TasteToronto | Here's how 3 of Toronto's top Caribbean restaurants are gearing up for Caribana

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website.

View our Privacy Policy

News

Here's how 3 of Toronto's top Caribbean restaurants are gearing up for Caribana

Here's how 3 of Toronto's top Caribbean restaurants are gearing up for Caribana

Here's how 3 of Toronto's top Caribbean restaurants are gearing up for Caribana

The Toronto Caribbean Carnival, otherwise known as “Caribana” for the OG heads, is that time of year the entire city “jumps up” in a celebration launched by Toronto”s Caribbean community. Over a million people flood the streets of Toronto every summer in a steel pan, reggae and calypso infused dance party, making it North America’s largest street festival. A weekend bacchanal of hip shaking sweat soaked revelry requires a healthy dose of sustenance to keep your energy up, and Caribbean restaurants have been fueling the party for decades. Of course, except for some smaller weekend events last year, two years' worth of lockdowns and restrictions managed to kill the vibe for many. That time without Caribana, cancelled for perfectly understandable public health reasons, was just another downer perpetrated on the city by the killjoy known as COVID. However, Toronto Caribbean Carnival events are back this year with a vengeance. We checked in with some of Toronto’s top Caribbean restaurants to find out how they’re gearing up for the return of Caribana.

The Diner's Corner

The Diner’s Corner

“The Diner’s Corner is our baby,” says owner Antovin Aries, who co-owns the business with his brother Merrick. “We are a space where everyone is welcome, and you can bring a date or just socialize in a relaxed atmosphere.”

The business began in a smaller location just a short walk from the new space and reopened at 679 Yonge during COVID. Antovin describes the cavernous West Indian bistro as a “Jamaican-Caribbean” restaurant. Here, like all the other restaurants in this story, special attention is paid to customer service and overall aesthetics. There’s a recognition on the part of these restaurateurs that they need to work a little harder to avoid being lumped into the running joke about Caribbean restaurants and poor customer service.

The Diner's Corner

“The food is elegantly plated, and our focus is on being a contemporary dining establishment that doesn’t contribute to the negative stereotypes around Caribbean restaurants,” Antovin explains.

Curry Chickpea dinner, Oxtail Dinner, Garden Salad

On this day, The Diner’s Corner’s garage-style doors are raised to take advantage of the summer breeze, natural light and impeccable people watching. Although their curbside patio is abuzz with a diverse array of customers, it only hints at what Caribana weekend will bring to the location.

Oxtail Dinner

“Typically, when the parade is over, the restaurant is packed with people until closing, and the patio is a welcome seating addition for us,” says Antovin. “Friday night before the parade, there’s a lot of foot traffic on Yonge, and we want to create a celebratory atmosphere where people can have a great meal, some cocktails, and just hang out.”

Curry Chickpea Dinner

In terms of food for Carnival weekend, The Diner’s Corner is planning a reduced menu of all the classics to avoid slowing down table service. It makes sense when you think about it. People want their favourite dishes served up quickly after all that partying, and by keeping the good stuff like Jerk chicken, oxtail, curry chicken or curry goat, it’s still a guarantee you’ll make most people happy. Over the Caribana weekend, the full-service bar, run by his brother Merrick, will offer tropical sangria along with sensational cocktails incorporating homemade ginger beer, june plum juice and fruit punch. DJ Cashala will provide musical accompaniment.

“We also serve a Sunday buffet brunch with a wide range of food items like porridge, fried plantain, breadfruit, and dumplings,” adds Antovin. “We have ackee and saltfish, escovitch and stewed fish. We will probably add curry chicken to our brunch line for Caribana and ground provisions (West Indian root vegetables). Vegetarians will also be taken care of with dishes incorporating callilou and curried chickpeas.”

SugarKane Kitchen Window

SugarKane Restaurant

We’ve been around food all our lives,” explains Nicole Charles Page, one-third of the trio of sisters who co-own SugarKane Restaurant. “Our parents, from Trinidad and Grenada, always had people over for dinner on the weekends, so we got our love for cooking from our parents.”

