Toronto’s highly competitive restaurant/bar scene ensures that when one greater eatery closes, another will pop up. Although, in this fast-paced, volatile environment, what makes an establishment, established?
Two seasoned restaurateurs (and former partners) Grant van Gameren and Jen Agg are attempting to lay roots in Kensington Market, creating a foodie fueled rivalry on market turf.
With a diverse and eclectic mix of cultures, it’s no surprise that Kensington Market is known as a haven for foodies and has drawn praise from celebrity chefs. Always a destination for hard to find ingredients and imports, the market has provided a springboard for innovative fusion food served in a lively atmosphere. It’s this atmosphere that provides limitless creative possibilities. Kensington has never been a place for cookie cutter business with its bohemian vibe and nightlife.
With the summer and patio weather fast approaching and the foodie/bar crowd looking forward to the next best thing, van Gameren has leased the space formerly known as the Kensington Cornerstone. If the name of this restauranteur does not resonate, perhaps the names of his hugely popular restaurants will, Bar Isabel and Bar Raval (known for their tapas and seafood). Under his ownership, the cornerstone now be transformed into El Rey Mezcal bar, featuring a “small focused menu of Latin inspired dishes headed up by two very talented (Montreal) chefs.”
Grant van Gameren above
View of the former Cornerstone under construction above
Jen Agg (owner and former partner of Black Hoof) is setting up shop as well, with plans to open a wine/cider bar called Grey Gardens. In addition, Mitchell Bates of Momufuku Shoto has been announced as partner and head chef.
Jen Agg above
Both van Gameren and Agg are amongst the best restaurateurs that Toronto has to offer: they are both major hitters in the influencing the hip, innovative vibe in the Dundas West scene, as proponents of sustainable ‘nose to tail’ approach to food. But why choose the Market? Agg is quoted in Toronto Life as saying: “I think Kensington is so great. It’s managed to gentrify and yet keep its independent spirit.” Agg also has been very busy this year with her ventures, as Black Hoof, and Rhum Corner have retained their their momentum, giving her a chance to open a location in Montreal named Agrikol (after a Caribbean rum) with two members of Arcade Fire (Régine Chassagne and Win Butler). Agg’s success with Black Hoof has garnered international attention, winning Anthony Bourdain’s approval: “The number-one most recommended restaurant in Toronto is easily this place.”
Bourdain sampling a marrow slide at Black Hoof (Jen Agg in background)
Dundas West’s Black Hoof, ambience at night.
Rhum Corner’s amazing atmosphere (and rum selection!)
If you’re interested in some inspired foodie hype and excitement, watch Bourdain explore Toronto in his episode of the Layover below:
Bourdain spends quite a chunk of time sifting through the variety of colourful Kensington Market with other highlights including Ronnie’s Local 069, Cold Tea, and the now closed Agave y Aguacate (which promises to be opening up soon! – Will keep you posted!).
Anthony Bourdain filming the Layover Toronto in Kensington Market at Ronnie’s Local 069
Another buzz-worthy article to reference is Vogue Magazine’s “11 Reasons Foodies Should Be Flocking to Toronto” piece. It names Kensington’s very own Rasta Pasta amongst some ‘must try’ dining spots for foodies.
With so much momentum building around the food scene now, make sure you come ready to explore a diverse and exciting culinary scene. I’m definitely looking forward to experiencing the latest creations from Agg and van Gameren, and suggest you do too…Most importantly, come with an empty stomach; you won’t regret it!
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