Hoof Café’s sensational swine-centric menu is a porcine dream
HOOF CAFE (923 Dundas West, at Gore Vale, 416-792-7511) Complete breakfasts for $30 per person, including all taxes, tip and a Caesar. Average main $13. Open for breakfast Thursday to Monday 10 am to 4 pm, cocktail nibbles 6 pm to 2 am. Closed Tuesday, Wednesday, some holidays. No reservations. Licensed. Cash and debit only. Access: six steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNNN
The black hoof’s Jennifer Agg and Grant van Gameren must have horseshoes firmly stuck up their butts. How else to explain the overwhelming success of their west-side storefront bistro devoted to charcuterie, especially when it doesn’t take reservations? Before now, if you wanted a table and the house was full – and the Black Hoof always is – you’d be sent to a nearby watering hole until one was available.
But when the abandoned luncheonette directly across the street – formerly home to the notorious Shag booze-can back in the day – came up for rent last summer, Agg and van Gameren found the solution to their problem. Not only could the new space act as a de facto holding pen and cocktail lounge, but it’d give them their first functioning kitchen. Previously, van Gameren cooked everything on a poorly ventilated electric stove set up behind the Black Hoof’s bar.
And if the satellite, dubbed Hoof Café, can serve an all-day pig-centric breakfast Thursdays through Mondays, bonus. Problem is, the 30-seat offshoot’s outrageous daytime spread has proven so popular in the month it’s been open, the waiting room now requires a waiting room.
The trick is to show up right at 10 am. By 10:30, the brightly lit diner – all silvery tin ceilings, shabby chic cabinetry and log-topped lunch counter – is packed and stays that way till mid-afternoon. Everyone seems to know to automatically order Café’s astonishingly delish bone marrow donuts, even though this six-pack of confectioner’s-sugar-dusted Timbits-like tidbits, laced with house-made sour cherry jam ($3, Saturday and Sunday only), isn’t listed on the chalkboard menu.
And they all seem to be tucking into Suckling Pig Eggs Benny ($13), flaky buttermilk biscuits topped with sweet Carolina-style pulled pork, poached free-range eggs and pickled jalapeño hollandaise, on the side a tangle of arugula tossed with spicy pork rinds. I’ve gone with Hoof’s over-the-top French toast – house-baked brioche slathered with crème fraîche and gingery peach compote ($9) and upgraded with a buttery slab of seared foie gras ($14) – washed down with a pink-peppercorn vodka Caesar rimmed with dehydrated horseradish ($8).
The Literary Device has her eye on pigs’ tails and cheesy grits ($13) but opts instead for gluten-free buckwheat pancakes ($14) dressed with fabulously rich sous-vide rabbit, crumbled house-made ricotta and boozy blueberries over a bed of candied celery. Her freshly squeezed orange juice ($3.75) is the real deal and not swill from a Tropicana carton.
Back for a second trip to the trough a week later, we quickly lay waste to another round of donuts before demolishing a starter of grilled toast spread with vanilla-rhubarb jam and roasted marrow scooped straight from the bone ($8).
File under Not For The Squeamish: Hoof Hash ($11), new potatoes, fried onion and the tips of beef tongues in nippy Portuguese pimento paste garnished with a snarl of tangy lemon-dressed mustard sprouts, deep-fried shallot and two Hoof oeufs.
Tongue also slips its way into the grilled cheese sandwich ($12), the slowly cooked beef almost Montreal-style smoked meat in texture, its fat oozing into the melting Gouda and brie, the ‘wich’s brioche broken by a skewer of house-pickled gherkins.
These same pickles also complement Café’s Ploughman’s Lunch ($14), a veritable Hoof’s Greatest Hits of exceptional charcuterie: fatty lavender-scented prosciutto of duck, some summer saucisson, a terrine of tongue and crushed hazelnuts, a counterpoint of creamy Riopelle cheese, a few baquette toasts for bite.
I’m not the type to stand in line, and I’ve never understood those who do at Saving Grace, Le Petit Dejeuner and Bonjour Brioche every weekend. But I’ll gladly join the queue for Café Hoof, the most audacious new restaurant to hit Hogtown in eons, if only for the donuts.