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Nose to Tail Dining

Unexpected and previously little-used cuts of meat have made a comeback in Toronto’s restaurants

by Leslie Clark
Charcuterie boards such as this are making a comeback in many Toronto restaurants. (Photo by stu_spivack on Flickr, January 12, 2010)

For anyone who eats meat, dishes like pork tenderloin or prime rib are hailed as the number one choices. Prime cuts are classic favourites, but lately the fine-dining scene has witnessed a surge in the use of unexpected meats. In the right hands, almost every part of an animal can be the star of a delicious meal. When prepared just the right way, something as seemingly off-putting as pig’s feet, tongue, or sweetbreads can be spectacular — if you’re adventurous enough to try it. For some, the thought of eating the thymus glands or pancreas of a calf is still a bridge too far, but those who’ve embraced this trend endorse it wholeheartedly.

Terrines and patés have also been popular recently. The Gabardine, a cozy spot that offers a respite from the sanitized slickness of the financial district, boasts chicken liver paté and rabbit rillettes on their appetizer menu. In addition, charcuterie — a selection of different cured meats, usually served with pickles and bread or crackers — has also become a popular option on many restaurant menus. Here in Toronto, eateries such as The Black Hoof pride themselves on their selection of house-cured meats. The Black Hoof also offers selections such as beef heart tartare, smoked sweetbreads and a tongue sandwich on brioche.

Little-used meats, such as sweetbreads, have resurfaced on the restaurant scene. (Photo by Charles Haynes on Flickr, October 13, 2010)

Why has this type of dining become popular again in recent years? In short, it seems that everything old is new again. Although they have  always been popular in classic French cuisine, here in North America inexpensive cuts of meat, and offal, were once seen as humble and having no place in a restaurant. Now it seems diners have tired of the expected and chefs have tired of preparing it. Fine dining once had a reputation as pretentious or stuffy. The days of fussy plating and precious concoctions lost in the middle of gigantic white dishes seem to be fading. This has given way to honest food that focuses on locally sourced ingredients and maximum flavour – a shift that diners and foodies seem more than happy to welcome.

The Gabardine, 372 Bay St., 647-352-3211.

The Black Hoof, 928 Dundas St. W, 416-551-8854.


  • jane manns

    Honest food – I like that.
    I think I’ll give these restaurants a try. Again, another great food article, always so educational for me.

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