The idea of charcuterie has been floating around Toronto's food periphery for a few years now. Back in the early 2000s, it was heralded as the dominant emerging food trend. Sadly, the movement didn't materialize, regardless of notable chefs, such as Mark Thuet, doing their best to propel the art of cured meats, terrines, pates and sausages into every foodie's vernacular - but it rarely popped off the appetizers menu. It appeared that the classic garde manger's art was to remain under appreciated
, until the late 2008 when The Black Hoof opened shop and brought the word "charcuterie" to every devoted epicurean's lips.
The Black Hoof began with an ad on craigslist. Jennifer Agg, the former owner of Colbalt, was on the search for a chef to partner with in hopes to open a charcuterie bar. Grant Van Gameren was on hiatus from Lucien, where he was a sous-chef, working alongside his mentor Scot Woods - whom he met while employed at Canoe.
"Scot taught me about charcuterie," shared Grant, "we had it [charcuterie] at Lucien... I knew that I wanted to be involved with a charcuterie restaurant for my next job. I just wasn't planning on doing it so soon, but I saw Jenn's ad. She was looking for a chef who knew charcuterie and I wanted to open a charcuterie restaurant... I could have not answered and done my own thing, or answered and see where it would take me."
The Black Hoof is a modest restaurant. Jennifer designed and decorated the space with chalkboards, mirrors, aluminum chairs and slightly wobbly tables. Grant's kitchen is a tiny galley, equipped with a hand powered meat slicer, an electric range, a power bar and a massive spice rack. However, in all, the unembellished fixtures makes for an unpretentious interior that does nothing to detract from the famed food and cocktail offerings.
"It's tough, because right now we only have room for two in the kitchen, plus we're so busy," shared Grant, "however, in the future, I am looking to expand on some other concepts." Possibly as early as this summer with the proposed unveiling of a patio, air conditioning, pig roasts and BBQ. Until they are able to expand out of the kitchen, Grant, Jennifer and their staff will continue to satisfy two services, every Tuesday to Saturday night, from 6pm to 2am.
"We have the late hours in order to fill a niche," continues Grant, "after 1am we'll see servers coming by to grab something to eat. Besides burritos and pizza there isn't a lot open late in the city."
With seating enough for 30-40 patrons, Grant and Jennifer's restaurant is earning nods for establishing an uncharacteristically social atmosphere. Aside from the line up forming outside the restaurant 10-15 minutes prior to their first service, once seated it isn't unheard of for complete strangers to make acquaintance with neighboring diners.
While the success is unprecedented, it isn't without reason. Economic constraints are encouraging a once spend thrift society to keep purse strings tight, ecological concerns have burgeoned the ever popular "localvore" trend and a backlash towards fast foods is leveraging old handcrafting techniques. Here Grant and Jenn keep prices reasonable, ingredients sourced locally when possible and traditional charcuterie techniques that can take up to 4 months to properly cure a salami.
The, competitively priced, Charcuterie plate ($14/$23), features an ever changing assortment of pickled vegetables and cured meats. I missed the horse terrine on my visit, however, I savored venison bresaola, chorizo, beef and dill sausage, pancetta, lavender cured duck, wild boar with cardamom and soprasata. Each paper thin slice had a separate flavour that shone distinctly from one another. The experience was very different than anything on offer anywhere else in the city - including a purchase at the local artisan deli.
Jennifer's contributions are equally illustrious. A monthly rotation of one of a kind cocktails, sees her take the kitchen in the creation of her own syrups, reductions and bitters for use in the bar. This month, she's particularly fond of the Basil Fawlty ($9), a mix of gin, basil, lemon/lime juice and orange blosson. However, like her business partner, the divine inspiration that may be tonight's hot commodity may be gone the moment they grow tired of it.
The well pedigreed due of Grant van Gameren and Jennifer Agg has resulted in an above standard product in an unspoiled package. There is no schtick here, there's simply a dedication to the meal, an admission that proves there is honesty in this tiny kitchen. So long as Grant and Jennifer want to keep the doors of The Black Bull open, it will continue to assert itself as the restaurant that defined charcuterie to Toronto and it's residents.
Congratulations, this is the foodie hotspot for early 2009.