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

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

This crumbling Scarborough strip mall is home to some great Haitian home cooking

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 (above) 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. 

Click to see full-sized menu

One of the restaurant's signature dishes is djon djon rice, made with mushrooms that only grow in Haiti. The hard-to-find fungus is brought in via Montreal, and attracts Haitians from as far as Ajax, Brampton and Mississauga. The djon djon rice is also a hit with local Jamaican, African and Chinese customers.

Other Haitian classics on the menu include beet salad, macaroni pie, butternut soup (soup joumou) and meat and veggie stew (bouillon). The restaurant even has its own Haiti-inspired version of poutine, which includes chicken meat, Haitian-style chicken stock and mozzarella or blue cheese. 

Alabon Libon Caribbean Cuisine is located at 623 Kennedy Road between St. Clair East and Eglinton East. Hours: Closed Monday, open 11am to 8pm Tuesday to Thursday, 11am to 11pm Friday, 10am to 11pm Saturday, 10am to 7pm Sunday. Telephone: 416 261 2870. 

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