Spice City Toronto: This crumbling Scarborough strip mall is home to some great Haitian home cooking
Kennedy Road harbours a hidden gem.
A small restaurant in a half-abandoned strip mall in Scarborough is serving up the vibrant flavours of Haiti. The opening of Alabon Libon Caribbean Cuisine at 623 Kennedy Road last May signalled a welcome return of Haitian food to the area, which is home to many immigrants from the island nation.
In 2013, Haitian food, which is heavily influenced by French, African and Spanish cuisine, hit downtown Toronto with the opening of the trendy Black Hoof spinoff—Rhum Corner on Dundas West. It was followed by the 2014 opening of casual Haitian joint La Creole on St. Clair West. But meanwhile, the only remaining Haitian restaurant in Scarborough, La Belle Jacmel, had shut down unexpectedly after an ill-fated expansion.
So when I showed up at Alabon Libon, I was pleasantly surprised to see La Belle Jacmel’s excellent chef, Marie-Claire Point Du Jour, in the kitchen. She opened the new place with her husband and daughter Nadege in Corvette Plaza, on Kennedy north of St. Clair East. The name Alabon Libon means roughly “It’s good, good,” in Haitian creole.
The plaza is slated for demolition to make way for condos, so rents are affordable and many storefronts are empty (although Councillor Michelle Berardinetti has an office here). The plaza’s sign board hasn’t been updated in ages and lists an interesting collection of long-dead businesses.
I sampled a plate of goat meat and it was excellent. The goat was marinated overnight in a puree of fresh green pepper, red pepper, onion, shallots and olive oil. Then it was fried to order and served with a tomato-based sauce on a bed of barely ripe plantains. The result was a hefty flavour-packed dish, nicely freshened up by fat chunks of perfectly ripe avocado.
To drink I had a thick, frothy juice made of beets, potato and carrot. Sounds a bit odd, I know, but it was very enjoyable, with a rich, fruit-like flavour.
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Spice City Toronto explores Toronto’s great hole-in-the-wall restaurants and strip-mall joints serving food from all corners of the world.