Restaurant: The Black Hoof - Raw Bar
Last Visited: March 3, 2013
Location: Toronto, ON (Little Italy/Portugal Village)
Address: 928 Dundas St W
Transit: Dundas St West at Bellwoods Ave
Phone: (416) 551-8854
Price Range: $10-20 (Average $15-25/person for brunch)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: 4.5 (based on this brunch)
- Owner Jen Agg
- Head Chef Jesse Grasso
- Award winning
- Seafood focused
- Meat-centric “off-cut” brunch
- Seasonal/eclectic menu
- Local favourite
- Line ups/busy/popular
- Cash & Canadian debit only
- No reservations
- Brunch at Hoof Raw Bar
- Brunch Thursday to Saturday 10 am to 3 pm
- Brunch Sundays from 10 am to 4 pm.
- Twitter: @TheBlackHoof
**Recommendations: Fried Sweetbreads n’ Waffles, Fruit N’ Nut Challah Toast with Foie Gras
Or The Black Hoof? It was my last brunch opportunity in Follow Me Foodie to Toronto and it was a hard decision. Both are in that “Best of Toronto Dining” category and I really wanted to try them both, but I had my appetite set on Black Hoof. I had just finished an excellent brunch at Grand Electric and I was so obsessed with the menu that I persisted on asking for details about the chef. I told the waitress I was planning on a second brunch and it was between County General and Black Hoof. The waitress told me the Chef and owner at Grand Electric came from Black Hoof and that pretty much made my decision. I just had to see and taste where the magic was originally coming from.
But before my trek I had to make a pit stop at Boreal Gelato (next door to Grand Electric) for their one of a kind Boreal Balsam gelato. So with gelato in hand, I walked in the -10°C snowy Toronto weather to Black Hoof (almost a half hour walk away). Melting gelato was not an issue, but frozen gelato and potential frost bite? Perhaps.
If I’m going to a place called “Black Hoof” that’s supposed to be as good as Grand Electric, then I wanted to work up an appetite. I passed by County General along the way and I hesitated the stop, but I decided to save it for Follow Me Foodie to Toronto - Part 2.
The Black Hoof, Hoof Raw Bar, and the Hoof Cocktail Bar are located in a triad in the same neighbourhood. All three are successful and highly received by locals. It’s in a hip-hipster area with a loyal following and they cater to a carnivorous crowd with sophisticated tastes. On this occasion I came for brunch, which was happening at Hoof Raw Bar. The Raw Bar is their latest seafood focused restaurant which complements their meat focused charcuterie sister restaurant next door.
It was a long and narrow brick walled restaurant with a chalkboard menu and it reminded me of places in Gastown in Vancouver, BC (my hometown). It was casual, but stylized and they don’t take reservations so I would avoid peak hours.
According to this article The Black Hoof Cafe closed shop in 2011, but they used to serve brunch. They only started the brunch service again early this year, but now it takes place at Hoof Raw Bar. They called their brunch a “permanent pop-up restaurant” which is confusing to me, but nonetheless long live brunch at Hoof Raw Bar because it was freaking delicious.
The head chef position has changed a few times, but currently it is Jesse Grasso who previously worked at La Quercia and Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie in Vancouver (yay!). It helps that I really like both of those restaurants (as a Vancouverite too), but I didn’t even learn this fact until finding it on their website just now. The brunch chef is Amancio dos Santos though, so I’m not sure how much of a role Chef Grasso plays in it. Their website is not one of those frustrating ambiguous hipster websites and each staff member has a personal bio. It is an eclectic and quirky group of individuals and fun read – see here.
Anyway the food got me in the door and it would easily get me in again. I was confident in the non-descriptive menu because the names of the items showed creativity already. It was obviously meat heavy with off-cuts and I found it exciting. I wanted to order everything and it was a reasonably sized menu suggesting control while offering enough variety. The menu didn’t say much, but it was one of those places I had a great feeling about. There was a cool vibe, an innovative menu, and staff who didn’t ignore me, which is actually a bit rare to find at “hipster-ish” environments like this. I could only hope everything would translate into the food, and I’m happy to say it did!
The three things I tried had more potential, but it was really the ideas I couldn’t get enough of. It was fancy but not fine dining, and there could have been tweaks to make it easily better. I just wish there was a bit more attention to detail, but I still loved it. I was most enthusiastic about the menu because I couldn’t compare the dishes to anything I’ve tried or seen before. It was comfort food reinvented which is a theme that’s been beaten to the ground by now, but they actually managed to do something new and funky. It was adventurous and inspiring, and great value so I can’t expect too much either. The closest thing to it in Vancouver is Wildebeest, but the styles are very different.
It’s hard to pull off an impressive breakfast or brunch, after all it’s just “bacon and eggs”, but this took it to another level and it was memorable. It was non-pretentious and just plain good, yet there was nothing plain about it all. I don’t imagine the items offered being too hard to recreate, but bravo for coming up with such clever concepts, playful food, and a well themed menu.
On the table:
- Hello! My eyes darted to this on the menu and it was a popular favourite.
- When I think I’ve seen all the possible ways to approach Chicken N’ Waffles, this puts me back in my place. Wow. This was new!
