A taste of Europe without leaving home.
Words by Trish Dugan
Photography by Mike Douglas
It’s World Cup 2014 and I’m visiting the patio at The Open Cork Eatery & Lounge. The place is filled to capacity with new Canadians and the Canadian-born of every descent. It looks like a party at the United Nations.
There are 120 pairs of eyes here, glued to four flatscreen TVs mounted around the patio. The humming babble of a dozen languages is broken by cries of joy or moans of agony with each score, penalty or bite (seriously?), depending on your team. As I leave the patio and enter the restaurant, I encounter a sleek, hip décor that would rival any in Miami or Milan. The restaurant could have been plucked from any major European centre – and that’s the whole idea.
“We wanted to create a place that felt cosmopolitan, but not intimidating,” says Mark Gharibo, co-owner with Peter Pitsikos of The Open Cork. “A place where you can have a casual dinner or a drink on the patio, like any outdoor café in Europe, or a glass of wine in the lounge and full-service gourmet fare in the dining room.
“Attracting an international crowd was important to us, since we both have European backgrounds. With our décor, Italian-Californian fusion menu and hand-picked, diverse wine selection, we have succeeded.”
About that wine selection: Gharibo just returned from a trip to Verona, Italy, where he met some 20 individual winemakers and tasted their offerings for the restaurant. With this kind of personal care and attention, it’s no wonder that The Open Cork has won the Wine Spectator Award three years in row.
Eager to show his creation, Gharibo gives me a tour of the restaurant. We begin outside with the front patio, the first one in the west end of the GTA back in 1999. Today, it’s completely covered with several big, colourful umbrellas imported from Greece that protect patrons (and their drinks) from the sun. The large patio area is made up of two separate patios, one non-smoking and the other smoking.
Gharibo proudly points out the herb and vegetable containers that line the patio walls, and his lemon and fig trees. He’s so taken with the idea of supplying his restaurant from his own garden that he recently purchased land to build a farm for that purpose. Moving now through the interior, Gharibo tells me that he and Pitsikos, working with leading interior designers, have continuously upgraded The Open Cork’s décor to keep pace with the changing tastes and needs of their customers.
For example, one of the restaurant’s four rooms accommodates today’s demand for multimedia displays at family events, business meetings and presentations. Two wall-mounted flatscreen monitors are positioned on opposing walls so that no one misses the show. Inside the second room, the large main dining area, there is a fireplace for romantic dinners. Within that area, there is also a small private room with a round dining table that seats eight.
The jewel in the crown is the fourth room, the lounge. To set the mood, a new $120,000 digital lighting system from Germany changes the colour and intensity of wall-mounted light boxes and recessed lighting elsewhere in the restaurant. Even the chairs have been custom-designed to ensure comfort in every seated position, whether that means an arm slung over the back or leaning on either side. The gleaming stainless-steel bar, wooden floor and sculpted walls complete the contemporary Euro-style atmosphere.
When the tour ends, I’m left with this: if you have a yen to visit Europe, but only have hours on the weekend, The Open Cork is your best bet here at home.
The Open Cork Eatery & Lounge
2101 Dundas St. E.