For many who work in the hospitality industry, the emphasis is on the industry, and the bottom line is what drives them. At Pasto’s Grill, on the outskirts of London, it’s the hospitality that keeps the customers coming back.
Pasto’s is a family affair. Maybe that helps. Siblings Natalie Zima and Peter Johnson, along with their parents, have spent the last fifteen years creating a warm and welcoming environment for their customers. In the late ’90s, the family opened the Stoneridge Inn, just off Colonel Talbot Road near the 401. Pasto’s Grill serves the hotel guests, of course, but the Italian-inspired cuisine and the congenial atmosphere are available to anyone who wants to enjoy it.
While the inn is Natalie’s purview, and the kitchen is Peter’s, there is considerable overlap, and they’re comfortable working together. “We have our moments, but you get it out and go back to work.”
The family heritage is obvious in the menu. Many of the traditional recipes come from the kitchen of Natalie and Peter’s mother. From appetizers like Ravioli alla Langoustine (lobster ravioli in a lobster bisque) through to Veal Marsala with wild mushrooms, and pasta, pizza and panzerotti, the food is fresh and house-made. Says Peter, “There are no shortcuts in the kitchen.” Some items offer a more modern aesthetic, like the Pear Salad, with field greens, red peppers, blue cheese, caramelized pecans and champagne vinaigrette.
Similarly, the wine list reflects the family’s culture. With plenty of Italian wines and a smattering of New World offerings, the list offers a good selection, all well-priced, from Australian Shiraz to Brunello di Montalcino. How is the list decided upon? Maybe on a family Sunday afternoon around the table, tasting and discussing, with input from everyone. While quality and price are important, so is taste and the matching of food and wine. Moreover, as Natalie says of the selections that make the list, “they’re our favourites.”
The beverage list also offers a variety of beers, cocktails, liquors and liqueurs, including a nice choice of scotches, cognacs and Armagnacs.
But before you enjoy your digestif, indulge in a treat from the dessert menu. There’s something to suit every taste: a mini crème brûlée (regular size is also available); dacquoise (here offered with almond meringue, ice cream, fresh berry sauce and whipped cream); chocolate walnut tart; warm apple crostata, and more. All desserts are made fresh daily, in-house.
In 2000, Stoneridge Inn became an associate in Best Western International. The relationship requires that the inn maintain set standards of service, and while allowing members to have an independent identity, offers the advantages of a strong brand. Best Western also has requirements for the kitchens and the quality of food served at functions and to the hotel guests. The restaurant itself is not subject to monitoring. As it happens, in the case of Pasto’s, that’s not really relevant. Peter Johnson has his own standards, shared by the rest of the family. And they are high: fresh ingredients, flavourful and healthy food, and professional friendly service.
The dining room is built in a half-circle. The kitchen is the physical and metaphorical hub, separated from the dining area by a couple of comfortable curved bars (popular with the after-work crowd). Tables are each given generous space around the arc of the outer wall. The colours are predominantly warm shades of terra-cotta and cream, and between the windows, most of which give a view of surrounding fields and trees, the walls are filled with wine racks and period posters. Overall, the ambiance, while sophisticated, manages to be casual, comfortable, and that word again – hospitable. The staff is mostly young, some university students, some neighbours, and some former clients who started coming to Pasto’s with their families and are now “serving age.” But young and local doesn’t mean untrained. Service here is friendly and professional.
Pasto’s Grill and the Stoneridge Inn, like the family behind them, support each other. Peter’s kitchen and staff are responsible for preparing food for the hotel guests and for the numerous corporate and private functions hosted by the inn (it’s a very popular site for wedding receptions). People attending events at the inn will often take a break in Pasto’s, and it’s not uncommon to see a bride relaxing for a while in the dining room. The kitchen also provides catering services for both business and private occasions. And a few years ago, a new facility was added to the enterprise. The Rose Chapel, just across the lane from the main inn, was built in 1886. The former church has been gracefully restored, and provides a venue for non-denominational ceremonies and services.
Pasto’s location outside of London’s urban centre has been a challenge. “It took us a long time to build a customer base,” admits Natalie. But they now have a loyal local clientele, and benefit from strong word-of-mouth advertising. “We wanted to make this a comfortable spot for everyone.” Patrons come from all over the surrounding area, including Port Stanley, West Lorne, and St. Thomas. Driving from the Western Fair Market in London was a surprisingly easy twenty minutes.
On advertising for Pasto’s Grill, the tagline reads, “Italian seduction, bite by bite.” If you’ve enjoyed Pasto’s already, then you don’t need to be sold on it. If not, take that very short drive. Be seduced – by the food, and yes, by the hospitality.
6675 Burtwistle Lane,
London, ON N6L 1H5
Monday & Tuesday, 11 to 9
Wednesday to Saturday, 11 to 10
Sunday – 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
* Hours are subject to change without notice.
Recipe courtesy of Pasto’s Grill, London
1 head romaine lettuce, trimmed and torn into pieces 10 oz mixed baby greens
2 ripe Bosc or Anjou pears, cored and cut into ¾” slices
1 red bell pepper, seeded, deveined and julienned
2 cups crumbled blue cheese
¾ cup Champagne Vinaigrette
freshly ground black pepper
vegetable oil cooking spray
1 large egg white
10 oz pecan halves and pieces (about 2 ½ cups)
¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 shallot, quartered
1 small clove garlic
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Dash of freshly ground white pepper
½ cup Champagne vinegar
1½ cups canola oil
1 To make the candied pecans, preheat oven to 325ºF. Spray the bottom of a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. In a bowl, whist the egg white until it is completely foamy and no liquid remains. Fold in the pecans and brown sugar. Toss gently to coat. Arrange the pecans on the prepared baking sheet, keeping the individual pieces separate. Bake until the egg-white sugar mixture is cooked through and the nuts are golden brown, 12-14 minutes. Loosen the nuts from the pan with a spatula. Set aside to cool.
2 In a blender or food processor, process the shallot and garlic until finely minced. Add the mustard, sugar, salt, pepper and vinegar. Process to combine ingredients thoroughly. Gradually add oil (with machine running) in a thin, steady stream to form an emulsion. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
3 To assemble: In a large bowl, combine the romaine, mixed baby greens, bell pepper, cheese and pecans. Add the Champagne vinaigrette and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper.
Cecilia Buy is eatdrink’s Managing Editor, and is happy to drive any distance for good food.