First Look: Jen Agg moves into Kensington with Grey Gardens


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Image: Yvonne Tsui

Jen Agg, the well-known restaurateur who won Toronto diners over with the Black Hoof, has added Grey Gardens in Kensington Market to her restaurant empire. 

While she says the name is “a hat-tip to a wonderfully kooky movie,” it’s not exactly why she chose it for the restaurant. “Naming restaurants is really challenging and I always choose names that express what we do - it’s evocative,” says Agg. 

Agg is known for creating restaurants with contrast. “I didn’t want to design a room that’s stuffy," she says while describing the interior as a “collision of sleek and beautiful, mod design with something softer and shabbier.” 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

For example, the stucco walls add a somewhat decaying look to contrast the tailored and sleek banquettes. Though contrasts are definitely at the forefront of the restaurant’s interior, every detail also has a practical aspect to it. The stucco serves to dampen sound, the brass trim protects the glass of an otherwise weathered window and everything comes together like it was meant to be there. The space has three sections – the wine bar, the kitchen counter and the dining room, each of which would be suitable depending on what kind of night you want to have. 

The wine bar opens an hour earlier and closes two hours later than the rest of the restaurant.  


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

Wine is definitely the focus of the beverage program at Grey Gardens, mostly a private-order list with many that are organic and biodynamic. The list is laid out both by flavor profile and weight and the selections are largely chosen to be food-friendly; whites with texture and lighter to medium reds. There’s also a focus on cider – “we like to drink it and it works with food,” says general manager and sommelier Jake Skakun. 

The food menu is divided by size from snacks to large dishes and a section dedicated to pasta, labeled “noodles.” In the kitchen, Agg has partnered with chef and co-owner Mitchell Bates (formerly of Momofuku Shoto). The staff is like a “Brady Brunch blended family of Mitch’s crew and mine,” says Agg. 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

When asked what his approach to the menu was, Bates states “food I think tastes good, is easy to eat, and easy to drink wine with.”  

Grey Gardens, 199 Augusta Ave., 647-351-1552


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

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Yvonne lives to eat. She’s known to her friends as the “Ask Alexa” for the best restaurants in cities all over North America. When she's not doing on-the-ground, scrappy PR for TouchBistro, she's a freelance food and drink writer and tells the origin stories, struggles, and successes of restaurateurs – veteran and new.

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