The Black Hoof

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Q&A: Jen Agg, Toronto’s most loved and loathed restaurateur

(Image: Jenna Marie Wakani)

(Image: Jenna Marie Wakani)

Since opening The Black Hoof in 2008, Jen Agg has established herself as one of the most influential—and divisive—restaurant owners in the city. She’s contributed plenty to Toronto’s food obsession (the city’s love for charcuterie, the cocktail movement, and even just making Dundas West a thing), but she’s also known for her opinionated swagger, which sometimes overshadows her culinary prescience (she often takes her beefs to Twitter, and in one memorable episode, used the social platform to complain about some of her “douchier” patrons). Earlier this month, news broke that she’s starting her biggest project yet: Agrikol, a Haitian restaurant she’s opening in Montreal with her husband, artist Roland Jean, plus Win Butler and Régine Chassagne from Arcade Fire. She’s also writing a memoir called I Hear She’s A Real Bitch that’s set to be published by Random House next year. We caught up with her to talk about her new restaurant, her book and why she thinks she’s got so many enemies.

So your upcoming new restaurant is getting attention everywhere. It’s even been mentioned in Rolling Stone and Pitchfork. It seems like that’s not really your style, to hype something up like that.
Well, it was a conscious choice. I knew the cat would get out of the bag, so I wanted to control the dissemination. I wanted to make sure that the story that got out was the story I wanted to tell. A lot of the time when you’re dealing with people who are extraordinarily famous—which, certainly, the Arcade Fire are—people will put words in your mouth.

Does that sort of intense media coverage make it feel like too many expectations are building up for you?
No, I don’t feel like that any more. I just feel like it’s going to be fun, and I’m really excited to do it—I’ve already proven that I can do this.

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People

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Q&A: Max Rimaldi, the Pizzeria Libretto owner who made Neapolitan pizza a thing in Toronto

(Image: Claire Foster)

(Image: Claire Foster)

In the seven years since Pizzeria Libretto first opened on Ossington, co-owner and creator Max Rimaldi has become one of the most influential restaurateurs in the city. There are now three Librettos, along with legions of copycats—this, in addition to his other restaurants, including the much-heralded Enoteca Sociale on Dundas West and two in-the-works collaborations with Porchetta and Co.’s Nick Auf der Mauer: a pizza and porchetta union on King West and A3 Napoli in Little Italy. Oh, and did we mention that Rimaldi also helped finance a little restaurant called Bar Isabel? We met up with Rimaldi to talk about fine dining, Neapolitan pizza and the state of Toronto’s restaurant scene.

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Restaurants

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Meathead: Grant van Gameren is Toronto’s hottest chef, and he’s about to prove it again

At the Black Hoof and Bar Isabel, the neurotic, self-taught Grant van Gameren made offal sexy and became an unlikely celebrity chef. Bar Raval, his new restaurant on a prime Little Italy corner, is the most hyped opening of the year. Too bad he loathes the spotlight

Grant van GamerenBar Raval, Grant van Gameren’s latest project, is named after a seedy neighbourhood in Barcelona. You wouldn’t know it from his elaborate plans for the place. He and his two partners, Robin Goodfellow and Mike Webster, are investing somewhere around half a million dollars to renovate the building at the corner of College and Palmerston, where Teatro used to be—a preposterous sum for a 40-seat restaurant that will serve finger food and cocktails. Everything, absolutely everything at Bar Raval, will be custom made: the tamper for the espresso bar, the foot rests, the drip tray with the Wu-Tang logo. The South American mahogany for the walls is being machine-carved and hand-oiled at a millworks in North York. The panels, designed by the boutique architecture firm Partisans, will have swooping rounded contours that replicate the three partners’ bodies. The design was so novel, so complex, that the manufacturers had to develop new algorithms for the software that guides the drill bits over the wood.

The project would seem hubristic if van Gameren had ever failed at a restaurant. But he hasn’t. The man’s sense of what Toronto craves has been impeccable. His food manages to fit the moment and the city with perfect accord.

