Lunch With Julie : Pizza at a New Place on King St West

Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no question that the boom in condo development in Toronto shows little signs of abating. According to this article from March 2019, discussing “The Crane Index” (it’s a thing!), in the spring we had more building cranes here (104 of them) than did New York, LA and Chicago combined.

From the viewpoint of a resident who walks around the city a lot, it seems like on any given block of the downtown core, if there isn’t a new building, there’s one in the process of being built, or a big sign stating that a request to build a condo has been submitted to city hall. Based on what I’ve read, apparently before the growth of all these new taller buildings in Toronto, we were considered a “short” city, in that we had fewer skyscrapers than other major cities, and the economic health of Toronto relied on the construction of more places for people to live downtown.

As a result of all this immense change, there are many people who were here before all this growth, who are unhappy with what is going on. Indeed, there is a lot more shade on the streets, and the sidewalks are more crowded, for sure. However, I’ve noted some bright-sides, as well, which have made living downtown much more fun.

One is that the city just doesn’t just give the developers the right to build, without getting something for the residents back in return. Those contributions come in the form of space and funding for city parks and investment in arts and culture. To quote the city’s website (here) : The Planning Act “allows the City of Toronto to harness growth by requiring all new development to contribute to the expansion and enhancement of the city’s parks and open space system.” In addition to public parks, the city’s official plan also includes something called “Percent for Public Art Program” (detailed here), which requires developers to either provide some form of art that is publicly accessible and clearly visible at all times. So, there are many new and refurbished parks around the city, plus sculptures, and seating areas all over the place.

The reason I’m writing this today? Where once there were dusty empty lots, there are now all kinds of new shops, bars and restaurants located in the base of many of the new condo buildings! Just this week, I’ve walked to a grocery store, a clothing shop, a taco place, a drug store and a post office, all located in places that were mere patches of dirt when we moved to our Queen Street West neighbourhood 20 years ago.

And, speaking of restaurants situated under condo buildings, at the invitation of my dear friend Julie, I’ve recently been to this new-to-me place, Oretta, located on the ground floor of a new condo building on King Street West, and it was a really good time!

Before looking at photos of this beautiful place, though, here’s a quick peek at what this exact spot looked like 8 years ago, in the summer of 2011. Did I mention dust?

Prior to doing any digging in Toronto, a good look at the site has to be taken beforehand, in the form of an archaeological excavation. While this lot had previously been home to what was the last motel standing downtown, The Executive Motor Hotel, estimated to have been built in the 1950s, it was first the site of an estate that had been built in 1850. These photos show the remnants of that old home.

↑ The same location in 2011 ↑

↑ 169 years after this was built, Julie and I sat and ate pizza right above it. ↑

And now, a look at that very lovely lunch. Julie was treating me, making it extra nice.

↑ Peach Bellinis! ↑

↑ We both had a pizza. I love arugula but had never tried it on pizza before, so chose the “Parma : fior di latte (a semi-soft, fresh cheese), caramelized onion, arugula, ham, Parmesan” . It was delicious. And very plentiful. We both ended up taking half our pizza home, a request that was very graciously handled by the friendly server. ↑

Look how pretty …

You go upstairs for the restrooms, gaining access to a wonderful view of the restaurant. There is also seating on the second floor.

While speaking about the up-side of the condo boom in Toronto, I must add how much we are appreciating the new bylaw that prohibits regular motor traffic on King Street. As a user of public transit, it has changed my life, making getting places so much faster. It has also made way for outdoor patios, including this one belonging to Oretta.

We ventured down the lane-way between buildings, to get to their charming caffe. (When looking at these photos afterwards, though, I saw that the caffe could also have been accessed through the restaurant.)

↑ Steps from Oretta, crossing Bathurst Street at King. The building you see across the street is The Wheat Sheaf Tavern, Toronto’s oldest bar at 170 years. It’s currently closed for extensive renovations. Fun fact : I lived in the tower behind it for a couple of years after graduating from university. ↑

Follow-up : I laughed out loud when I read Julie’s note and saw this photo she took with her phone and sent over after our lunch together: “Not only do you look great in this photo, you look very happy about that pizza!” It’s safe to say that I didn’t realize I was being included in the picture! haha

Thanks for reading and wishing you a great weekend. xo loulou