French-inspired ‘Gary’s‘ is set to open in the old Fiore space (1485 West 12th Avenue) this Wednesday.
It’s not often that first-timers are on track and primed to open on schedule, but Bailey Hayward and Mathew Bishop appear to have their 36-seat vision ready to go on precisely the timeline they had predicted. When I swung by over the weekend to see how things were progressing, I found tables set and food flying out of the kitchen as Chef Mathew Bishop and his team were in the throes of cooking through their opening menu, in its entirety, for a staff tasting.
The simple decor and cream-and-black colour scheme of Gary’s lend to a soft, minimalist look without tipping into the territory of cold or formal. Place settings, complete with perfectly sized and proportioned dishware (brought over from Figgjo of Norway), have been specifically chosen to showcase the food, while understatedly elegant vases of flowers sit at strategic points in the room. Overall, I think Gary’s has achieved the “personal, deliberate & unfussy” vibe they aim for.
The menu at Gary’s is delightfully French – tight yet well-rounded and loaded with local ingredients. I spotted a bright green salad of butterhead lettuce with bacon shallot vinaigrette and blue cheese; a colourful plate of tomatoes sitting in a charred shishito dressing with lardo ribbons and a dusting of fennel pollen; some trout; chicken liver and foie gras pate on brioche with coronation grape jam; steak tartare with potato gaufrette; pork cheek with spätzle and chanterelles; corn grits with ratatouille; an aromatic Vadouvan Mariniere with cod, fennel, potato and mussels; and Cornish hen with boudin blanc, endive, and jus; as well as chocolate mousse, creme caramel, and Tête de Moine cheese. Although I didn’t actually taste anything, I took the opportunity to enthusiastically game out a long list of things I wanted to try. For those more interested in leaving decision-making at the door, there will also be the option of handing the reigns over to the kitchen, who will sort you out with a multi-course menu for the table to pair nicely with a bottle or two from the “short, sharp and dynamic” wine list.
Second to the food, the thing that made the biggest impression during my visit was the kitchen atmosphere. On-site to take pictures, I initially (literally) focused my camera on Chef Bishop. However, after just a few minutes spent in the kitchen, I felt my direction shifting. Though Bishop is obviously a talented chef and one of Gary’s co-owners, I quickly realized that my assumption that this would place him at the top of the ‘hierarchy’ did not agree with what I was seeing. Instead of giving orders, I observed Bishop asking a lot of questions – about choices in garnishes, timing, and technique. His queries were about understanding and learning, not a passive aggressive way to criticize. I’m not saying all kitchens are toxic – they aren’t. And I don’t know if it holds up under pressure, but from what I saw this dynamic created a different kind of cooking experience that looked enjoyable for the crew. It all came together later when I asked co-owner Bailey Hayward for the team’s names and titles. “We actually don’t have the traditional positions for our kitchen team (Sous Chef, CDP, etc.),” she explained, “We want to cultivate an environment of collaboration where all kitchen team members have equal opportunity to put dishes on the menu.” So far, this strategy seems to work both on the floor and in the kitchen. I’m looking forward to re-visiting Gary’s as a diner, and experiencing the results over a long dinner with good friends.
Gary’s is closed today (Tuesday, September 26th) for a final tuning before Wednesday’s proper launch. Hours will be Tuesday to Saturday from 5pm, beginning Wednesday, September 27th. Walk-ins are welcome, but since we’re betting it will be busy, you might want to make a reservation in advance… You can do that here. In the meantime, take a closer look inside…
If this is the first you’re reading about Gary’s, here’s a bit of background (copied from the story I wrote about it last month):
Earlier this year, in May 2023, the duo took over the spot at 1485 West 12th Avenue (on the corner of Granville & 12th) to open ‘Gary’s‘. Who is Gary? The name was inspired by dinner parties with their Covid-era ‘safe six’ – get-togethers which they playfully referred to as ‘Gary’s Social Club’. The plan is to have that very same fun, simple, and relaxed spirit of those evenings live on at their new restaurant concept, so the name stuck. Gary’s: A nice place for nice people.
Hayward and Bishop have been hands-on with transforming their new space, which was previously home to restaurants including Star Anise, Siena, and most recently, Fiore. Though the room’s occupancy load maxes at fifty, they intend to start with just thirty-six seats (twenty-four seats in the dining room, plus eight bar stools, and four at a high-top) in order to keep things intimate. Now that the room is nearly finished, it is sparse, without feeling bare. The colour scheme – cream and black – is effortlessly elegant. As Hayward puts it, they want Gary’s to “feel personal, deliberate & unfussy; the kind of place you want to make your local, suitable-for-every-moment kind of spot.”