I grew up in Jamaica, eating Pan Chicken from the “Pan Man” on Red Hills Road, Northside Plaza in Liguanea, and from the famous Boston Jerk Centre.
Nowadays #WeTheNorth tourists sample Jerk Chicken from established eateries like Scotchies. I’ve never found it to taste quite the same. The Jerk Chicken from “the side of the road” had an unforgettable taste. Seasoning right to the bone, as if the chicken ate a steady diet of garlic, thyme, black pepper, salt, onion and scotch bonnet pepper.
Coming to Canada in 2000, I have tried many Black Canadian owned restaurants across the GTA to find which one has the most authentic Jerk flavour. Having sampled over 100 Black-owned restaurants across the GTA, below is my list of the Top 5 places to eat Jerk Chicken (in alphabetical order):
Bakers Jerk, Brampton. When I’m in East Brampton a stop here is mandatory. The jerk chicken is consistently good; tender, drop off the bone, seasoned to the marrow. Owned by husband and wife team Kirk and Nadine Baker, the restaurant is geared for takeout with a limited dining area. Gospel music regularly blasts the overhead speakers. We normally have the pasta salad, as an alternative to the traditional rice and peas.
Eglinton Pan Chicken (in front of Raps) - North York - Reminiscent of those Red Hills road days back in Jamaica, the Eglinton Strip in Little Jamaica has tried to recreate that smoky air pan chicken environment. The smoky chicken taste infused with the jerk flavour cause a traffic jam on Friday nights. Most people buy, and eat it on the spot. Wash that down with some Irish moss and be transported to Jamaica, if only for a brief moment.
Freddy’s Kitchen, Mississauga. Home of the adventurous Jerk dishes showcased annually at JerkFest like alligator, kangaroo, rabbit, etc; is located in a strip mall just south of Hurontario and Dundas. The jerk chicken left a very satisfying taste, with a nice peppery kick, soothed by an array of fresh vegetables and a side order of plantain. The service here was excellent.
Red Snapper Cafe, Ajax. One of my favourite restaurants, for a number of dishes, and one of the few ones with pan cooked jerk chicken served with a sweet pepper sauce on top. Pair this with their lightly sweetened pasta salad, or try it with rice and peas with some curry chicken gravy.
The Real Jerk, Toronto. On the way out of Downtown Toronto headed east to Whitby, I take my usual detour, stopping at the famous site of Rihanna and Drake’s music video, The Real Jerk. The new venue is nicer, with floor level washrooms (remember the old ones) but we preferred the old location at Queen and Broadview. You can never go wrong with the jerk chicken, served with a generous serving of rice and salad. The grilled flavour, paired with a healthy serving of fried plantain, festival or rice and peas, washed down with a cold Red Stripe beer. Try the Iri-okee on a Thursday night and the numerous rum samplings.
Do you have a favourite jerk chicken spot? Let us know in the comments below!