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

Friday, December 2, 2011

Awesome Toronto street food: grilling jerk chicken on the sidewalk at 4 in the morning

There's been endless handwringing about Toronto's lack of street food options, but if you know where to go, you'll find some world-class street eats here. You've got to feel a blush of pride in our city when you watch jerk chicken being grilled over coal fires on the sidewalks of Eglinton West.

Three rival Jamaican restaurants, Spence's Bakery, Rap's and Hot Pot Restaurant (at 1539, 1541, 1545 Eglinton West) pull out oil drums that have been converted into barbecues nightly around 7pm and start grilling jerk chicken. The tradition was started in the 1990s by Spence's, and the years of smoke have left the restaurant's main awning completely charred. Rap's has had the same man grilling it's chicken, Horace Francis, for twenty years. 

"When we first started doing this, I wasn't sure if it would take off," says Horace Rose, the owner of Rap's, "For sure, I didn't think it would work during the winter." 

Not only does the barbecuing take place year-round, it goes until 6 in the morning on the weekends, and until 5am on other nights. "People go party at the clubs and everybody comes here to eat after," says Roy, the jerk pork specialist at Hot Pot (pictured below).  

For all three restaurants, the chicken is marinated and partially cooked inside, then transported to the grill to be finished off. Grilling specialists douse the grill with water from plastic pop bottles. You purchase a $5, $7 or $10 container inside the restaurant and bring it out to be filled up at the grill. 

The chicken has a delightfully smokey flavour. It's a bit on the dry side, but this can be remedied by dousing the meat with the sweet, tangy hot sauce. Hot Pot's jerk pork was even better: juicy and much spicier than the chicken. 

For the Eglinton West's sizeable Jamaican community, the steel drums are the taste of home. "I started eating at drums back in the 1970s in Jamaica, " Horace Rose says. "In the evening, people put out drums on the street and you can go and buy a whole chicken. Ever since this time it's been something special for me." 

Thanks to Andrew D. for the tip. 

Spence's Bakery is at 1539 Eglinton West; Rap's is at 1541 Eglinton West and Hot Pot Restaurant is at 1545 Eglinton West. They are just a few blocks away from Eglinton West subway station. The restaurants start grilling most nights around 6:30 or 7pm and go until 5 or 6 am.

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  1. My favourite thing about Toronto.

  2. Went there today, chicken was DRY, not worth eating and the jerk was very very mild. The rice was correct otherwise thus us a don't return for me. Oxtail was 6/10