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Jun 15, 2009 08:40 PM

Past few days in Toronto

So I spend alot of time in Toronto (Grew up in TO, now live in Boston) and hardly ever get a chance to report back after eating all around town. Here is my past few days in TO.

Pantheon: My usual go-to on the Danforth is Mezes, but we decided to eat at Pantheon instead this visit. All I know is that we have to start alternating on and off from now on. I ordered the Grilled Calamari and it was excellent. Perfectly cooked, not too tough and extremely tender for squid. The sides were simple and perfectly prepared.

Randy's Patty's: This is my favorite patty shop in Toronto and it has never disappointed. I am fully prepared to declare that Randy's is the best Patty I have tasted outside of Jamaica. Meat perfectly seasoned, pastry not too heavy and delicious and the coco bread fresh and tasty as ever. Toronto is blessed with two excellent patty shops (Allan's and Randy's) but Randy's is in a class of its own.

Raps: Ok, well I know i just praised the Jamaican bakeries in TO, but as a Jamaican myself who lived in Toronto for a while I have tried many different JA restaurants in the city and have never been impressed by any of them. So I went to Rap's after Randy's for some Jerk Chicken to give it another try. Chicken was under seasoned, dry, not spicy enough and bland. I have never understood why Toronto with such a large Jamaican community does not have ONE good Jamaican restaurant and definitely no real Jerk (seasoned properly, smoked with Pimento, etc..)

Sidecar: Another search I have been on during my trips to TO is finding a serious cocktail bar that can craft an excellent classic or inventive cocktail. Well I think I finally found my go-to spot. I started off with a Sazerac and it was perfectly crafted, the bartender took the time to coat the glass with Absinthe and the cocktail was mixed perfectly. Next round I asked him to make me a drink that I have at my favorite cocktail bar Drink in Boston (esquire mag named it the best cocktail bar in the US) which is a Coffee flip. Basically for those who have not tried one, it is espresso, old monk rum, brandy, creme, nutmeg and a whole egg. The one I had at sidecar rivaled what I get at Drink and I have no complaints at all from my experience at sidecar.

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  1. Randy's is the best hands down. I hear their Oxtail is off the chain as well. I have never tried it. It's hard to find a decent Jamaican restaurant in Toronto. They are non existent for the most part.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

      I have never really been a fan of Randy's cooked food, including the Oxtail. Baked goods are top notch, but other stuff can be thrown in with the rest of the medicore imo.

    2. Matt H or NPIG what is your opinion on Sunrise Carribean Food. It is near Jane and Wilson and is a "fast food" place, but I thought that the goat head soup that I had there was actually really good. It was spicy, thick, sticky, and satisfying. I thought that the curry goat was ok and the jerk chicken, although it wasn't as good as the stuff from Jamaica, was decent. It is the closest place for me to get Jamaican take out and I love that they make their own juice blends and that it is frequented by a lot of Jamaican families in the area.

      2 Replies
      1. re: icey

        Well I used to eat at Sunrise quite a bit (Scarborough location near Galloway) and think the Oxtail is solid and tasty. It is a great cheap option to have near by and you can really do much worse.

        There lies my complaint though, there are a few fair-decent-OK Jamaican restaurants in Toronto, places where the community can go to get a quick fix and the food is far from inedible. The problem is where is the knock you socks off, incredible Jamaican meal that can be found in South Florida, Brooklyn, Hartford, London? Even here in Boston I have found two excellent Jamaican restaurants that make dishes that remind me of home. Trust me I am open to suggestions and will travel to find this elusive meal.

        1. re: icey

          I grew up in the East end so I've definitely been to the Sunrise on Kingston Rd. Again, like Matt H I thought it was similar to the rest of the decent Jamaican places in Toronto but unfortunately not stellar.

          To draw a comparison, I lived in Flatbush for awhile where my favorite Jamaican spot is at, called Excuisites. They open at 6am for breakfast where they serve porridge, dumplings, and Saltfish and Bake. After breakfast they have a huge spread and except for a few staples a lot of it would change daily, from Pastas to five different types of chicken to vegetables. They have two different soups for every day of the week and homemade irish moss, ginger beer, sorel, etc, in addition to an assortment of baked goods.

          Now, the biggest difference between Excuisites and places in Toronto (aside from the aforementioned) is this. They have a vast selection of seafood plates. In Toronto the best you'll find is some shrimp and some Kingfish for the most part. Excuisites had three kinds of shrimp, three kinds of snapper, salmon, whiting, and eskovitch, of different preparations. The other huge difference is that you paid $7 for a small that was larger than what Toronto spots serve as a large and they even threw in Plantain and Festival for you.

          If there's a spot in Toronto that can compete I haven't found it yet. I am also in search of a great Ital spot too but that may be asking for too much.

        2. What do you think of Tinnel's patties?

          6 Replies
          1. re: acd123

            I have only tried a Tinnel's patty once, being that they are out in Brampton and I hardly spent much time in that end of the GTA. With that being said based on that one visit it was a very good patty, I would rank it just below Allan's personally, but as I said I have eaten Allan's alot and Tinnels only once.

