When she first found out that her restaurant, Highview Food & Drink, had been nominated in the Search for Ontario’s Best Veal Sandwich, Noelle Barone didn’t expect to win. She didn’t even expect to be a finalist. How could a newly-opened restaurant in quiet little Southampton compete with the established Italian tradition of communities like Woodbridge and Toronto’s Little Italy?
Both Eugene and Noelle Barone, husband-and-wife co-owners of Highview, are well-acquainted with just how deep that tradition runs. They experienced it firsthand working on College Street during the 90’s, when the restaurateurs moved in and Little Italy was booming. The food served up by these sleek new bars and restaurants was not simply an authentic taste of another country’s cuisine but practically a cuisine in its own right—uniquely Toronto-Italian and a hallmark of the area.
In 1987, with several successes already under his belt, Eugene bought and revamped Bar Italia on College, bringing his own signature style to the restaurant through small touches that reflected his childhood in Italy. That Bar Italia remains a local icon today is testament to his entrepreneurial skill and knack for navigating the fickle waters of trend and taste.
Noelle, on the other hand, experienced College Street from the back of the house rather than the front. A Southampton native and student of George Brown’s Culinary Management program, she spent her time bouncing around different restaurants in Toronto and soaking up all the cooking experience she could get. She was working on College Street for a friend of Eugene’s when the two met, and soon they became a couple.
Noelle and Eugene’s move to Southampton happened in stages—first with the purchase of a summer home that saw frequent visits, then with the sale of Bar Italia and a half-half split of their time between Toronto and the little port town. In 2006, wanting more than just an occasional escape from the bustle of the city, they decided to move to Southampton permanently.
The Barones weren’t done with the restaurant business just yet, however. Not long after settling into their new home, they founded and later sold the successful Italian fine dining restaurant Rosina in Port Elgin. A few years after that, itching for a new project, they bought the old Highview building in Southampton.
Only in operation since July of 2016, Highview Food & Drink is most definitely a labour of love for the Barones. Noelle, the chef, runs the kitchen while Eugene manages the front of the house, the two of them working in practiced tandem. The restaurant itself is a stylish-yet-intimate space, contemporary with nods to the classic and boasting a slick bar fitted with lighting worthy of any chic downtown lounge. The concept of the restaurant is garden-to-table with a simple menu comprised of fresh, locally-sourced dishes. Highview ensures a minimum of 25% Ontario-sourced product is on hand at all times—some of the produce is even grown on the nearby farm owned by Noelle’s parents.
Sourcing their ingredients locally is very important to the Barones, Noelle explains. They believe in supporting Ontario farmers and businesses, having greater control over the quality of their product, and reducing their carbon footprint. Buying local as a business can sometimes be difficult in terms of cost, scale, and logistics, but it’s an integral part of Highview’s identity and its owners are committed to the cause.
Highview’s breaded veal sandwich, now officially “Ontario’s Best,” perfectly embodies the restaurant’s style—a rustic Toronto-Italian classic made with fresh, local ingredients and assembled with a little modern flair. Whereas the typical Italian-style veal cutlet is pounded thin with a mallet to tenderize it, Noelle finds that this can lead to the meat being too thin and prone to drying out quickly. She simply breads the cutlet as is and quick-fries it in oil at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, then seasons it with Kosher salt and allows it to rest for about a minute. This resting time gives the veal a better chance to achieve a colour closer to medium rare, which is Noelle’s preferred outcome. It will remain juicy and tender, allowing the texture and flavour of the veal itself to be the centrepiece of the sandwich.
The breading is comprised of Panko breadcrumbs—made from crust-less bread— which Noelle says have a more consistent texture than breadcrumbs made from the whole loaf. The crumbs stand up well under the tomato sauce and cheese topping, adding an unexpected crispy layer to what could otherwise be a soggy sandwich. The sauce itself is made in-house, a simple blend of onions, San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and basil.
The sandwich is given an updated twist with the addition of sliced provolone cheese and a hidden leaf of basil for a pop of fragrant freshness. The whole thing is brought together by a light and airy bun with a delicate egg wash that lends the surface an appealing shine. The combination of tender Ontario veal, crispy breading, fresh flavours, and soft bun makes for a delicious and satisfying sandwich you can really sink your teeth into.
Since their nomination and subsequent win in the Search for Ontario’s Best Veal Sandwich, Noelle reports that Highview’s customers have been eager to sample the winning dish. Nearly every table seems to order at least one veal sandwich, she says, and the restaurant has actually sold out of veal entirely on a few occasions. As a new restaurant, this has been a wonderful opportunity for the Barones to gain publicity, not only for their business but also for their community. In her profession, Noelle has always tried to take inspiration from her favourite Italian ingredients, recipes, and traditional food styles and somehow modernize or revive them for the Ontario market. Winning this contest is a satisfying validation of her approach to recipe creation.
Despite the sudden upsurge of interest in Highview Food & Drink, Noelle is adamant that her and Eugene have no plans to expand at the moment. They want to perfect the niche they’ve carved for themselves with Highview, and are excited to give their customers an alternative to the typical country restaurants that populate the area.
She always had access to fresh, homegrown food growing up, Noelle says. Highview is a reflection of that upbringing, and a way of giving the same access to her kids, her neighbours, and her community.