Pam Singh’s roti is a definite contender for the Roti Smackdown title.
PAM’S CARIBBEAN KITCHEN (1160 Bloor West, at Russett, 416-533-3688). Complete meals for $11 per person, including all taxes, tip and a bottled juice. Average main $8. Open Thursday and Friday noon to 10 pm, Saturday to Wednesday noon to 9:30 pm. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door, equipped washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNN
This "not so fast takeout" makes a bid for T.O.'s best Carib-beanery
Ever since Louisa and Danny son's Soul Food on Lansdowne and Marcia Carby's Island Thyme on Bathurst sadly went out of business earlier this year - both victims of the age-old resto curse of bad location, bad location, bad location - the title for Toronto's best all-round Caribbean beanery has been up for grabs.
Step up, Pam Singh! Billed as the "not so fast takeout," Pam's Caribbean Kitchen first caught our attention two years back. Not only were her Guyanese-style roti made from scratch, they came stuffed with unusually fresh ingredients, much of them sourced from the nearby Dufferin Grove organic farmers' market.
As her popularity increased, Singh outgrew her cramped storefront at Bloor and Dovercourt and relocated to far grander digs just west of Dufferin six weeks ago. The room's still no dining destination, a few food-court type tables topped with linen tablecloths (well, polyester), a huge 60s-era Loewe Opta stereo topped with knick-knacks tuned to Flow in the front window and a large open kitchen at the back. But the new joint is at least four times the size of the old place, and Singh's short card is better than ever.
I have my heart set on her jerk chicken roti, but since the bird's not ready yet, Singh sells me on her boneless curried chicken wrap instead.
"My customers tell me it's the best in the city," says the effervescent self-taught cook.
I'll be the judge of that, I mumble under my breath. Funny thing is, her customers are right.
Now, I've eaten my fair share of roti - and have the cast-iron gut to prove it - but Pam's are unlike any other curried chicken roti in town. Instead of the skin 'n' gristle and overabundance of cheap potato filler found elsewhere, PCK's are loaded with more than a pound of remarkably moist white meat and only a minimum of spuds. The curry that binds the whole thing together has a sly heat with subtle notes of caraway, and the roti itself is flaky and absorbent. The slightest splash of roasted Scotch bonnet and green mango house-made hot sauce - sold by the bottle, BTW - sends the lot into orbit.
"See? I told you!" laughs Singh.
Vegans swear - and rightly so - by the mixed veggie combos, especially chickpea channa with leafy spinach and buttery squash (all $7.50), while pescavores will dig the butterflied shrimp version ($9.50), liberally doused with chopped garlic. Try the somewhat less fiery mint hot sauce with both.
For those who aren't fans of flatbread, all are available sided with sweet, creamy cole slaw ($2.50 small/$3 large à la carte) and a choice of either all-spiced rice and peas, yellow biryani rice with raisins or a Guyanese take on vegetarian chow mein, though the last two have to be ordered in advance. And get this: if you decide to eat in rather than take out, everything gets served on plates instead of in sytrofoam containers. Garnished, too! Who else does that?
House-baked samosas with puckering tamarind sauce ($1 each) come plumply packed with gently spiced potato and garden peas. Though it's currently available only for catering gigs, Pam's retro rice pudding deserves a permanent spot on the lineup.
And Pam's jerk chicken ($7.50 small/$8.50 large)? When I finally try it the following day, the boneless grilled thighs are surprisingly meaty, the spicing underplayed but potent, and there's nary a hint of lighter fluid.
As part of this weekend's Island Soul fest, Harbourfront is conducting its second annual online Roti Smackdown. The winner will be announced Sunday (August 3) at 5:30 pm in the Lakeside Terrace. Vote for your favourite roti resto, including Pam's, at harbourfrontcentre.com/worldroutes/festivals.