Journalist Sarah Efron explores strip malls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants in search of the city's best ethnic food

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

This former Coffee Time is now the hub for Toronto's Haitian community

***As of Dec 2012 this place is not open. See the comments at the end of this post. 

A former Coffee Time restaurant in Scarborough has recently been transformed into a defacto Haitian community centre. Not only is La Belle Jacmel, located at a 3537 St. Clair East at Kennedy, now the only Haitian restaurant in Toronto, it also doubles as a night club, grocery store, mail order service, bakery and charity depot for Toronto's 30,000 Haitians.

I visited La Belle Jacmel last year, when it went by the name St. Clair Bakery. The friendly Haitian trio of Lukas Cineus Jr and Sr and their friend Marie Claire had purchased a tiny Greek and Macedonian bakery in the same strip mall. They kept serving European baked goods and added Haitian take-out meals to the menu.

A few months ago they took over the much larger former Coffee Time space in the same strip mall. They added a DJ booth and dance floor to the restaurant, which is decked out with over-the-top Renaissance-style paintings and chandeliers put in by one of the previous tenants. At night, young Haitian DJs spin reggae, dancehall, souk and compa music. "We want to redecorate soon to add a more Caribbean style," says Junior (below, with Marie Claire).

You can get a hefty plate of Haitian food made up of tasty marinated beef, chicken or goat, plus green fried plantains and beet salad. If you've never tried Haitian food, come by for the Saturday afternoon buffet, where you can sample fish, goat and shellfish dishes and five kinds of rice for less than ten bucks. Be sure to try the AK-100 (pronounced "acassan"), a thick corn-based drink made with vanilla.

La Belle Jacmel still serves Greek-style baked goods, as well as flaky Haitian meat patties and sweets. Heck, chef Marie Claire will even serve you up bacon and eggs or chicken tikka masala, items listed on a giant menu board left by the previous restaurant tenant.

There used to be several other Haitian restaurants and variety stores in Scarborough, but as they are now closed, Junior decided to start selling hard-to-find grocery items at his restaurant, such as djon-djon, a type of mushroom cooked with rice that is only found in Haiti. However, he's more than happy to explain the Haitian dishes to people who have never tried them. "We want to let everyone know about Haitian food," he says proudly. 

Photos by Dana Lacey. Thanks to David McMullan for the tip.

La Belle Jacmel is at 3537 St. Clair East at Kennedy. Open 8am to 10pm every day; Fridays and Saturday closing time is 3am. Tel: 647 477 1112.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dosa specialist is a Bloordale favourite

Bloordale resident Quaison is such a fan of South Indian Dosa Mahal (located at 1262 Bloor Street West) that when his son was born a few months ago, he ordered 200 samosas from the restaurant for the baby shower. 

"Before I started coming here, I didn't realize that South India has a different style of food than the rest of India," says Quaison (second photo below). "The food here is very reasonable in terms of price and the dosas are light, so they're not a burden on the digestive system."

Indeed, dosas—a type of crepe made with a batter of ground rice and lentils—are the specialty here. You tear off in pieces of the dosa and dip it into the assorted small dishes that come with the meal—samplers of zucchini curry, coconut chutney and eggplant. 

The veggie dishes are decent but meat eaters should try the powerful goat curry, which was my favourite. The rasam soup—a flavourful mix of tomato, cumin, garlic and tamarind—is supposed have medicinal properties. The bill for three people, including appetizers, is just shy of $30. 

The another notable thing about South Indian Dosa Mahal is the over-the-top pink decor, which is accented by ribbons and hearts on the walls and ceilings. "My daughter chose the colours—she loves pink," explains owner Naomi Logan (above), who founded the restaurant in a smaller location eight years ago. And the hearts? "This is a family restaurant, so people need love."

Thanks to Neeraj for the tip. 
South Indian Dosa Mahal is located at 1262 Bloor Street West near Lansdowne. Its hours are 11am to 10pm Monday to Saturday, closed Sundays and holidays, tel: 416-516-7701.

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