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Jan. 17, 2022 | Monday
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SPONSORED: Ruffino’s: New pop-up restaurant offers a taste of Napoli in Niagara-on-the-Lake


Looking for a taste of Italy in Niagara-on-the-Lake? Look no further, Chef Ryan Crawford of Backhouse has you covered.

This year for the first time since the opening of Backhouse, Crawford has decided to try something a little different, by opening an Italian pop-up restaurant during the winter downtime, instead of closing his restaurant for part of the week.

Starting Jan. 7, Crawford and staff are going to transform Backhouse into Ruffino’s Pasta Bar & Grill in “Naples-on-the-Lake” every Tuesday and Wednesday for the winter season.

Having made 1,000 litres of tomato sauce this year alone from his home garden, Crawford says his love of all things Italy is apparent. He has two Spinone Italiano dogs, one of which he’s naming the restaurant after – Ruffino. He cures his own prosciutto, he’s learned how to make wood-fired pizza from Pieza Pizzeria’s Maurizio Cesta, and now he’s ready to roll up his sleeves and roll out some home-cooked pasta just like Nona does.

Crawford says the feel of the restaurant will be reminiscent of the former Stone Road Grille, where he made a name for himself as chef before opening Backhouse. He’s even bringing back the old front door to “REST,” as a throwback to older times in town.

The menu at Ruffino’s is the real difference, though, with all traditional Italian dishes including wood-fired pizzas, home-made pasta, and Italian-inspired grilled meats and fish. “We’re still going to use all the great vegetables from our farm – just in an Italian way! It’s the same local love, except now we’re using olive oil and parmesan cheese.”

“Backhouse is focused on hyperlocal Ontario foods.  We don’t use lemons and limes, olives or olive oil, and I miss them, and I really missed making risotto, so we said, ‘Hey, let’s do Italian a couple of days a week, keep it cheap and cheerful and make it accessible to everyone.’  It’s a chance for the chefs to kind of play and have fun. Backhouse doesn’t use vanilla or coffee in desserts, we don’t use chocolates, but now anything is a go, and as long as it’s Italian. It’s going to be different, but in a great way!  We’re going to keep our mandate of supporting local. We’re just going to do it Italian!!

Crawford says he wants the environment to be somewhere people can bring their kids for dinner – they’ll have a children’s menu, crayons and reasonable prices for decent-sized portions.

“I want to see kids come in and run around. We want people just to have fun, come in for a quick pizza, come in for a family-style meal. We’re just going to feed you like you’re in Nona’s house.” 

“We’re going to open at like 4 p.m. so if there are kids going to hockey or dance or whatever they can come in before and have a snack — I want it to be completely different than Backhouse. We have pink checkered table clothes, Chianti wine bottle candle holders, we’re going to serve Italian wines. I want it to be that little Italian trattoria just around the corner from your house.” 

Staff will wear T-shirts – no chef coats.  “We aren’t taking reservations, unless it’s a party of six or more.”

 “All the pasta is going to be hand-rolled. We even have a chitarra, from our friend Mike Commisso. It looks like a guitar and makes great spaghetti-like noodles.”

The bar will also have more Italian-inspired cocktails, and the wines will be mostly Italian, he says. Wine prices will be affordable, with bottles for $49, $59 and $69 and glasses for around $10.

“Basically, I’m opening a new restaurant two days a week — the kind of restaurant I would love to eat at with my family. It’s the same space, but it’s a different restaurant.”

“I want it to be for families. If I could bring Ruffino my dog in here, and have him running around, I totally would … But I’m not allowed to. We have a Ruffino statue that’s going to come in instead.”

Crawford says he hopes to see more locals come into the restaurant, not just for special occasions as they tend to do with Backhouse, but for everyday meals as well. “I want them to come in all the time, sit at the bar, have amaro, have some grappa, have a pizza or risotto, and chat a bit. I want to invite them into my home. I want to cook for them.”

Ruffino’s will be open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from Jan. 7 until May.