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TIFF 2014

TIFF Red Carpet

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Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace Drop by the Princess of Wales Theatre

GCiampini_TheDrop-9873-top

(Image: Giordano Ciampini)

In the gritty crime drama The Drop, living meat man Tom Hardy plays a Brooklyn bartender drawn into the seedy Chechen crime underworld. (Side note: why are crime dramas always “gritty” nowadays? Whatever happened to the squeaky-clean crime dramas of old? And why are people always “drawn” into underworlds? Why can’t they ever be sent a formal invitation?) The Brit hunk was scrubbed free of any screen grime when he took to the red carpet on King Street yesterday, alongside co-star Noomi Rapace (the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). Hardy greeted fans arriving with plenty of Dark Knight box sets to sign, while also fielding questions about working with the late James Gandolfini, who makes one of his last on-screen appearances in The Drop. Also: I heard through the ol’ grapevine that Hardy dined post-premiere at The Black Hoof on Dundas. That’s cool, because the Hoof’s a great restaurant. But frankly, it’s a bit disappointing that a guy built like Hardy doesn’t source his horse carpaccio from an Anadolu Pony he chases, tackles and consumes alive.

The Dish

Restaurants

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Summerlicious: dignified dining program or “cash-grabby food factory”?

(Image: Winter/Summerlicious/Facebook)

(Image: Winter/Summerlicious/Facebook)

The idea of dining out on the cheap is nice, but what is Summerlicious like from the restaurant’s perspective? Sure, bargain meals help bring in business, but there are not-so-great tradeoffs, like stress, boredom and uncertain financial rewards (it costs over $1,150 just to participate). So, is it worth it? We got in touch with some chefs and restaurateurs to find out.

The Loyalist

image“The Fifth has enjoyed a long relationship with Summerlicious. It has been very beneficial to us, because it exposes the restaurant to a new group of dinner guests. With the backing of the city and the media exposure, we get a chance to reach out to guests who may under normal circumstances not join us.”

—Brad Livergant, chef at The Fifth


The Pragmatists

(Image: Nota Bene)“At Nota Bene, we never felt that we had to create such a program. But then we had a conversation about Summerlicious and thought that maybe we were missing out on opportunities. It’s more about promotion for us, and in that regard I think it has worked very well. We’ve introduced a lot of people to the restaurant. The profit margins aren’t as great as they could be, but we consider it an opportunity for people to discover Nota Bene.”

—Yannick Bigourgan, co-owner at Nota Bene

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People

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Bro-y chef culture, and four more things The Black Hoof’s Jen Agg dislikes about Toronto’s dining scene

The Critic: Jen Agg strikes again with the city's first haute Caribbean restaurant, Rhum Corner

Jen Agg and husband Roland Jean at Rhum Corner, Agg’s most recent restaurant venture

Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg, the woman behind Dundas West restaurants The Black Hoof and Rhum Corner, was interviewed by tech expert Jesse Brown on his latest Canadaland podcast. The talk basically devolved into a mutual rant about all the things that aren’t great about Toronto’s food scene. Here, five things Jen Agg can’t stand.

1. Kitchen Machismo
Some might hold Jen Agg indirectly responsible for the swaggering, thugged-out boys’ club that currently characterizes much of Toronto chef culture—it was the Hoof’s novel mix of grungy irreverence and great food that heralded in the era of too-cool-for-school dining, with all its gritty, tat-sleeved, testosterone-soaked insouciance. Like Frankenstein, Agg seems to have grown to loathe her inadvertent creation. “It’s mega-bro-y, man. It’s crazy,” she told Brown. “It’s crazy, crazy, crazy. And it’s, like, all bros before hos, 100 per cent.”

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The Dish

Must-Try

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Must-Try: The Black Hoof’s drop-in, heart-obsessed Valentine’s Day feast

Must-Try: The Black Hoof Animal Hearts

For those whose Valentine’s Day plans haven’t quite panned out, take heart—literally. For this weekend only, the offal experts at The Black Hoof are devoting their kitchen to the blood pump. Head chef Jesse Grasso is turning cow, chicken, duck, pig and horse hearts into delicate tartares and crudos, classic bistro plates and even smoked meat. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so it’s first-come, first-served while heart supplies last. Here, a sneak peek at the iron-rich feast.

The Black Hoof, 928 Dundas St. W., 416-551-8854

The Dish

Must-Try

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Must-Try: The Black Hoof’s apple skillet cake has a surprisingly salty topper

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

The Black Hoof, the Dundas West bistro from restaurateur Jen Agg, is famous for amping familiar dishes with unusual, offal-centric additions, like calf brains stuffed inside ravioli or hunks of foie gras served over banana bread. Chef Jesse Grasso, who took over the Hoof kitchen last year, continues to deal in offbeat culinary creations. His apple skillet cake starts conventionally enough: sweet Royal Galas and tart Granny Smiths are caramelized in a cast-iron pan, baked into a fluffy pancake with crunchy, burnt-sugar edges, and sprinkled with buttery, homespun peanut streusel. The curveball comes, appropriately, in spherical form: a scoop of cheddar cheese ice cream that’s as savoury as it should be sweet. Rich, creamy and startlingly salty, it lends a cool punch of umami to the cozy dessert.

