Sault Ste. Marie: Little Italy

Visitors are drawn to the city on the St. Mary’s River for the beauty of northern Ontario’s outdoors. But within the local restaurants, grocers and food courts of Sault Ste. Marie, a rich Italian culinary heritage waits to be tasted.

For many residents of the Soo, as they’ll quickly tell you to call it, these roots can be traced back to a post-1945 influx of Italian immigrants who were drawn to the then thriving steel industry. As they became the area’s largest ethnic group (around 20 per cent of the current population claims Italian origins), their regional cuisines came to define dining in the Soo. Whether or not you’re going out for Italian, at many eateries you’ll find a section of gnocchi, ravioli and fettuccine alongside the standard burgers and steaks.

Arturo Ristorante
515 Queen St. E.; arturoristorante.com

More suited to white tablecloths than checkered red, the menu from brothers Tom and Chris Comegna draws strong inspiration from their family’s Abruzzi heritage, with such lovingly crafted regional staples as grilled lamb, seafood and polenta. The private dining room upstairs, which offers patio access, looks like an Italian villa waiting to be pinned to an Airbnb wish list.

The Boiler Room
83 Huron St.; machineshopinc.ca

Sault Ste. Marie is famously resistant to franchises (see the recently shuttered Boston Pizza across from Fratelli’s as evidence), but don’t think it doesn’t embrace newcomers. Stunningly set in the converted St. Mary’s paper mill as part of the Machine Shop (a cultural hub and events venue), the Boiler Room focuses on personal-sized wood-fired pizzas and a mix of classic and contemporary cocktails.

Paesano Foods
305 Wellington St. W.; facebook.com/PaesanoFoods

This family-run grocer is as well known for its pop-remix radio jingles as for its impeccable stock of Italian essentials, such as homemade pastas, white anchovies, ’nduja sausage and the city’s best selection of olive oils. Pick up ingredients for a home-cooked meal, along with a veal sandwich from the hot counter for the return trip.

Ricardo’s Big Slice
293 Bay St.; ricardosbigslicepizza.com

Located among the standard food court chains in the Station Mall, Ricardo’s serves up the kind of satisfying, two-hands-required slices that bring back the giddy feeling of being a kid and hearing the news that you’re getting pizza for dinner. While the big slices take the namesake credit, the equally gigantic panzerotti shouldn’t (and physically can’t) be missed.

Giovanni’s Restaurant and Fratelli’s Kitchen
516 Great Northern Rd.; giovannisrestaurant.ca
522 Great Northern Rd.;
fratellisrestaurant.ca

There are so many pizza options in the Soo that it can start to seem like everybody and their brother owns a place, but few people embody that adage like Nick Cavaliere. He and his brother, Sergio, both started in the dish pit at Giovanni’s, their father’s fine dining restaurant. They now own and operate it alongside their beloved pizza joint, Fratelli’s, which means “brothers” in Italian.

Read more about Sault Ste. Marie’s Italian cuisine scene in re:porter Issue 71, on flights now.