La piazza allegra – brought to you by

Photos by Kaz
Novak, the Hamilton Spectator

Chef Sam Carino, flanked by owners Mark
Ferrugia, left, and Tony Ferrugia, brings simple
yet big hits to the dining table

Kaz Novak

Says chef Carino: ‘We wanted to develop …
several tastes from Asian like Thai and
Philippine, to Mediterranean such as

Virgo is right next to Theatre Aquarius on King William Street
and directly across the street from police headquarters,
meaning it will get a wide range of clientele once the theatre
opens for the season in the fall.

Owner Mark Farrugia says the restaurant, which opened
in March, is getting good trade from the cops as it works to
establish itself.

It is another eatery that is working to bring a pulse
back to the city core, a cool, chic spot which takes the
commonplace, puts a distinctive spin on it and, voila, there’s
an interesting lunch for 0 or dinner for 5 to $20.

The Farrugia family has a strong background in the food
business. Mark and father Tony run La Piazza on James Street
South. This enterprise is a different take on dining.

While La Piazza has the stone floors, fountain and
wrought iron to recreate a bright Italian piazza setting, and
all of the above and plenty of plants and pots of herbs
basking in a sun-lit dining room, Bistro Virgo is quite small
and modest in a modern, interesting way.

It features deep blue walls, geometric art and track
lighting, the space broken up by frosted glass dividers.

The tables are small but the seats are comfortable and
the table settings, including cloth napkins, are plain but

And when my guest and I looked over the menu, we
wondered how the newcomer would deliver at prices that were
very, very competitive given the surroundings.

I ordered the Citrus Salad ($5) and the Mongolian Beef
Wrap ($7), my guest selected the Thai Chicken ($7).

The salad arrived in good order, brought by a waiter
who was friendly, yet formal, and clearly knew his trade. It
was a good-sized serving of fresh greens and with a liberal
sprinkling of Mandarin oranges (the canned kind) and a tart
citrus vinaigrette.

It was quite good and begged for some bread, which we
had to ask about.

We were brought a plate of fresh pita slices and a tub
of black bean dip which was a grand accompaniment.

The main items came in timely fashion — the Mongolian
Beef, a thick patty tucked inside a pita pocket, and the Thai
Chicken also in patty form in a pita envelope. Both came with
intriguing fries that were a big hit on this side of the

The beef proved to be a thick puck shot through with
tiny vermicelli noodles and garnished beautifully with
caramelized onion and tomato. A hoisin sauce heightened the
whole sweetly and the portion was right-sized for a lunch

On the other side of the table, my guest was content
with his chicken, noting the patty was moist and had been
treated with a sweet marinade. Limo mayo was at hand on his
plate for added boost.

Now to the fries, and how often does a chef get grilled
on fries? We asked Sam Carino, the man in charge of the
kitchen, how he made something that is tough to resist in most
circumstances and even more addictive.

Carino, a graduate of the Hamilton cooking academy,
Liaison College, said it was a simple treatment.

Fresh cut fries are dusted with flour and sprinkled
with the Chinese hot sauce called sreracha. The deep-frying
which follows imparts a sweet taste that won huge favour on
this scorecard, which normally doesn’t rank something as
simple as fries.

Carino obviously brings more to the table than that
delicious side item. He has created a menu that is not
complicated but brings several influences to bear.

“We wanted to develop a choice with several tastes from
Asian like Thai and Philippine, to Mediterranean such as
Portuguese and Spanish.”

The result is a worthy addition to Hamilton’s dining
scene, something that would be even better if the restaurant
can get it’s patio licence before summer’s gone.

We wondered about those price points and how the
restaurant did it. Mark Farrugia said it was a matter of
family experience, based on La Piazza, in finding ways to
deliver good food at decent prices.

By the way, I closed out the meal with the usual due
diligence and I ordered Apple Caramel Cake ($4.50). It was a
five-layer dessert out of the kitchen at La Piazza and
excellent, if just a tad dry.

All in all, the meal was a fine experience.

John Kernaghan’s meals are paid by The Magazine and his
visits to restaurants are unannounced. You can contact him at
[email protected]
or 905-526-3422.

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