Travel ad Collage

The sisters, Nicole (Nicky) Charles, Renee Charles, and Donna Charles, began catering to family and friends, eventually growing into a company that catered to large events. After running the catering company for a few years, they opened SugarKane in June of 2019, with Renee handling HR and payroll, Nicky managing the back-of-house duties and promotion, and Donna dealing with finances.

“We had a few months of normal before COVID hit,” says Nicky. “When we went into lockdowns, we were so brand new that we weren’t even on any delivery apps, and people were just beginning to know us. When we tried to get on those apps, because every other restaurant was trying to get on them, it took a while to get set up for delivery.”

They closed down entirely for two months, eventually getting set up on the delivery apps, and managed to survive as a business until the government provided rental relief and employee support funding.

After the Black Lives Matter movement happened, people suddenly began offering more support to Black businesses,” says Renee Charles. “When we reopened, there was a snowball effect of interviews on Breakfast Television, an Amex commercial, and a few news articles that helped get more customers into the restaurant.”

Braised Oxtail Bowl, Pimento Spinach Dip with Plantain & Pita Chips, Jerk Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo

With a Caribbean-Cajun menu inspired by their Caribbean backgrounds and Nicky’s husband, who hails from Chicago but has southern roots, SugarKane offers a unique mix of cuisines. How many restaurants in Toronto can boast of authentically prepared jambalaya and blackened salmon on their menus right alongside oxtail and jerk chicken? How many offer that with the added flair of live music, cool wall art and a stunning bar? Not many.

For Caribana 2022, SugarKane has gone in the opposite direction of The Diner’s Corner and is offering an extended menu. According to the sisters, customers have been asking for some classic curry dishes and roti.

We’re going to bring some curry shrimp and chicken to the restaurant this weekend,” says Renee. We’re also going to try something new that you’ve never seen before,” adds Nicky. “Surf and turf roti.”

Blue Island Cocktail (Pina Colada, Pineapple juice, Vodka, Rum, Gin, Tequila & Blue Curacao)

Surf and turf roti is one of those ideas that can go surprisingly well or really poorly, and it’s exactly why I’m really looking forward to trying it. The one thing you can’t say is it’s an unoriginal offering. It’s perhaps a testament to the sisters' creativity in the successful operation of their Caribbean restaurant on The Danforth.

This Caribana, all three sisters will be in the restaurant, helping their talented kitchen and team of servers handle the festive crowds. With Steel Pan players, Soca music courtesy of DJ D-Styles, Costume displays, and their expanded menu of Caribbean standbys, I think anybody in the restaurant can expect to be transported to the Caribbean.

We want our guests to experience a little more of the Caribbean culture, even if they don’t actually go to the parade, Nicky explains, perfectly summing up SugarKane’s vibe.

Chadon Beni Patio

Chadon Beni

Chadon Beni, pronounced “Shadow Benny” in The Caribbean, is a close cousin to cilantro (it’s a “culantro”) but isn’t quite the same in terms of flavour. According to owner and manager of Trini-centric Caribbean tapas outpost Chadon Beni, Ross Milne, even people who dislike the taste of cilantro tend to like the taste of the eponymous culantro.

Tempura Fried Lobster Tacos, Bake and Shark/Shrimp, Coconut Crab Curry Dumplings

“In Trinidad, it’s used in meat seasoning, chutneys, curries, and even salsas—pretty much everything,” says Milne. “If a Trini or someone from the West Indies walks past, they’ll recognize the name immediately and maybe walk in out of curiosity.”

Launched during COVID a year ago, with just an outdoor patio opened during Cafe TO that remains busy even now, both the restaurant’s interior and exterior appear to be thriving thanks to the support of people in the neighbourhood and word of mouth. Another addition to Chadon Beni that has endeared it to the Queen West community is its tiny cafe booth, the Coco Cafe. The cafe, run by Milne’s brother, offers coffee and doubles to go through a window facing Shaw Street foot traffic.

“My brother is an investor here and runs the Coco Cafe window, which he launched about six months ago,” Milne explains. “Doubles are pretty labour intensive, but two of those and you’re full. He does well and has created a following.”

Like the other restaurateurs I spoke with, Milne prides himself on providing an elevated ambience and unique dining experience with West Indian ingredients. Trinidadian tapas is probably not something you thought you needed, but once you try it, you’ll wonder where it’s been your whole life. As with the typical Spanish tapas restaurant, there are no entrees to be had at Chadon Beni. Instead, you will be treated to small plates of delicious food that isn’t immediately recognizable as “Caribbean” but always employ significant elements of Caribbean flavour profiles.

