer, beer fridge and toaster oven. It’s with these three tools that Roberto carefully crafts his specialty sandwiches. He does things one at a time, and he does them well.
The eggplant meat(less)ball sandwich is well-seasoned and moist, the porchetta sandwich special (a savory sandwich piled high with spit roasted pork) has already become a neighbourhood fave and the gluten-free pistachio cookie is subtle with just the right amount of sweetness to offset the nutty flavours.
The Slow Room hasn’t been open two months and already, but local foodies seem to have welcomed the new espresso joint to the neighbourhood, and have even been a point of inspiration for The Slow Room. “The sandwiches have evolved from customers walking in here and talking to us about what they like and what they don’t like,” Roberto said. “Oddly enough, the eggplant sandwich was supposed to be a feature sandwich on Saturday and now it’s creeped on the menu everyday.”
The method seems to be working. On Saturdays, patrons line up for the porchetto special and most days, Roberto runs out of the eggplant sandwich by the middle of the afternoon. But sandwiches aren’t the only draw to The Slow Room. Barista Drew holds fort over a large espresso machine, serving up steaming cups of cioccolata caldas (a sweet chocolate/espresso concoction), americanos, caffee mochas and chai lattes, just to name a few. Each drink is topped with a foamy cloud on which Drew traces hearts and leaves. “Drew has his trusty silver war machine and I have mine,” Roberto said with a laugh, pointing to his meat slicer.
As an ardent follower of the slow food movement and food traceability, Roberto is big on sourcing out local produce and foods when he can – The Slow Room’s moniker is in homage to the ideology. “The initial idea grew from conversations we had with friends about two years ago,” Roberto said. “Being a parent and having two kids and not knowing where we’re headed in terms of food and how responsible our government is going to be. It’s almost going to become a re-education for some people. If we can do our small part in making people conscious or aware, then it’s good for everybody and the generation to come.”
For a taste of The Slow Room’s eats, check out their listing here. In the meantime, here’s what Roberto had to say about his dream dinner guest, New York City and … horse meat.
OurFaves: What’s the most inventive dish you’ve ever tried in Toronto?
Roberto: The horse sandwich at the Black Hoof. It’s raw horse meat. It was really good. I’m an omnivore, so I’ll eat anything. We should have more places like that — that’s a celebration of what they were doing a long time ago.
OF: Who would be your dream dinner date?
R: Queen Elizabeth. I’d love to talk to her. I think she’d have a lot of interesting things to say.
OF: What’s your favourite dish to prepare at home?
R: We don’t make it anymore, but it’s risotto al forno. It’s a baked risotto. It’s got a dozen hard-boiled eggs, ground veal, ground pork, ground beef and a whole bunch of veggies. It goes in the oven for two hours. It’s also got half a kilo of mozzarella. It’s insane. I’m now weaning myself off rice though.
OF: What’s your favourite ingredient to cook with?
R: Being Italian, garlic, I guess. It doesn’t sound very cool. Garlic and olive oil. I’m a big fanatic for olive oil. I collect truffled oils and that sort of stuff. Same with cheese. I’m a cheese devil. It’s almost banned in my house.
OF: Where is your favourite city for food.
R: New York. It’s got everything and anything you could ever want. Anything, 24 hours a day, you can find it.
Photographs and interview by Maria Cootauco