Elio does it better

If you’ve given up on Little Italy and are tired of so-called local institutions that are actually pretty shit, this may be the spot for you.


Over the years I’ve come to take Italian food for granted, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Pizza and pasta have been North American staples for decades, and something was definitely lost in assimilation. When a cuisine’s visibility is dominated by mass-produced, often mediocre items at every corner dep and dollar-slice hole, you’re less likely to look to it when you’re planning a nice dinner out.

Vegetarian pizza
Vegetarian pizza

If you’re a foodie or someone with an adventurous palate, Italian food is no more appealing than a club sandwich. Garlic and basil aren’t exotic ingredients anymore — they’re the building blocks of straight-up white-people food.

And let’s be honest about Montreal’s Little Italy, where the old and new restaurants hocking supposedly authentic pies are almost invariably disappointing. Why pay $15 at Pizza Napoletana when I could just call Dr. Oetker?

In light of all this, Elio has been a refreshing discovery. The Rosemont restaurant is one of the city’s old-school Italian joints (est. 1964), the kind you’d expect to have red and white checkered tablecloths (except they don’t —dark wood, tiled floors, white linens and heavy plastic is the look they go for. In the summer, patrons line a terrasse that runs the length of its west side, offering a view of a quiet southwestern corner of the neighbourhood, where bicycles seem to dominate the streets.

Elio sells homemade pastas and sauces, and that alone is worth the visit. Given that its full name was once Elio Pizzeria (before rebranding to Ristorante Elio), you’d think the restaurant’s signature dish is pizza, and maybe it is. But the Neapolitan home style pasta dishes are the real draw.


Fettucini carbonara

Unless you’re an Italian chef, or just an Italian whose nonna taught you well, it’s a safe assumption that you don’t make pasta like this at home. During a recent visit, my guy and I ordered Elio’s fettucini carbonara and fettucini pescatore, two dishes we now won’t be able to order anywhere else. Elio’s chefs prepare their carbonara the real way: with egg, parmesan, bacon, olive oil, salt and pepper, forgoing the overbearing and unnecessary cream sauce that inferior restaurants tend to pile on.


Likewise, the pescatore doesn’t overwhelm the palate with fishiness, allowing the simplicity of the garlicky house tomato sauce to reach the palate along with the shrimp and clams. And as with the carbonara, the fresh, al dente fettucini is more than a slick glob of carbs acting as a base for a sauce — it actually enriches the dish.


Elio’s vegetarian pizza is a solid bet, too, but that’s just the start. Elio packs all the Italian staples into its menu, from the antipasti starters to meat dishes like veal parmigiana to focaccia, the “white pizza” I’ve yet to try. Based on the roughly half-dozen Elio meals I’ve enjoyed in recent years, I trust that the focaccia will come with the same kind of authentic recipes, simple, quality ingredients and perfect consistency that keep regulars coming back to this classic Italian spot. ■

Ristorante Elio
351 Bellechasse, 514-276-5341