Bake and Shark/Shrimp

“Some of our proteins—like shark sourced mainly from Asian grocers—wild boar, venison, and duck sliders could be considered outside of the usual, but they all have some element of chadon beni or Scotch bonnet to give it a West Indian feel, explains Milne.  Right now, the lobster taco and bake and shark are the most popular dishes.”

The bake and shark, three small sliders packed with shark, shrimp, three different chutneys, garlic aioli, pepper sauce and chadon beni, taste like nothing you’ve had before and are fantastic for sharing.

Macaroni Pie Bites & Callaloo

Macaroni pie, a well-known dish in Trinidad, is slightly altered as fried macaroni pie bites—picture Italian arancini—panko-crusted and fried with a side of callaloo.

Macaroni Pie Bites

You also have a couple of excellent options for washing down your food, courtesy of Chandon Beni’s bar.

Rum Punch & Watermelon Mojito

“My most popular drinks are the rum punch and watermelon mojito,” Milne says. “During the week, I run a pitcher of rum punch and a pound of wings with scotch bonnet and chadon beni. People will just come for the rum punch by itself, and the watermelon mojito is all-natural watermelon—not syrup—so it’s super refreshing and not too sweet.”

As for Caribana, Milne has only planned for more of the same casual atmosphere and tasty tapas plates Chadon Beni has become known for, which is just fine with me.

“A number of promoters have already contacted me about holding something here,” says Milne. “I’m open to meet and greets here, but this isn’t built to be a club. I anticipate forty-odd people can meet here, have a few drinks, try some food, then head to the actual club or party.

Both visiting Caribana revellers and Torontonians can rest assured that whether you're looking for brunch, lunch, dinner or pre-drinks before or after the parade, these three Caribbean restaurants will have you covered for The Toronto Caribbean Carnival and beyond.

Tags:

Caribana

Top 3 Toronto Caribbean Restaurants Gearing up for Caribana

Toronto's Top Caribbean restaurants

Here's how 3 of Toronto's top Caribbean restaurants are gearing up for Caribana

News

14 days ago

Here's how 3 of Toronto's top Caribbean restaurants are gearing up for Caribana

Byron Armstrong
written by

Byron Armstrong

The Toronto Caribbean Carnival, otherwise known as “Caribana” for the OG heads, is that time of year the entire city “jumps up” in a celebration launched by Toronto”s Caribbean community. Over a million people flood the streets of Toronto every summer in a steel pan, reggae and calypso infused dance party, making it North America’s largest street festival. A weekend bacchanal of hip shaking sweat soaked revelry requires a healthy dose of sustenance to keep your energy up, and Caribbean restaurants have been fueling the party for decades. Of course, except for some smaller weekend events last year, two years' worth of lockdowns and restrictions managed to kill the vibe for many. That time without Caribana, cancelled for perfectly understandable public health reasons, was just another downer perpetrated on the city by the killjoy known as COVID. However, Toronto Caribbean Carnival events are back this year with a vengeance. We checked in with some of Toronto’s top Caribbean restaurants to find out how they’re gearing up for the return of Caribana.

The Diner's Corner

The Diner’s Corner

“The Diner’s Corner is our baby,” says owner Antovin Aries, who co-owns the business with his brother Merrick. “We are a space where everyone is welcome, and you can bring a date or just socialize in a relaxed atmosphere.”

The business began in a smaller location just a short walk from the new space and reopened at 679 Yonge during COVID. Antovin describes the cavernous West Indian bistro as a “Jamaican-Caribbean” restaurant. Here, like all the other restaurants in this story, special attention is paid to customer service and overall aesthetics. There’s a recognition on the part of these restaurateurs that they need to work a little harder to avoid being lumped into the running joke about Caribbean restaurants and poor customer service.

The Diner's Corner

“The food is elegantly plated, and our focus is on being a contemporary dining establishment that doesn’t contribute to the negative stereotypes around Caribbean restaurants,” Antovin explains.

