Rialto Espresso Bar: the end justifies the beans

In a world where Instagram-worthy Frappuccinos and high-end coffee culture has taken on a mind of its own, there is a robust café in a heritage building at the corner of John St. and Adelaide switching things up in a different way. Rialto (previously known as Milano) is a cozy espresso bar and patio offering a boutique coffee experience, sourcing single-origin coffees and garnering attention from locals and coffee enthusiasts alike.

When you walk into the coffee bar, owner, Christian Petronio, formerly of TOCA and Buca, is often behind the counter orchestrating conversations and cappuccinos like a conductor. There is an air about him, giving Rialto a neighbourhood feel akin to the community-centric café experience Italians are familiar with. We have taken note of the waves Rialto is making in the ‘hood and sat down with Christian to unpack the bean.

1) How did your love affair with coffee begin?

It started as a child going with my grandfather to the trattoria at Vancouver’s Italian Cultural Centre – Just the aroma, the old timers playing cards and watching soccer.

2) Why did you make the decision to open a café in the Entertainment District?

We had identified a few other locations further outside of downtown and none materialized. One day we saw this interesting listing in a great area. If we could overcome the issue of visibility, being housed a few stairs above street level and set back a few feet, we would have great potential.

3) Why did you choose to name the café Rialto?

It’s a name that comes from the historic central market of Venice where most of the goods returning from the Silk Road were first presented to the Western European market. It’s this idea of bridging cultures, primarily Italian and Canadian, but allowing for other influences as we grow and continue the dialogue with our neighbourhood.

4) What makes coffee at Rialto special? Where is it sourced from?

A few things: we offer a breadth of options not usually found in cafés throughout the city. We regularly have four espresso blend options and five pour over options. All very different from one another and curated from the best Italian and local roasters. We are the only cafe in the city offering a regular tasting flight with three of our select espressos.

5) What is Nitro Brewed coffee? Is it different than regular iced coffee?

It’s coffee, punched with nitrogen to give it a Guinness-like head. This process helps create a completely unique and complex flavour profile. We work with local roaster Barocco Coffee and employ its Appian blend. Being a light roast on its own, it carries a bit more caffeine than a darker roasted coffee but add the 16-hour extraction process and it becomes a highway to productivity! For the record, we can also serve our entire menu in cold drink form!

6) What menu item is the unsung hero at Rialto?

Bicerin (beach-e-reen), is a traditional hot drink native to Turin, Italy. We make ours using thick drinking chocolate, two shots espresso and whipping cream all blended into a tight, rich sensorial delight. Particularly satisfying in the colder months.

7) Is there a coffee technique or trend you feel deserves to come into the spotlight?

Pour over coffee is definitely becoming a bit more widespread but is still in need of a push, particularly amongst “regular”, “brewed”, or “drip” coffee drinkers. Instead of being made at an earlier time and sitting around on a glass pot, we grind beans fresh and add hot water so coffee is made instantly and with the added benefit of a more complete and thorough extraction. It also, despite popular belief, does not take long at all to make.

8) Favourite places to go in the Entertainment District for…

A good dinner: PAI
A speedy lunch: Rialto Espresso Bar!
Friday night drinks: Our great friends at PAI!

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