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Hoof Cafe’s fruit ’n’ nut challah French toast with foie gras is deservedly celebrated.
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James Santol dishes up cassoulet.
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The beef tongue eggs Benedict is still a hit.
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Aidan Johnston shmoozes at the bar.
HOOF CAFE @ HOOF RAW BAR (926 Dundas West, at Gore Vale, 647-346-9356, theblackhoof.com) Complete brunches for $35 per person, including tax, tip and a cocktail. Average main $14. Open Thursday to Saturday 10 am to 3 pm, Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. Closed Monday to Wednesday, holidays. No reservations. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, three steps to washroom. Rating: NNNNN
Some things never work out the way you expect.
When Jennifer Agg and then-partner Grant van Gameren closed their Hoof Café two years ago, it was to transform the insanely popular brunch spinoff of the Black Hoof into an upmarket temple to avant-garde gastronomy. It was to be known as BHCO.
That was the plan, but van Gameren subsequently bailed for Enoteca Sociale and the imminent Crown Cooks on College in the old Grappa, while Agg regrouped with the seafood-centric Hoof Raw Bar next door to the original Hoof.
Rare has been the day since then that former customers haven't told her she should reopen the Café. They've now got their wish with the launch three weeks ago of Hoof Café version 2.0. Why?
"So everyone can stop being mad at me," Agg tweets.
Few will complain about the Café's relocation into the far larger Raw Bar across the street or new chef Amancio dos Santos's expanded morning-after-the-night-before carte, especially after a round of Agg's potent pink peppercorn Caesars ($9).
Old favourites like the suckling pig Benny return reconfigured with astonishingly tender beef tongue, textbook hollandaise and feathery free-range eggs slow-poached in an immersion circulator to exactly 62.5°C ($14 with salad). Chef then cleverly fashions an Egg McMuffin from fried over-easy eggs, house-made blood sausage and hamburger buns ($6).
Cornmeal-crusted octopus rides a pillow of creamy grits whipped with spinach next to another exquisitely poached runny egg, a tangle of tatsoi greens and splashes of spicy puréed piquillo pepper ($16). Accompanied by grilled slices of Thuet's sourdough baguette, chef's brilliant breakfast cassoulet ($12) of white navy beans, pork hock, sausage and lardons comes topped with pickled cipollini onions and crispy kale. Make it even meatier with a side of smoky Perth County bacon ($5).
Deliciously southern-fried sweetbreads paired with coddled ducks' eggs arrive plated over waffles finished with jalapeño compound butter and a Sriracha-infused maple glaze ($16).
And then there's Café's justly celebrated French toast ($25). Previously built on brioche, the outrageously rich update now finds slices of OMG Baked Goodness's nutty challah layered with both syrup and whipped cream as well as slightly pickled pears, mint cress and an entire lobe of buttery seared foie gras.
That's not the only thing that's changed for the better. Servers are much friendlier than we remember, the music - side two of the Beatles' Abbey Road giving way to Chuck Berry's Greatest Hits - is no longer cranked so high we have to text each other across the table, and lineups are virtually non-existent any time other than the weekend.
But where are the legendary bone-marrow beignets?