Curry Chickpea dinner, Oxtail Dinner, Garden Salad

On this day, The Diner’s Corner’s garage-style doors are raised to take advantage of the summer breeze, natural light and impeccable people watching. Although their curbside patio is abuzz with a diverse array of customers, it only hints at what Caribana weekend will bring to the location.

Oxtail Dinner

“Typically, when the parade is over, the restaurant is packed with people until closing, and the patio is a welcome seating addition for us,” says Antovin. “Friday night before the parade, there’s a lot of foot traffic on Yonge, and we want to create a celebratory atmosphere where people can have a great meal, some cocktails, and just hang out.”

Curry Chickpea Dinner

In terms of food for Carnival weekend, The Diner’s Corner is planning a reduced menu of all the classics to avoid slowing down table service. It makes sense when you think about it. People want their favourite dishes served up quickly after all that partying, and by keeping the good stuff like Jerk chicken, oxtail, curry chicken or curry goat, it’s still a guarantee you’ll make most people happy. Over the Caribana weekend, the full-service bar, run by his brother Merrick, will offer tropical sangria along with sensational cocktails incorporating homemade ginger beer, june plum juice and fruit punch. DJ Cashala will provide musical accompaniment.

“We also serve a Sunday buffet brunch with a wide range of food items like porridge, fried plantain, breadfruit, and dumplings,” adds Antovin. “We have ackee and saltfish, escovitch and stewed fish. We will probably add curry chicken to our brunch line for Caribana and ground provisions (West Indian root vegetables). Vegetarians will also be taken care of with dishes incorporating callilou and curried chickpeas.”

SugarKane Kitchen Window

SugarKane Restaurant

We’ve been around food all our lives,” explains Nicole Charles Page, one-third of the trio of sisters who co-own SugarKane Restaurant. “Our parents, from Trinidad and Grenada, always had people over for dinner on the weekends, so we got our love for cooking from our parents.”

Travel ad Collage

The sisters, Nicole (Nicky) Charles, Renee Charles, and Donna Charles, began catering to family and friends, eventually growing into a company that catered to large events. After running the catering company for a few years, they opened SugarKane in June of 2019, with Renee handling HR and payroll, Nicky managing the back-of-house duties and promotion, and Donna dealing with finances.

“We had a few months of normal before COVID hit,” says Nicky. “When we went into lockdowns, we were so brand new that we weren’t even on any delivery apps, and people were just beginning to know us. When we tried to get on those apps, because every other restaurant was trying to get on them, it took a while to get set up for delivery.”

They closed down entirely for two months, eventually getting set up on the delivery apps, and managed to survive as a business until the government provided rental relief and employee support funding.

After the Black Lives Matter movement happened, people suddenly began offering more support to Black businesses,” says Renee Charles. “When we reopened, there was a snowball effect of interviews on Breakfast Television, an Amex commercial, and a few news articles that helped get more customers into the restaurant.”

Braised Oxtail Bowl, Pimento Spinach Dip with Plantain & Pita Chips, Jerk Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo

With a Caribbean-Cajun menu inspired by their Caribbean backgrounds and Nicky’s husband, who hails from Chicago but has southern roots, SugarKane offers a unique mix of cuisines. How many restaurants in Toronto can boast of authentically prepared jambalaya and blackened salmon on their menus right alongside oxtail and jerk chicken? How many offer that with the added flair of live music, cool wall art and a stunning bar? Not many.

For Caribana 2022, SugarKane has gone in the opposite direction of The Diner’s Corner and is offering an extended menu. According to the sisters, customers have been asking for some classic curry dishes and roti.

We’re going to bring some curry shrimp and chicken to the restaurant this weekend,” says Renee. We’re also going to try something new that you’ve never seen before,” adds Nicky. “Surf and turf roti.”

Blue Island Cocktail (Pina Colada, Pineapple juice, Vodka, Rum, Gin, Tequila & Blue Curacao)

Surf and turf roti is one of those ideas that can go surprisingly well or really poorly, and it’s exactly why I’m really looking forward to trying it. The one thing you can’t say is it’s an unoriginal offering. It’s perhaps a testament to the sisters' creativity in the successful operation of their Caribbean restaurant on The Danforth.

