The Reveal – AF1 Caribbean Canteen
“I wanted to give Toronto something special.”
Jamaican-born Chef Adrian Forte hadn’t been back to his hometown for 15 years and felt “it was very important to come back to where it started.”
Forte comes from a long line of chefs, including his mother, Janet Marie Richards, and grandmother, Sonia Richards, who was a chef for 42 years and has a name in Jamaica. Forte, too, has been at the stove for a long time – 17 years, in fact, since he was a kid.
Spending time with family, including uncles Douglas and Andrew, he made stewed peas, cow foot and pepper shrimp, to name a few. He then traversed the whole island in nine hours – starting in Negril and finishing in Kingston.
The Chopped Canada competitor and co-owner of The Dirty Bird wanted to do this project “forever.”
Showcasing the “food I grew up with,” you’ll feel you’ve entered a family home, filled with carefully prepared – but not fussy – home-made fare, and a whole lotta love.
Pay attention – this is not fusion. Not at all. Not even a likkle bit.
“I want to educate people on Jamaican cuisine.”
The focused, à la carte menu features “what people eat at home, not what you get in resorts” – all made from scratch (save the beef patties and coco bread). He hand selects all produce from Kensington Market every morning.
Using slightly tweaked family recipes, executed with classic French techniques, he wants to take Jamaican food to the “upper echelon.” The result? “Contemporary renditions of the classics,” he says.
Be sure to check out the daily specials as well. Forte is mentoring his young chefs in the kitchen and encouraging them to bring their heritage – Guyanese, Haitian, Asian and Trinidadian – to the plate. “I want to breed a new crop of Caribbean chefs to take pride in their heritage.”
This casual full-service spot is fully licensed, so get your Red Stripe, Guinness and Dragon brews, and Pop’s Punch, a potent rum-based punch (all $8 ea.) on.
There’s also pop, juice, and of course, Ting (all $4 ea.).
Fixtures and Fittings
Forte got a “vibe” that the jinxed location at the corner of College and Clinton was the perfect spot to create his dream. Shrugging off naysayers, he followed his gut. Smart move.
Taking 12 weeks to overhaul the formerly downtrodden space, Forte gutted the entire restaurant himself, replacing everything from plumbing to electrical and HVAC.
Interior design firm Rich & Poor Home helped transform the eatery into a welcoming bright, airy getaway, complete with rustic touches. A distressed barn board and galvanized zinc hut jutting out from the centre leaves space around the room’s edges for casual tables, counters (made from a basketball court floor!) and homey dining chairs.
A jaw-dropping speaker-lined wall, loud music, and requisite cheeky photo of a classic Jamaican beauty in a bikini behind the cash, keep things feeling fun and festive.
From the banana leaf curtains to large windows (ideal for people watching), you can practically feel the warm Jamaican breeze pass through.
Off the Menu
Plantain ($2.99) Plantains are a Jamaican staple. “Basically our bacon with breakfast,” says Forte. Here they’re deep-fried, then finished with Maldon sea salt and ground cinnamon for an enticing balance of sweet and salty.
Fish Fritters ($4.99) There are certain traditions in Jamaica – soup for dinner and fish fritters every Saturday morning, for example. Lucky for you, you don’t have to wait for the weekend to enjoy these delectable croquettes. An impossibly light, crispy batter, but still with substance, envelops tender salted cod, blended with onions, tomatoes, scallion and thyme. There’s no way you’re not going back for more.
Mac Pie ($3.99) You’ve never had macaroni like this before. This personal size pie’s sweet coconut flavour is courtesy of Forte’s insistence of using real coconut cream that he extracts from fresh, whole coconuts. Blended with white cheddar béchamel and house American cheddar sauce, the noodles are finished in the oven, delivering a delicate crispiness of top, revealing a creamy layer beneath. Heaven.
Peppered Shrimp ($12.99) Whole BC spot prawns are sautéed with a puree of scotch bonnets and cane vinegar, making for a messy yet delectable treat. And yes, you eat the head. And that hot sauce on the side? It’s a family recipe and seriously hot. Ask-for-six-glasses-of-water hot. You’ve been warned.
Jerk Pork (1/2 lb. $12.99, 1 lb. $16.99) Jerk is the hallmark of Forte’s food. “‘Jerk’ is a technique, not an ingredient,” Forte says. “It’s going to take a lot of work, but I want to re-educate people about what ‘jerk’ is. You can’t call something ‘jerk’ if you don’t use pimento wood.” ’Nuff said.
Using exclusively Jamaican pimento wood, heritage pork butt, with in-house made jerk marinade and seasoning, is smoked for six hours, imparting a soft smokiness that never overwhelms the flavour of the meat. Thick chunks are fork-tender with a good kick of heat and subtle sweet finish. Served with coco bread and coleslaw.
Brown Rice & Peas ($3.99) Sweet, fragrant and toothsome long grain rice is steamed in coconut milk with herbs, spices, scallion and garlic.
The dining room accommodates 40 guests. Takeout, catering for groups of 10 or more as takeaway, in store, off site, and private events are also available.
At the Stove: Chef Adrian Forte, Sous Chef Gael Katanga Mutombo
Head Honcho: Adrian Forte
Map It: 596 College St. (at Clinton)
Sundays to Thursdays: 12 pm – 11 pm
Fridays and Saturdays: 12 pm – 2 am
Phone it in: 647-340-3924 (FYAH)
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