102 Brock Street South in Whitby is part of a building that was called Deverell’s Block when it was first built in 1878. From 1900 to 1917, it was part of a hotel called the Windsor Hotel. After many, many years housing an Ontario driver’s licence office and travel agency, it is fitting that the spot has just been restored and become home to a restaurant called Marca Trattoria.
Marca Pizza and Pasta is the new home of well known, classically Italian trained Chef, Michele Perrotto. When we saw the stunning renovation which uses historic design elements paired with a classic jazz motif, we had been excited to visit the newest eatery on the local scene. We love a great Italian meal and some of the local players are well below where they should be, so we were hoping to be blown away.
Having worked in the food biz years ago, I understand the challenges of finding experienced wait staff. As a semi regular diner in Durham area restaurants, I can see that the talent pool for service staff is quite shallow and the standards of training are sadly lacking mainly because most of them have only worked at chain restaurants. Because of this, I am sure that Chef Michele has had more challenges that a renowned city chef is used to when it comes to the cozy front of house. I only explain this because my first impression upon being seated was frustrating, so I have to mention it as part of the experience. What was to come far outweighed my early service concern.
As a small spot, Marca has but two beers on tap. I could see that one was Carlsberg, but I could not see what the other tap was. I asked our waitress what it was and she said it was Blanc. I said, probably a bit rudely, “so it is a white beer, but which one?” She did not know, so she went to check. She returned to say that she did not know, but it says 1664 on the tap. I responded “so it is a Kronenberg product” and she responded “well, yes but not really”.
I am fully aware that it is a quibble, but is it really too much for a waitress to know what beer is on tap when there are only two taps? For the record, the beer is Kronenberg 1664 Blanc.
Now that I have that out of the way, I must move on to what makes Marca shine: Chef Michele’s food. There are a few things that Perrotto’s kitchen does that are absolutely unheard of in Durham region. Basically, Chef Michele’s kitchen makes EVERYTHING in house. From the crusty bread served before dinner to the pasta, to every dessert. All made in house!
Our meal began with an assortment of appetizers. The bruschetta was made with toasted house made bread and chunks of parmesan. The crusted risotto balls had a creamy beef and pea filling that was sublime. The fresh pomodoro sauce they were served with was almost unnecessary they were so moist and flavourful on their own. They were just that much better when dipped. The Salumi E Fromaggi plate combined delectable dried meats with a selection of cheeses. An interesting twist was the addition of a very light honey. When used as a dip for the cheese, it helps release the flavours. We’ll be back just to enjoy this one for lunch!
Like Mom and Dad, our kids often appreciate the simpler dishes and all three chose a bowl of gnocchi. The ricotta and parm gnocchi were cooked to perfection while the simple, tomato basil sauce matched perfectly with the spicy sausage.
Spaghettini with meatballs and a simple tomato sauce can be one of life’s greatest pleasures when done correctly. Marca’s noodles were cooked perfectly. A handful of massive meatballs were beyond description, soft and delicate with a flavour that worked perfectly with the simple tomato sauce they were bathed in. This was a classic Italian dish created perfectly.
For my own meal, I chose another Italian classic that happens to be one of my favourite dishes: Linguini with carbonara sauce. The lovely and talented Mrs. G makes a killer carbonara which is tough to beat. Chef Michele has her beat! The sauce is so creamy and has such a yummy, yolky texture that I suspect Chef Michele is is using twice as much egg yolk as he is white in the mixture. With just enough pancetta and a touch of ground pepper, this dish is outstanding.
We don’t normally order dessert, but the thought of house made cannoli, tiramisu and creme brule were too much to deny. I didn’t get to sample the cannoli, but if the grunts and groans from the other end of the table were any indication, they were on the mark. The tiramisu was light and creamy. What our waitress described as a creme brule was actual a creme caramel. No matter, as the consistency of the custard was absolutely perfect and the sauce was equally stunning.
While my opening description of Marca Trattoria may have sounded a bit negative, it is only in contrast to how incredible the actual product, the food is. In the title, I’ve described Marca as the best Italian in Durham, but it may in fact be the best restaurant in Durham crossing all types of food.
My recommendation to Chef Perrotto and the ownership team would be to close for an evening and take the entire staff to a cozy Italian spot like Toronto’s Grano. Let them spend an evening eating and drinking and soaking up the cozy atmosphere and get them to watch how the staff interacts with the diners. Get them out of Durham so they can expand their own horizons. Marca Trattoria will be better for it as the service grows to match the quality of the food.
Marca Trattoria is located at:
102 Brock Street South