This Caribana, all three sisters will be in the restaurant, helping their talented kitchen and team of servers handle the festive crowds. With Steel Pan players, Soca music courtesy of DJ D-Styles, Costume displays, and their expanded menu of Caribbean standbys, I think anybody in the restaurant can expect to be transported to the Caribbean.

We want our guests to experience a little more of the Caribbean culture, even if they don’t actually go to the parade, Nicky explains, perfectly summing up SugarKane’s vibe.

Chadon Beni Patio

Chadon Beni

Chadon Beni, pronounced “Shadow Benny” in The Caribbean, is a close cousin to cilantro (it’s a “culantro”) but isn’t quite the same in terms of flavour. According to owner and manager of Trini-centric Caribbean tapas outpost Chadon Beni, Ross Milne, even people who dislike the taste of cilantro tend to like the taste of the eponymous culantro.

Tempura Fried Lobster Tacos, Bake and Shark/Shrimp, Coconut Crab Curry Dumplings

“In Trinidad, it’s used in meat seasoning, chutneys, curries, and even salsas—pretty much everything,” says Milne. “If a Trini or someone from the West Indies walks past, they’ll recognize the name immediately and maybe walk in out of curiosity.”

Launched during COVID a year ago, with just an outdoor patio opened during Cafe TO that remains busy even now, both the restaurant’s interior and exterior appear to be thriving thanks to the support of people in the neighbourhood and word of mouth. Another addition to Chadon Beni that has endeared it to the Queen West community is its tiny cafe booth, the Coco Cafe. The cafe, run by Milne’s brother, offers coffee and doubles to go through a window facing Shaw Street foot traffic.

“My brother is an investor here and runs the Coco Cafe window, which he launched about six months ago,” Milne explains. “Doubles are pretty labour intensive, but two of those and you’re full. He does well and has created a following.”

Like the other restaurateurs I spoke with, Milne prides himself on providing an elevated ambience and unique dining experience with West Indian ingredients. Trinidadian tapas is probably not something you thought you needed, but once you try it, you’ll wonder where it’s been your whole life. As with the typical Spanish tapas restaurant, there are no entrees to be had at Chadon Beni. Instead, you will be treated to small plates of delicious food that isn’t immediately recognizable as “Caribbean” but always employ significant elements of Caribbean flavour profiles.

Bake and Shark/Shrimp

“Some of our proteins—like shark sourced mainly from Asian grocers—wild boar, venison, and duck sliders could be considered outside of the usual, but they all have some element of chadon beni or Scotch bonnet to give it a West Indian feel, explains Milne.  Right now, the lobster taco and bake and shark are the most popular dishes.”

The bake and shark, three small sliders packed with shark, shrimp, three different chutneys, garlic aioli, pepper sauce and chadon beni, taste like nothing you’ve had before and are fantastic for sharing.

Macaroni Pie Bites & Callaloo

Macaroni pie, a well-known dish in Trinidad, is slightly altered as fried macaroni pie bites—picture Italian arancini—panko-crusted and fried with a side of callaloo.

Macaroni Pie Bites

You also have a couple of excellent options for washing down your food, courtesy of Chandon Beni’s bar.

Rum Punch & Watermelon Mojito

“My most popular drinks are the rum punch and watermelon mojito,” Milne says. “During the week, I run a pitcher of rum punch and a pound of wings with scotch bonnet and chadon beni. People will just come for the rum punch by itself, and the watermelon mojito is all-natural watermelon—not syrup—so it’s super refreshing and not too sweet.”

As for Caribana, Milne has only planned for more of the same casual atmosphere and tasty tapas plates Chadon Beni has become known for, which is just fine with me.

“A number of promoters have already contacted me about holding something here,” says Milne. “I’m open to meet and greets here, but this isn’t built to be a club. I anticipate forty-odd people can meet here, have a few drinks, try some food, then head to the actual club or party.

Both visiting Caribana revellers and Torontonians can rest assured that whether you're looking for brunch, lunch, dinner or pre-drinks before or after the parade, these three Caribbean restaurants will have you covered for The Toronto Caribbean Carnival and beyond.

Tags:

Caribana

Top 3 Toronto Caribbean Restaurants Gearing up for Caribana

Toronto's Top Caribbean restaurants