The Dish

Closings

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Hoof Raw Bar, The Black Hoof’s pescatarian offshoot, is closed

Hoof Raw Bar

(Image: Renée Suen)

If there’s one thing Toronto restaurateur and power-tweeter Jen Agg knows, it’s how to keep things interesting. Since the launch of her game-changing snout-to-tail restaurant The Black Hoof in 2008, Agg has rapidly expanded her brand along the once-dingy stretch of Dundas just east of Trinity Bellwoods, producing a brunch destination with lineups that would make today’s most in-demand breakfast spots envious; a cocktail bar that sparked the $18 Manhattan trend; and, most recently, Hoof Raw Bar, the pescatarian ying to The Black Hoof’s carnivorous yang. Now, despite rave reviews, Hoof Raw Bar and its weekend brunch pop-up Hoof Café have closed, to be reinvented come September as a restaurant called Rhum Corner. The new spot was inspired by Agg’s Haitian husband Roland Jean and will serve Haitian staples like fish, pork belly and rice and beans, and quality rum by the quarter, half and full bottle. [The Grid]

The Dish

Trend Watch

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Trend We Hate: lineups

Trend We Hate: LineupsEver since the late aughts, when Pizzeria Libretto, The Black Hoof and Guu opened with strict no-reservations policies, lineups have become a normal part of eating out. In a new restaurant’s buzzy first weeks, waits can last three hours (see Electric Mud BBQ). Whether it’s the dead of winter or the dog days of summer, we loathe lining up.

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Restaurants

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The Dish Power Rankings: muddied waters edition

The-Dish-Power-Rankings

Toronto Life’s roundup of the restaurants with the biggest buzz, the longest lineups and the toughest tables to snag.

After four weeks in the top spot, Edulis gets bumped for a red-hot new barbecue restaurant. Meanwhile, OddSeoul continues its steady rise.

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Restaurants

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The Dish Power Rankings: brunches and bans

Toronto Life’s weekly assessment of the restaurants with the biggest buzz, the longest lineups and the toughest tables to snag.

Momofuku Shōtō loses the top spot this week to the perennially buzzy Grove (see last week’s rankings). The Black Hoof drops off the list, but is replaced by the Hoof Raw Bar, which is hosting the return of Toronto’s favourite brunch service circa 2010. Also noteworthy: a new restaurant opens in Parkdale, likely the last until the ban is lifted, and a new tasting menu from one of the city’s top Italian restaurants.

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Restaurants

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The Hoof Café’s popular brunch service is back—at the Hoof Raw Bar

Over the weekend, Black Hoof owner Jen Agg tweeted a piece of news that Toronto brunchers have been waiting to hear since the cult Hoof Café closed in 2011:

The brunch service actually launched over the weekend (early reports are already flooding in), and will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday to Saturday, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. We expect the 2010-style lineups to reappear along Dundas West this weekend, sub-zero temperatures be damned.

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The Dish

Restaurants

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The Dish Power Rankings: feasting menus and Maple Leafs edition

Toronto Life’s weekly assessment of the restaurants with the biggest buzz, the longest lineups and the toughest tables to snag.

The biggest movement this week was lower down on the list, where over-the-top feasting meals at Catch and Dyne managed to knock off a few restaurants that weren’t quite buzzy enough (see last week’s rankings). Café Boulud took the biggest hit, slipping three places after Jared Bland took the New York superchef’s bistro to task for its lack of ambition in our February issue. Real Sports Bar and Grill makes its entry in the list thanks to the long-awaited return of the Leafs this Saturday.

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The Dish

Restaurants

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The Dish Toronto Restaurant Power Rankings: game on

Toronto is in the middle of a great restaurant boom. Over 150 restaurants opened in the last year alone, most of them hyped on Twitter, deconstructed on blogs (like ours) and ranked in countless year-end roundups. Tracking the ups and downs—the praise and the pans—has never been more entertaining. That’s why we’ve decided to launch our first-ever Power Rankings, a list of the restaurants with the biggest buzz, the longest lineups and toughest tables to snag. Below, the 20 restaurants that are dominating the foodie conversation in Toronto right now.

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