Just Opened: The Hoof Café melds Grant van Gameren’s charcuterie with brunch favourites and bar food
Last year, the Black Hoof’s tiny kitchen ignited the city’s love of carnivorous delights with its bold charcuterie plates and snout-to-tail ethos. Now, owners Jen Agg and Grant van Gameren are trying to make lightning strike twice with their imaginative take on brunch and bar snacks—both served at the new Hoof Café, located directly across the street from the original. “Everyone’s doing the same thing across the city,” says van Gameren, who finally has a kitchen larger than a janitor’s closet. “Why can’t you have rabbit or suckling pig eggs Benedict in the morning?”
The brunch menu lists classics with a charcuterie spin, such as grilled cheese with tongue ($14), rabbit and buckwheat pancakes ($14), and pigtails with grits ($13). We dropped by the morning after it opened and ordered the suckling pig Benny ($13), which was surprisingly light. “We didn’t want people to be so full that they’re rolling out of the restaurant,” says head cook Geoff Hopgood, who first met van Gameren at Lucien, where van Gameren worked the kitchen and Hopgood supplied him with ramps.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Hoof joint without Agg’s carefully crafted cocktails. At night, the brunch spot turns into a bar with a snack menu that includes crispy beans ($5), grilled beef heart ($4) and a list of wintry libations with names like “lady saffron” (saffron gin, simple syrup and lemon, $12) and “Kwanzaa in Havana” (spiced seven-year rum, simple syrup and vanilla, $12). Wine lovers should note that all the wines and beers are from Ontario.
“I have this fantasy that having two restaurants is easier than one,” Agg says with a laugh. “This space acts as a holding tank for storage and a place for people to go when there are huge lineups at the [Black] Hoof. And since we’re right across the street, I can keep an eye on the Hoof. We even have walkie-talkies so we’re in constant contact.”
The new space, formerly occupied by The Chelsea Room, is the bright yin to the Black Hoof’s dark-walled yang. Plain white walls, a tin ceiling and old windows (here transformed into cabinet doors that conceal jars of Agg’s homemade bitters) make the place look less like a restaurant and more like a friend’s kitchen, especially when sunlight floods the room on a crisp Sunday morning. At night, a dozen or so candles are lit, making the café resemble what Agg calls “a jewel box.”
The retail offshoot of the Hoof Café that van Gameren was mulling back in the spring remains unrealized as he settles down between the two kitchens, though it’s safe to say deli slices and supermarket counters aren’t an option. What is certain is that the café will become another dining destination in the Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood.
The Hoof Café, 923 Dundas St. W. (at Bellwoods Ave.), 416-551-8854.