            Randy's is still the champ in my view though.

            1. re: Matt H

              Isn't Tinnels on Eg West near Keele?

              1. re: Dimbulb

                they have more than one location

                1. re: Dimbulb

                  Yes the only location I have been to is in Brampton, if there is a location on Eg West I completely missed it, or ignored it because I love Randy's that much!

              2. re: acd123

                I like Tinnels better than Randy's... and Randy's only comes in Spicy.. I like the mild ones. Have not tried Allan's, I don't think they sell them here in Brampton/Mississauga

              3. I would have to disagree w/ Rap's. Yes the spicing does indeed vary depending on whether you go during the day or at night (different cooks I assume), but it's still one of the best jerk spots in the city. Consistency is an issue, but when it's on, it's great. I'm betting you caught it on one of their off times.

                Out of all my visits, one time it was dry/overcooked, and another time it was under-spiced. Otherwise it's been the best I've had in Toronto.

                13 Replies
                1. re: aser

                  This is definitely not my first visit to Rap's, as I mentioned I lived in TO for a while (even at EW and Marlee at one time) and have tried many of the places on the Eg West strip. As you mentioned they have better days than others, but that is the problem there is no consistency to any of these Jamaican establishments in TO.

                  Please keep in mind that I grew up in a Jamaican household with a mother that is an excellent cook, so my standards are quite high. With that being said though I would never expect a restaurant outside of Jamaica to match what you can find at home, that is not fair. But I am just looking for something that matches up with other cities with large Jamaican communities outside of Yard. In all honestly if Raps was in Brooklyn or South Florida it would be a mediocre Jerk spot, the best places in each city hardly have a bad day because the competition is fierce.

                  Another issue I have is that no one in Toronto smokes their Jerk with Pimento Leaves (I am not even expecting wood because I know it is expensive and almost impossible to get in Toronto) so you never get that real Jerk flavor that you get in Jamaica and even NY and S. FL.

                  The best I have found in Toronto though for seasoning and flavor is Mr. Jerk at Peanut Plaza and for the closest thing to smokiness is when Spence is cooking outside on Eg West. No one has found the winning combination in my opinion though, and it really is a shame considering that Toronto has a large Jamaican community.

                  1. re: Matt H

                    I am not sure why there is no good jerk in Toronto, but I do know that trying to find pimento to cook meat over is nearly impossible. I have been searching for a while with no luck. Where can you get pimento leaves in Toronto?

                    1. re: sweetie

                      Don't know if you've tried this, but maybe Richter's Herbs might do the plant, from which you could then get the leaves. I've had some good luck growing a monstrous Jamaican broadleaf thyme plant from there.

                      1. re: sweetie

                        Yes it is very difficult to find Pimento Wood or Leaves in Toronto, and I suspect that is why you see no one using it locally, unlike the Jerk establishments in the US, where you can get Pimento Wood and Leaves (even though it is very expensive)

                        I do know that you can easily get the Pimento Berries in Toronto at basically any West Indian store and what many of the Jerk places in the states do is soak the Pimento berries and either add them to the charcoal or into the smoker. No one really puts that type of effort into their cooking in the TO area, imo.

                        1. re: Matt H

                          Pimento berries are just all spice right? I get those from Jamaica (They are free for me down there)> I have thrown them on the BBQ when doing jerk with so so results.

                          1. re: sweetie

                            Yes exactly. Did you soak the berries overnight in water ahead of time though? That is the key.

                            1. re: Matt H

                              Thanks! Can't wait to give it another go.

                      2. re: Matt H

                        Funny enough, I go to Mr Jerk more because it's convenient location wise, plus their $5.75 lunch time special is a steal. I get a serious case of dry mouth after eating it though, msg overload perhaps? I find the jerk to be better at Rap's than at Mr. Jerk.

                        I also noticed Mr. Jerk had a "conditional pass" posted when i went this week.

                        Spence is a saucy version, which I'm not a big fan of.

                        1. re: aser

                          As I said I like Spence for the smokiness not really the flavoring, when he is cooking outside only. It comes down to personal taste though and I would never try to convince anyone to like or dislike any restaurant, you are using your taste buds after all.

                          With that being said though whether its Raps, Mr. Jerk, Alberts or Spence, if this is the best that Toronto has to offer then it is really sad, as I said in many cities any of the above would be considered mediocre.

                          1. re: Matt H

                            Matt H,

                            What other places cook jerk on the street in front of the restaurant during the summer? Does Raps do this?

                            1. re: acd123

                              If Im not mistaken Raps and Mainsha also cook outside in the summer.

                              1. re: Matt H

                                I see them w/ the oil drum outside in the winter too.

                                On that strip, pretty much all of them cook outside (spence's, rap's, hotpot, etc)

                          2. re: aser

                            Peanut Plaza Mr.Jerk has been getting conditional passes since I moved to the City 10 years ago :P Has never stopped me from eating there, but it's a fact.