Ricky + Olivia, an all-Ontario wine bar in Leslieville, is serving 90s nostalgia

Wine lovers Ricky Casipe and Olivia Simpson bring their Niagara know-how to Ricky + Olivia, a brick-and-mortar spot showcasing the best of the province with fun twists on childhood favourites.  

Ricky + Olivia: What's the vibe

Though the 'Wayla' sign has seen better days, it still flaps in the breeze in front of Ricky + Olivia, a new Toronto wine bar from the eponymous Ricky Casipe and Olivia Simpson. And that's unlikely to change. "Ricky and Olivia had their first kiss here," says Adrian Proszowski, a third and more silent partner in this new Leslieville opening. "It holds a lot of memories."

Formerly Wayla Bar & Lounge, an LGBTQ-friendly spot for dancing that stands for 'What Are You Looking At,' the sprawling space has now been transformed into a bottle shop, lounge restaurant and dog-friendly patio. Long and narrow, it's been divided into several unique dining areas to suit your vibe: drop-in drinks, patio aperitivos or a full-on dinner.

Ricky + Olivia | The interior design at Leslieville's Ricky + Olivia mixes bold colour with fun murals

At the front, you'll find a desk and a wall lined with bottles of fun and funky vino from Ontario. Walk a little further and you're in a dimly lit and moody lounge. Keep going and you'll hit the dining room, the main artery of the restaurant where activity hums and an open-concept kitchen allows you to spy on Ricky Casipe and the team at work. The interior is whitewashed and brick-wall backed with pops of colour courtesy of painted chairs and Keith Haring-esque murals, plus plenty of foliage and wine bottles dangling from macrame hangers. 

Lastly, there's a small but perfectly formed patio at the north end with space for about 10 guests and even more four-legged friends. The effect is that multiple experiences are awaiting in each nook that you'll just have to keep coming back to revisit.

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Ricky + Olivia: What's on the menu

After four years of pop-up dinners with their business Ricky + Olivia Events, the hospitality couple has put down roots on the east end of town. For the food program, Casipe leans into his playful side, putting nostalgia-fuelled 90s childhood classics on a pedestal and allowing them to shine with a few clever tweaks.

Ricky + Olivia | The steak tartare at Ricky + Olivia is a riff on the Big Mac

The steak tartare, made with hand-cut hanger steak, iceberg lettuce, cheese whiz and a sous-vide egg yolk served with a side of deep-fried saltines, takes its cue from the Big Mac. There's also the Lunchables, a grown-up version of the school lunchroom fave featuring a 5 Brothers Gouda from Gunn's Hill and a Glengarry Celtic Blue, beef pepperettes and bread and butter pickles. It's playful and sentimental but it's also downright delicious and somehow manages to feel sophisticated.  

Ricky + Olivia | Springhills Trout uses a cheerio and sesame garnish instead of almonds

Cereal even makes an appearance in Springhills Trout, a spin on trout almondine that uses a cheerio sesame garnish in place of traditional almonds. "I grew up on cereal," says Casipe. "But Olivia wasn't allowed it, so we had to put it on the menu."

Ricky + Olivia | Radishes puts local veggies on top of nori for a sushi mash up

The standout, though, is Radishes. Part deconstructed sushi, part mad-scientist chef genius, and completely delicious, the dish sees a mix of vinaigrette-soaked veggies on top of deep-fried rice paper and nori, drizzled in spicy mayo. Guests are given a pair of scissors so they can cut themselves a portion of the shareable plate, which only adds to the interactive and fun atmosphere.

Ricky + Olivia: What to drink

Each summer, Casipe and Simpson run the seasonal food program on Westcott Vineyards's patio, and you can see the Niagara winery passion has extended to their own spot. Ricky + Olivia's collection of by-the-glass sparkling, white, orange and rosé has carefully curated the most exciting things coming out of Ontario's wine country. 

And it doesn't stop there. The cocktail program is flush with Canadian additions like the Lil Cap, a spin on a certain coffee shop's blended frozen coffee slushy, featuring maple moonshine. Beamsville favourite Dillon's gets plenty of love with spirits like vodka, amaretto and melon gin finding its way into the wild and wonderful drinks at Ricky + Olivia.

Ricky + Olivia | The wine bar serves only wine from Ontario, both by the glass and at their bottle shop

In some ways, the cocktails feel like a more cosmopolitan version of at-home creations and boozy experiments. The kalimotxo — a party cocktail I last drank three days into a music festival when there was no ice to be found — gets the ultimate glow-up with cola, Traynor's Hot Rocket Pet Nat and cassis from Southbrook Vineyards. 

The Martini-ish section veers creatively off of the classic cocktail path with varieties like The Saltini, a briny, deep-fried saltine sipper, and Spring in the City made with Ontario rhubarbs. In yet another genius move, Ricky + Olivia even gives you the option to make your order a 'teeny', so you can sample a one-ounce version that won't derail your dinner plans. 

Dinner and drinks for two: around $150 before tax and tip.

rickyandolivia.com

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