Hidden away throughout Ottawa you will find some truly authentic Caribbean food options. Our team has sampled the different places and brought you our review of three different spots around town.
Lil Negril opened its doors eight years ago when family members Donna Francis, Glenmore O’Connor and Jaydean Cameron, decided to take the plunge, after living in Ottawa for 35 years, and give the city a taste of their heritage. Despite what you may read on their website Lil Negril is not open for in-restaurant dining, but it does offer pretty terrific take-away. The owners tell me they'll be “re-opening sometime in the new year,” which is unfortunate because while modest, the room is rather warm and inviting and I certainly wouldn’t mind taking a seat rather than taking it out.
Even in take-away form, the presentation here is nicer, more colourful than with the aforementioned eateries. The jerk chicken was cut into manageable pieces over rice and peas (I do wish they'd get away from using parboiled rice) and it came served with a ripe, bright mango salsa that perfectly suited the jerk seasoning. All main dishes come served with the most luscious plantain I’ve experienced in Ottawa and while I haven’t seen it on the menu, I will be asking if they can do up a larger side order next time.
I’ve eaten here a few times and now trying the Stamp ’n Go Cod fritters, I wonder why I was so slow on the uptake. These moist, fluffy pillows of goodness are served with two mild sauces and might just become the perfect beer and TV snack. The Chicken Vegetable soup was filled with fresh veg and adulterated with a mild curry. Despite the gentle use of salt, I found it deeply flavoured.
All around, my experiences at Lil Negril leave me satisfied in every regard: value for money, freshness of ingredients and confidence in techniques. Meats are cooked through yet moist while vegetables retain colour, flavour and bite. If you’re in the Centrepointe vicinity, do treat yourself to some very good island cooking with a visit to Lil Negril.
As one woman, a transplant from Montreal, recently told me “This is the place that all Haitian people come to get their food”.
The pace of service here is positively glacial and while many bring their smartphones as distractions, I suggest bringing a bible or a mantra .
The menu offers good, wholesome home cooking and the flavours here clearly speak to the Haitian Canadians that flock to Soleil Des Iles. For many it's not just about the food but about the memories and feelings that the flavours and smells of home awaken in them. Irrespective of where we're from, we understand that experience.
Specialty items are offered on weekends while the overall menu shows fried or stewed proteins such as beef, goat, chicken, fish and even Conch all served with the classic rice & peas and a rather delicious macaroni salad. Amusingly there's a cryptic notice on the wall that reads, “All dishes on Sunday cost $1.00 extra.” What? How random. I asked a family member of the business about this and he laughed, “Yeah I know…it's confusing. On Sundays, the rice is made with mushrooms so it costs extra.”
What he was referring to are the Djon Djon (the “D” is silent), dark and spindly mushrooms native to Haiti, that stains black all they touch. A great substitute for squid ink, so vegetarian and vegan restaurants take note. Even cold, the Djon Djon rice is terrific and as far as I know, you won’t find it elsewhere. Dried Djon Djon are however available at the Geeland International Grocery on Walkley. By the way, the rice is cooked to perfection and not of the parboiled variety.
One final eye-popping revelation of the Haitian kitchen for me is the Pikliz; a cool, crunchy, salty coleslaw, laced with onion, carrot and substantial amounts of freshly chopped habanero. I sweat blood when I eat it and I’m not interested in stopping.
Run2Patty have been open at this new location for just under four months and given the traffic, who knows when this hard working staff will get a chance to slow down. I advise you to order ahead and when they utter the words, “Ready in 25 minutes,” add 15.
One winner is the BBQ smoked chicken, a leg served whole with the classic rice and peas and a solid macaroni salad with supremely fresh vegetables. A recommendation to the staff: consider splitting the leg for different roast times. The meat was judiciously smoked but while the thigh was moist, the thinner drum portion was very dry.
Other braised meats, like my beloved oxtail, were not uniformly tender and lacked the sauce that is always one of the great joys of cooked oxtail. You want the rice doused in this and you want your lips to stick together with collagen. As mentioned, the macaroni salad is a winner but the side order of mac and cheese was more like a pudding.
Where Run 2 Patty shines is with their fried chicken (moist and flavourful with a great crunch that doesn’t leave you dripping in oil) and their patties. They offer a total of seven varieties priced at $2-$3.50. Not a single of their patties is as greasy or as messily flaky as the commercial versions to which we’ve become habituated and I will say that no one is making a better Jamaican patty anywhere in Ottawa. My picks: Salt fish and Ackee, Oxtail, Jerk chicken, all are plumply filled and expertly seasoned.
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