923 Dundas St. W., Toronto
Everything at Hoof Café seems so quaint at first - the grandma's-house decor, the old-timey pressed-tin ceiling, the jug lights - but don't be fooled by first impressions.
The soundtrack, including Arcade Fire and the Smiths, is not your typical Norah Jones/Gypsy Kings mix.
And those pretty jars lining the cupboard shelves? They're ull of mysterious potions and ingredients, from turmeric tequila to cachaca figs to a ferocious-looking limoncello.
Most jarringly, an entire leg of ham, hairy ankles and all, rests in a corner of the bar.
By the time owner Jen Agg reaches for an enormous jar of rye, with its thick plug of pork fat coagulated on top and coils of bacon hovering over the bottom like some kind of laboratory treasure, you know you're not in Kansas any more.
Hoof Café was meant to act as a sort of purgatory-with-cocktails for people waiting for a table at its immensely popular sister restaurant, the Black Hoof, across the street, but it quickly evolved into a destination in its own right, serving brunch, lunch and a few "light" snacks, including deep-fried turkey neck.
Cocktails, though, remain its raison d'être - and the bacon-infused rye that forms the base of signature concoctions like the distinctly savoury old-fashioned is a big part of that. In keeping with the Hoof's DIY philosophy, Agg cures and smokes her own pork belly, distils her own bitters and even macerates the cherries she garnishes the drink with in-house. The result is an extremely complex, beautifully balanced cocktail with a strong, sweet bourbon component giving way to a distinctly bacon-y tang.
Bacon Rye Old-Fashioned
2 ounces bacon rye
(see recipe below)
5 millilitres Black Hoof bitters
(or Angostura bitters that have been diluted with 3 parts rye)
1 teaspoon cherry syrup
Generous length orange zest
(cut with a knife, not a zester)
Preserved cherry for garnish
Add syrup from a jar of preserved cherries and a small piece of orange zest to a rocks glass and muddle. Add ice to fill the glass half way, then bacon rye. Stir with a bar spoon until very cold. Add ice to fill. Splash in bitters and give a final stir. Rub rest of orange zest around rim of glass and twist to extract oils. Drop zest in to drink. Garnish with skewered cherry.
Fry 2 slices high-quality smoked bacon. Let cool a bit. Put in jar along with fat with 24 ounces high-quality rye (Agg uses Alberta Springs 10 year). Let sit at room temperature for 3 days. Put in
refrigerator until completely chilled. Strain through a coffee filter.
Special to The Globe and Mail