It’s been while since Geoff Hopgood, best known (and beloved) for the innovative brunch he served at the now-closed Hoof Café, first told us of his plans to open his own restaurant. Now, the friendly Haligonian has opened Hopgood’s Foodliner on the laid back (yet still booming) Roncesvalles strip, in a bid to introduce Torontonians to the East Coast comfort food of his youth.
Previously Brad’s Takeout and Eatery, the 1,600-square-foot space contains 50 seats in two dining rooms with a long open kitchen between them. Styled by Hopgood’s sister Sarah, the rooms exude the warmed-up industrial gruffness common to most new places these days (exposed air ducts, reclaimed hemlock barnboard flooring, salvaged fixtures and industrial pendant lights from Smash). Ten metal high school lab chairs (some still inscribed with the teacher’s name) surround the cherrywood-topped bar, behind which is a light box displaying a blown-up slide of a location of the Hopgood’s Foodliner chain of grocery stores owned by Hopgood’s family back east. Other tributes to the family business include the wallpaper that lines the hallway between the front and back rooms, on which a printed black and white photo from one store’s aisles, and a playful display of Triscuit boxes, Tabasco sauces and evaporated milk cans stacked along the back room’s south wall.
Although he’d initially planned to open a small late night eatery, the restaurant instead focuses on childhood favourites from the Maritimes, like playful palm-sized donairs ($12 for two) made from a mix of beef and pork on fluffy house-made pitas and dressed with an evaporated milk–based sauce. The hot crab dip with Triscuits ($14) is based on a popular snack Hopgood’s mother serves at parties. The menu’s simplicity is deceptive—the chef employs modern gadgets like a sous-vide setup (for the quarter chicken and grits, $26) and a paint gun (to spray cocoa on the crispy toffee bar, $8), an approach which he tells us gives him control over every aspect of his food, something his mentor Robert Belcham (Vancouver’s Refuel and Campagnolo) instilled in him. Hopgood is assisted in the back and front of house by other Hoof Café alumni, including restaurant manager Jenny Smith (ex-Woodlot), who’s also responsible for the unique drink list which features rare old-vine wines and a small selection of food-friendly cocktails like the Bronx with bitters ($10) and Arnaud’s Special ($12-26). Hopgood fans from the Hoof days will be happy to hear that Foodliner takes reservations (two weeks in advance). Oh, and plans for a brunch service are in the works, naturally.