Some spell the last name as Mercante, and others as Mercanti; but no matter how they spell it, this iconic local family shares deep roots in Hamilton and its robust hospitality scene.
The Italian-born Mercante/Mercanti family is likely familiar to Hamiltonians as the name behind a number of local institutions, including sleek downtown fine dining spot Radius as well as the decades-old Carmen’s Group, known for their eponymous banquet centre, their hotel, and restaurant gems like Baci Ristorante.
But a short drive out of Hamilton into Brantford, another member of this busy family is making a splash with an Italian eatery that’s already earning recognition on a national scale after just a few short years of operation.
Mercasa is a fast casual dining restaurant that combines the efficiency of ‘fast food’ with handmade Italian cuisine that makes zero sacrifices on quality and taste.
Owned and operated by executive chef Tom Mercante, the restaurant prioritizes “from-scratch” cooking on their menu of rotating pastas, Roman-style pizzas, Italian sandwiches, and much more.
Before Mercante was dreaming up Mercasa and steering it into the beloved Brantford staple it is today, he was working as a teacher for more than two decades, specializing in teaching culinary arts for the majority of that time.
“I was an educator for 22 years before resigning in 2017 to start this new chapter in my life,” says Mercante, who had also worked in the kitchens of his mother’s restaurants in his youth.
After many years of regularly visiting Italy and getting re-immersed in its world-class food culture, Mercante’s dream of sharing the best of Italian cuisine with the Brantford area is what drove the initial concept behind Mercasa, as a restaurant that serves “hot and ready” Italian dishes without having to pre-order or wait.
Despite the fast casual approach, the food here doesn’t cut corners. Breads for sandwiches are baked fresh daily using dough that’s risen for 72 hours; meats are hormone and antibiotic free, and sourced from Ontario farmers; sauces are made in-house; and other ingredients like vegetables are fresh as can be and sourced locally whenever possible.
Quick lunches are a strong favourite here, but Mercasa also serves large family dinners with everything ready to feed a full family of 4 to 6 people, from eight-layer lasagnas to heaping amounts of pasta and chicken parmigiana, to meet the needs of today’s busy families.
But the Roman pizzas here might be Mercasa’s most notable draw, and not just because it’s Brantford’s only restaurant that specializes in them. The pies have exceeded their popularity among locals by being named one of Canada’s top pizzerias to visit for 2022 by Canadian Pizza Magazine as part of a list of just 28 pizzerias across the country.
Just as meaningful to Mercante as that recognition is the fact that he gets to use Mercasa for a charitable good within his community.
“I was floored to hear that we were named one of the top pizzerias to visit in Canada! Our pizza is like no other and it’s amazing that it’s getting so popular,” he says.
“The fact that we are also recognized for our community support means a lot and hopefully inspires others to do the same.”
Within his leadership at Mercasa, Mercante makes a meaningful impact by donating proceeds from dishes to Nova Vita women’s shelter, and giving dozens of hot meals every week to organizations like Why Not City Missions in support of at-risk youth. In some years, Mercasa has donated as many as 5,000 meals to community members in need.
It’s exactly the kind of spirit that makes a restaurant venture like Mercasa so successful: not just amazing food on the plate, but a kind heart and friendly smile behind the whole operation.
See more about Mercasa on their website, and follow them on social media here. Visit the restaurant in person at 195 Henry Street in Brantford, Ontario.
Images courtesy of Mercasa
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