- I really like sweetbreads, sweet and savoury combinations, and chicken n’ waffles, so this had everything going for it already.
- Chicken N’ Waffles is classic soul food, but using sweetbreads made it even more authentic to the definition of “soul food”.
- Sweetbreads are a fraction of the price of chicken and it was a smart idea, but it is apples and oranges to compare them.
- If you’ve never had sweetbreads they have a very mild and somewhat milky and delicate flavour.
- They’re very tender, soft and a bit creamy as to why they are best deep fried or crisped up with a crust.
- These sweetbreads were individual so I was hoping this meant the membranes were all removed, but they were still quite stringy.
- They were very tender though and perhaps soaked in buttermilk and lightly coated in a buttermilk flour batter.
- It was a light and crispy fried chicken batter that didn’t quite stand out, but it was good and well seasoned.
- The buttermilk (?) waffles were crispy on the outside, but a bit over cooked and they weren’t fluffy and soft inside.
- The waffles were more standard and I would have loved Belgian style waffles like the Chicken and Waffles from Yolk’s Breakfast – which I love.
- These waffles had black specs and they looked like vanilla bean seeds, but they didn’t taste like anything. It could have been black pepper, but it didn’t look or taste like that either.
- They were supposed to be savoury waffles and there were green onions mixed in the batter, but it didn’t taste that savoury.
- They were topped with jalapeño butter for a bit more spice, but it was already semi-melted in one spot of each piece of waffle, so I preferred it on the side.
- The Sweetbreads N’ Waffles were drizzled with a Sriracha maple syrup so the plate was salty, sweet and even mildly spicy.
- There were some issues in execution that could have been easily fixed.
- I was more blown away by the idea than the result, but the result was still delicious and very good!
- It was almost everything I wanted it to be except the egg yolk wasn’t runny.
- They might have intentionally done this to make it easier to eat, but I’d sacrifice cleanliness and easy eating for deliciousness.
- It was a “Sausage Egg McMuffin” 4.0 and the ingredients were fresh and the flavours sophisticated.
- It was another clever and adventurous twist to classic comfort food that I haven’t seen anywhere else yet.
- Oh yeah… it looks even better closer up.
- It was definitely about the blood sausage and it was made with experience.
- It stood out most and it was a meaty egg sandwich. It might look small but it was very substantial.
- It was savoury and almost like a sausage patty meets corned beef meets SPAM (in a good way).
- It had herbs and spices like black pepper and mustard seed and it had a ton of flavour and it wasn’t too fatty.
- It was very moist and obviously rich being blood sausage, but it was a fantastic blood sausage.
- I’m not a fan of mushy blood sausage with too many fillers, although it is common for it to be made with fillers.
- It is softer than typical sausage and the flavours of this was easily liked even by blood sausage haters.
- The English muffin was thin and crispy and there was an arugula salad tossed with a whole grain dijon mustard vinaigrette.
- The dijon was tangy from perhaps lemon juice which cut the richness of the blood sausage, but there was no crunch from the arugula so it lacked a bit of texture.
- Had the egg been runny I would have thought this was excellent. It was very good, but it had more potential although for $6 it was worth it.
- $10 Add foie $15
- Ummm $5 for foie? Yes, please. I should have asked if I could double that.
- This was fun, but also less creative than everything else although I did not mind at all.
- When it comes to foie, no need to mess with a good thing. It’s best as is, pan seared on both sides.
- For $5 it was a decent amount of foie gras too. It came with two chunks which I had to use carefully with the amount of Challah toast.
- The foie had a nice crispy sear on both sides and it was well seasoned with a sprinkle of Maldon salt.
- The Challah Toast was executed as French Toast and it was very moist, but also a bit chewy and dense. It came off as baguette.
- It was sliced thin and a bit flat so I would have loved a fluffy brioche as bread choice.
- The Challah toast was caramelized and it looked like it had a brûlée crust.
- I think it might have been pan fried in duck fat or foie gras drippings and it was a bit meaty, but not obvious.
- Unfortunately I only found one piece of tiny walnut in my slices of Challah bread, so I would have loved walnuts just sprinkled on top for crunch and flavour.
- The sweet diced Bosc pears were poached and there was a decent amount.
- They were a bit firm and crunchy, but I still liked them and I always like sweet fruit with foie.
- There were some thin slices of pears which were pickled so I liked how they cut the pears in 2 ways to show they were treated differently.
- The sliced pears were the acidity to the plate to cut the richness of the buttery and fatty foie.
- They grated something on top that looked like shavings of truffle, but it tasted like nothing.
- The whipped cream was house made and lightly sweetened and I would have loved it to be crème fraîche, but that’s personal.
- It was a sweet and savoury plate and a very classic way of serving foie, but instead in was done in a breakfast context.
- The reason I didn’t give it 5/6 is because without the foie it would be good, but more ordinary. The foie gras makes it.
- Another foie gras course I loved in Toronto was at Bosk – see Seared Quebec Foie, and at Victor Lounge – see Foie Gras Ice Cream Sandwich.
- The Black Hoof next door also serves an infamous Foie Gras & Nutella on banana bread ($25) for dinner that people rave about. I’m saving that for next time!