A look at the eclectic spots owned by chef Grant van Gameren
The restaurant that started it all, the Spanish-inspired Bar Isabel opened in 2013 at College St. and Roxton Rd. to much anticipation as diners were eager to see what van Gameren would do after the Hoof. It won over critics and got even the most squeamish of diners noshing on grilled octopus. Partners include van Gameren, Max Rimaldi of Pizzeria Libretto and general manager Alessandro Pietropaolo.
In addition to its breakfast and late-night menu, this all day pintxos bar at College St. and Palmerston Blvd. owned by van Gameren and former Bar Isabel bartender Robin Goodfellow won design awards for its curved and sinewy wood sculptures covering every inch of the dining room (the space was designed by local firm Partisans). While it originally opened with the idea of being a standing room restaurant to evoke the bars in Spain, they eventually conceded to diners’ requests and stools were added.
Co-owned by van Gameren and Goodfellow, Parkdale’s Pretty Ugly is a narrow, dimly lit cocktail bar specializing in mezcal and creative cocktails from bartending veterans such as bar manager Evelyn Chick.
Toronto chef’s creativity born of collaboration
After being impressed by their Mexican culinary prowess, van Gameren convinced chefs Julio Guajardo and Kate Chomyshyn to move from Montreal to Toronto to design the opening menu for his mezcal bar in Kensington Market. It would be the first of three projects the chefs would work on under van Gameren.
Harry’s Char Broiled Dining Lounge
Not every chef wants to end up working in fine dining, and Bar Isabel chef de cuisine Nate Young told van Gameren that he wanted to cook at a greasy spoon. So when Harry’s, a Parkdale burger spot that opened in 1968, came on the market, van Gameren and Goodfellow took ownership and put Young at the grill. While its clientele is now skewed more toward the younger brunch and late-night crowd, the decor remains untouched from decades past.
The unusual name for this Eastern-European inspired restaurant in Parkdale comes from the previous occupant, The Tennessee Tavern bar and live-music venue. Now the place serves cabbage rolls, giant pretzels, smoked fish and sausages.
Feeling limited when it came to plant-based options when dining out, partner Jamie Cook approached longtime business partner Max Rimaldi with the idea for a sit-down vegan restaurant. Rimaldi then relayed the idea to van Gameren, who recruited Guajardo and Chomyshyn to help create a few dishes, such as a vegan burger that won’t fall apart, for the just-opened downtown core restaurant.
Originally slated to open last fall (the delay had to do with upgrading the power of the building at College and Bathurst), this joint venture between van Gameren, Guajardo, Chomysyn and El Rey partner Owen Walker will see Guajardo and Chomysyn cooking Mexican and Baja fare over a long wood fire, along with a ceviche bar. The bulk of the construction and electrical work is finally done and it is slated to open this month.
The catering company run by van Gameren and Chris Brown, best known as the former catering chef at The Stop Community Centre. Among the offerings are plates from Bar Isabel and Bar Raval, an Argentinian roast and an Italian feast put on by Brown.
In recent years more and more Toronto chefs opted to move out to Prince Edward County, drawn to its more laid back lifestyle and growing dining scene. While van Gameren isn’t opening a restaurant there, he did purchase a 3,000-square-foot lakefront house on six acres of land that’s used for staff retreats and is available for vacationers to rent. It’s listed on Airbnb for $450 a night.
Overbudget Inc. headquarters
The office of van Gameren’s restaurant company sit on top of a vet clinic across from Trinity Bellwoods park. It has a test kitchen and fully stocked bar for testing new recipes and drinks, and also doubles as an event space.
Karon Liu is the Star's food writer and is based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @karonliu