The resto scene in 2010 was a year of extremes, from high on the hog to low on the trotter. Everybody did a burger or poutine – the more ott the better – and brunch, once the bane of the industry, got bigger than ever. And louder, so very much louder.
Here are the 10 new beaneries that had us barking for more.
Ex-Czehoski enfant terrible David Haman ditches molecular gastronomy for two massively portioned comfort food cards – one vegetarian, the other often snout-to-tail – cooked exclusively in a wood-burning oven. A spectacular two-storey space, unusually attentive service and ridiculously low prices make these the hottest tables in town. The new Hoof?
1426 Bloor West, at Sterling, 647-342-1567, zocalobistro.com
Not only is this extremely casual café a pioneer in the no-man’s land known as the Junction Triangle, but its genre-defying lineup of deconstructed entrees – cider-poached apricot ‘n’ pork sausages over warm split pea and smoked paprika mash with artisanal sourdough, just part of a $10 main-course salad – breaks new ground as well. Self-taught chef Joel MacMillan’s avant-garde plating alone induces swoons.
Does Toronto really need another pricey Italian trat? The answer’s overwhelmingly affirmative when the results are this impossibly luxe, proving that $23 for a small bowl of spaghetti is a small price to pay.
4. HOOF CAFÉ
923 Dundas West, at Gore Vale, 416-792-7511
Intended as a holding pen for their wildly successful Black Hoof (NOW’s 2008 resto of the year), Jennifer Ag and Grant van Gameran’s pork-centric breakfast spot is even busier than the original – no surprise when suckling pig Eggs Benny and foie gras French toast are the specialties of the house.
After working under Jamie Kennedy at the tail end of his Wine Bar, married chefs Scott and Rachelle Vivian set up shop in Susur Lee’s old Lotus with a carnivorous card that includes our definitive dish of the year: crispy sweetbreads with house-cured local pork belly bacon. In ranch dressing, yet.
Nathan Isberg was considered “the sensible one” when the idiosyncratic chef shared kitchen duties with Woodlot’s David Haman at Czehoski back when the Queen West saloon still had some semblance of culinary cred. Here, he embraces tapas but gives them a Portuguese spin that’s as playful as it is palatable. And who else has the nerve to serve crickets?
832 Dundas West, at Euclid, 416-364-4785, campagnolotoronto.com
Further proof that Dundas West is the new Queen-College Leslieville. Owner/chef Craig Hardinger and designer/wife Alexandra Hutchison bring Mediterranean glam to the rapidly gentrifying strip. Next stop: Hamilton!
8. BELLEVUE CAFÉ
61A Bellevue, at Nassau, 647-340-8224
Kensington Market has always been a clash of cultures, from Jewish to Jamaican to Portuguese to day-tripping hipsters in funny little fedoras and ironic lumberperson jackets. Here’s where they gather to nosh on multiculti sandwiches like crunchy peanut butter with cucumber, aged white cheddar and canned sardines in Vietnamese hot sauce. On rye, of course.
9. QUEEN MARGERITA PIZZA
1402 Queen East, at Vancouver, 416-466-6555, queenmargheritapizza.ca
Though it’s been dubbed the Pizzeria Libretto of Leslieville, this always swamped east-side pie shop does something its Ossington rival refuses to do: accept reservations. A $25 three-course pizza prix fixe and an iconic Hogtown view of the streetcar yards across the way are just the icing on the cake.
We were never a fan of either Winter- or Summerlicious until we visited this restaurant staffed by George Brown culinary arts students last February. Part laboratory, part Food TV studio, the brightly lit room buzzes with servers who outnumber paying customers three to one. The surprisingly polished meal’s a steal, too.