A Culinary Catalyst on Ottawa Street North

In the 9-8th century BC, legend would have it that after failing to seduce Ulysses, Parthenope the siren threw herself into the sea and was washed ashore, landing on a rock on the southern coast of Italy. The real story, being far less fantastic, is that the ancient Greeks established a colony starting on that very rock which is still visible today. This was to be part of “Magna Grecia” (Greater Greece) and so they named this place Neapolis (New City), which over time became known as the Italian city of Napoli (Naples).

The local food culture then was already benefiting from ancient Greek traditions developed over previous centuries involving fresh herbs and fish. More was to come, however, after a bright red fruit was brought back from the new world. It would make this region famous: San Marzano tomatoes anyone? They called the tomato “Pomodoro” in Italian which is derived from “pomo d’oro” meaning “apple of gold”. The name only goes to show how important this fruit is in southern Italian cuisine.

Today Naples is the capital of the Campania region known for its pizza and great wines.

As the local food culture evolved after the arrival of tomatoes, so did the complexity of alcoholic drinks beyond wine. One that stands out in particular, south of Naples along the Amalfi, is called Limoncello.

Here in Hamilton, Nancy and Rocco named their restaurant after that famous drink to honour the region where their ancestry originates. It has influenced not only the color theme of the restaurant with its yellow citrus hues, but also the menu offered to customers.

When they decided to open this establishment over twelve years ago, Ottawa Street North was a destination mostly for people looking for fabrics and the street served very well in that respect. It was not a yet on a food culture radar. It is safe to state that Limoncello was the catalyst because its founders took a chance at a time when very few would have ventured to invest in such an uncertain business as a restaurant in that part of this fair city. It may come as a surprise that the truth, like many similar stories, is that this venture was borne out of necessity. Let me explain: Rocco was one of the early internet entrepreneurs and he simply needed space to call his own to house an internet café. The basement of today’s Limoncello was the space he found, hence the decision to acquire this former windowless fitness gym. The rest is history.

The place is bright inside, and in good weather offers a small street patio that would remind one of those small southern Italian eateries where time is of no importance but eating, pleasure and good company are all that matters.

Linguine frutti di mare

Linguine frutti di mare

For those with artistic flair, you would notice the quality of the wall painting. It is no accident as Rocco’s cousin, an artisan, traveled from Italy to do that job.

Just completed is a granite bar counter to serve “aperitivo”, that time honoredMediterranean tradition of drinks and small plates just after work and before a meal, allowing socializing and relaxing before dinner.

The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Using only authentic and fresh ingredients such as San Marzano tomatoes imported from Campania in great quantities, the menu is quite varied and offers selections from traditional soups and antipasto to pasta and pizzas. Other appetizers include mussels, calamari, and crab cakes. You may want to order a pasta with clams (linguini con vongole) offered with your choice of sauce, tomato basil or white wine sauce.

Other pasta includes meatless ones such as spaghetti primavera or penne arrabbiata.

The pizza comes in 10” pies with a thin crust and a number of options including vegetarian.

You can also order a risotto either with seafood/fish or mushrooms only. It is a long menu with delicious goodness throughout. On the beverages side, there are wines from the Niagara region as well as several Italian ones.

While currently using high-quality dry pasta, they intend to sell freshly made ones once their new bakery opens in the fall, just a few doors south of the restaurant

Wait staff is efficient and pleasant and the operation runs smoothly under Nancy’s quiet and discreet leadership. There is very little staff turnover. In fact, the executive chef has been with Limoncello since the start of it all over twelve years ago. Other team members have been formally trained and new talent is continually emerging.

Today, thanks to a gamble taken over a decade ago, a number of eateries and cafes have sprung up along that “décor district” of Ottawa North, making it another great Hamilton destination to enjoy.

TRY IT YOURSELF!

Café Limoncello
226 Ottawa St. North, Hamilton
(905) 549-3556
www.cafelimoncello.com