So this summer seemed to be the beginning of the rise of barbeque in Toronto. (Note: when we say barbeque, we mean grills and also the arduous yet so-satisfying process of smoking meats). Toronto Life declared it The Great BBQ Revolution, though we’re still unsure as to whether or not the new yet relatively small crop of smokehouse-style restaurants is really enough to deem it such. In any case, it’s undeniable Toronto’s love of all things smoked and grilled and tender and juicy and dripping with mouth-wateringly good sauce is reaching an apex.
So when we heard about Hardy’s Hogtown Brasserie, which has been open for about six weeks now, we knew we had to check it out. Situated on a rather barren strip of St. Clair West (992 St. Clair West), Hardy’s is the epitome of down-home comfort.
Named after owner and smoker (of meats) extraordinaire John Hardy (who, might we add, is only 25), the charming spot is awash in country chic decorations and details. From the crackling blue paint along the restaurant’s front dining area to the mason jars keeping field flowers, all elements feel like they’ve been handpicked from trips to vintage stores and markets and local lumber suppliers…because they have. John Hardy and his team gutted the space and built everything from the bar to the tables (made from an old bowling alley lane) to the appropriately titled Pig Pen that acts as reserved dining space and doubles as a stage for live bluegrass bands. (PS The back dining area is painted to look like barn wood, we had to do a double-take when we first walked in.)
John Hardy knows a thing or two about smoking meats. He grew up in Virginia, and his grandmother has her own stand-alone smokehouse where she’d smoke then cure Virginia Hams. As he says, the business of barbeque is “in his blood.” (Which we’re guessing is probably about 40 per cent smoke.) After graduating from U of T, John started a catering company, a left-field choice considering he studied nothing related. But the idea of corporate catering and making small sandwiches was as unappetizing as dry pork shoulder, so John started planning and preparing to launch Hardy’s Hogtown Brasserie.
The menu is brimming with meat. Enough said, in our opinion. From pulled chicken sandwiches to the house-smoked ribs and pulled pork (all of which are smoked for hours in John’s homemade smoker and laboriously tended to throughout the night), Hardy’s is vegetarian hell and carnivorous heaven. The smell of smoke fills the small restaurant and immediately has you salivating, a prelude to the fine smoked meal you’ll no doubt devour. Everything is tended to with care; even the side mac and cheese – labeled as addictive for good reason – features cheese that is cold-smoked in-house and chunks of juicy and sweet house-cured smoked pork loin.
Hardy’s menu features ingredients that are locally-sourced and ethically-raised meats. Even the beers on tap are local from craft breweries. John Hardy has created a haven for organic, green, and slow-food loving Torontonians, even if it is a bit out of the way of the downtown hustle and bustle. Toronto was once hogtown – a point proven in the decor, featuring pictures of Toronto’s history before we became an urban centre; for an American, Hardy sure knows his Toronto yesteryear – and Hardy’s Hogtown Brasserie is bringing the oft-forgotten moniker some modern day respect.