Located in the heart of King Street West's popular Fashion District just a short stroll from Spadina Avenue, Forno Cultura is the perfect place to indulge yourself. Located directly below the popular Wvrst Sausage Hall (you can't miss the fun basement-level window illustrations inviting you in to explore) Forno Cultura is much more than just a traditional bakery (literally translated, the name means "oven culture" in Italian).
Boasting everything from tempting baked goods to delicious meals, Forno Cultura serves up its most mouthwatering delicacies all day long, whether it be breakfast, lunch or dinner, and everything in between. From the moment you descend into the bakery's bright, high-ceilinged basement you'll be blown away by the sights and smells that greet you. Along one wall is a long counter where orders are placed, stacked with delightfully tempting Italian sweet treats as well as an endless array of savoury delights. Here you can choose from a wide variety of pastries, biscotti and cookies sold in bulk for take out or to simply enjoy sitting in as a quick snack. A variety of full meals can also be ordered (again for take out or dining in), along with an accompaniment of wines and beers or soft drinks (more on that later).
You'll soon notice just how busy the place is, not just with contented customers, but with numerous employees bustling about. While those behind the main counter prepare meals and assemble orders, the ovens at the back of the bakery are being attended to, producing a constant stream of superb Italian breads and buns, most of them delivered to numerous restaurants across the city. Part of the fun of a visit is in fact watching the bakers at work behind the big glass partitions, in place to emphasize the bakery's transparency when it comes to food preparation. These, like the exterior windows, are also festooned with fun sketches and sayings (a personal favourite: "Take time to enjoy life!").
Panini by Forno Cultura
Along with the many shelves and trays stacked high with Italian breads, focaccia and other delights just begging to be bought and taken home are an equal number of displays showcasing other tempting Italian foods. Here you'll find everything needed to make a few Italian dishes yourself, from fresh made pastas, beautifully bottled homemade pasta sauces and olives from the Middle East and Mediterranean to jarred pickles, garlic and other foods sourced either locally (but with an Italian flair) or direct from Italy itself. Once you've ordered and had your fill of things to look at (yes, it is that much fun here!), grab a stool at one of the long skinny tables in the middle of the bakery and wait for your order.
Sweet Treats and Savoury Temptations
While full meals are now available in the evenings as part of Forno Cultura's new Cinque a Sette (5-7) service done in collaboration with outside chefs and food gurus—such as our evening's guest, John Bil, one of Canada's leading oyster shuckers!—we preferred to try a little bit of everything. A tradition in Europe, Cinque a Sette is a time to relax with friends after work for a drink and a nibble. Usually not fancy, it's inevitably tasty and acts as a warm-up for the main evening meal to come back home (5pm to 7pm, Wednesday to Saturday).
Starting things off was an excellent Polpetta ($2.50), a traditional Italian dish made of fresh baked bread, goat's milk ricotta, currants and parsley. Uniquely sweet and savoury at the same time, this delightful dish was followed by the delicious Arancini ($3), a type of risotto made into a ball containing rice and roasted tomatoes and herbs that's then quick fried in a breaded coating—and delicious! Also worth trying is the Crochetta ($3), an Italian croquette potato that incudes salumi, a hand made traditional meat not unlike salami, though even tastier. And though breakfast had long since passed, we did decide to sample a couple of the bakery's early morning favourites. Of these, the Frittata ($3)—a type of omelette, though baked in a mould and consisting of eggs, grilled seasonal veggies and a little salumi—was a hit.
Salted Frolla by Forno Cultura
Desserts and Drinks
For dessert, go for the soft serve homemade gelato. Made fresh every morning, there's a different flavour every day, so be sure to ask your server what's on the menu. We did, and were rewarded with a light chocolate flavoured delight served with a little of the establishment's famous upside down cake providing a little added texture. This was followed by delicious Illy coffee and a tray of the bakery's signature Baci di Dame, wonderful bite-sized treats available in two remarkable flavours, chocolate hazelnut and almond orange, and perfect for dunking in your cappuccino ($3.75).
Fully licensed, Forno Cultura serves a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Among its award-winning wines are a number of VQAs from Ontario, a superb private label house white from the Norman Hardy vineyard in PEI, as well, of course, as a number of varieties from Italy. One of the best is Le Calvane, a Tuscan wine made by a group of friends of Forna Cultura's owner. A selection of Italian beers, including the popular Lazio, are also available.