by Ryan B. Patrick
Befitting Toronto's large size and multicultural makeup, the types of cuisine one might find in the energetic northern metropolis are as diverse as they are flavorful. As counterintuitive as it may seem, the city is home to an impressive range of soul food options—as far as it is from the American South. Here, five picks from a local to satisfy the Southern vibe north of the border.
Harlem Restaurant bills its fare as "American soul food meets Caribbean contemporary;" the restaurant's menus include excellent versions of such mainstays as braised short ribs, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, candied yams and the always-appreciated cornbread loaf. Those expecting a heavy or greasy Southern-style meal will be surprised—dishes such as the fried chicken or the spiced tofu steak with seasonal vegetables keep things light yet flavorful. If you're in the mood for a more Caribbean-inspired dish, the roasted jerk chicken with sweet fried plantains will hit the spot.
With Creole design and character to spare, Southern Accent is a cozy space inside a remodeled old house that comes complete with an in-house tarot reader. The classic jambalaya dish is done to Cajun perfection on the spicy scale, while the tenderness of the blackened chicken livers appetizer will convert even the most hardened liver skeptic. With a side of garlic mashed potato and sautéed spinach combo, the Bourbon Street chicken (with fresh lemon beurre) is one of the strongest standouts on the reasonably priced menu.
Possibly the world's only Cajun Italian Blues Bar, N'Awlins Jazz Bar & Grill is always packed. Set in the ever-changing Entertainment District, N'Awlins is known for its unique, narrow (some might say cramped) space serving up Southern fare with an unexpected but harmonious Italian infusion. Start off with the crab cakes, believed by many to be the best in the city.
Big Daddy's Crab Shack & Oyster Bar does seafood right. What the place lacks in decor it more than makes up for in quality and selection at a fair price. Make sure you hit them up during their "Voodoo Hours" (their take on Happy Hour) for shrimp, crab and chorizo fritters.
Joe Mama's lives up to the cleverly punned name—dishes have a distinct down home, Southern-made authenticity, almost as if someone's mother was actually in the back whipping them up with love. The Southern Fried corn meal calamari plate is a celebration of diverse taste and texture, while the Cajun Mixed Grill is a welcome sight for the choosy meat lover with its blackened sirloin, ribs and barbecue chicken choices loaded on a single plate. It's a locale that has some of the best live entertainment in the evenings so be sure to stay after you've gotten your fill.
Images by Ryan B. Patrick