ISLAND THYME (872 Bathurst, north of Bloor, 416-538-9729) A cozy Caribbean café, this bright, casual space offers creative, reasonably priced takes on familiar island-style grub. No worries for those not in a hurry. Complete meals for $12 per person, including all taxes, tip and a Ting. Open Monday to Wednesday noon to 8 pm, Thursday and Friday noon to 9 pm, Saturday 9 am to 9 pm. Closed Sunday and holidays. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: four steps at door, another to washroom. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Every saturday, a regular comes into Island Thyme, the nine-month-old Caribbean café just north of the Bathurst subway station, and orders exactly the same thing: curried goat ($6.50 small/$8.50 large). And every week he complains. "When he orders, he makes sure he gets 'a little bit more gravy than last time,'" laughs affable Island co-owner and cook Marcia (pronounced Mar-SEE-ah) Carby. "Why doesn't he just ask for gravy and a spoonful of rice?"
He's right to want more of that sauce. Slightly sweet and with a hint of citrus, it's far subtler than the industrial-strength stuff served in most island-style eateries. Here, it pools around a dozen or so tender joints of gristleless young goat that not only falls from the bone but falls from the fork before dissolving on the tongue. And like all of Island Thyme's mains, it comes sided with nutty rice 'n' beans, sugary ripe plantain and a sensational slaw of shredded red and green cabbage, carrot, purple onion and bell pepper in a lemony vinaigrette.
Though much of its custom is take-away, the brightly lit room seats 10, or twice that if everyone gets friendly on the long banquette that runs down one side of the narrow island-hued space. Old-school reggae plays in the background. A bird of paradise colourfully unfurls on the display counter by the swinging door that leads to Carby's kitchen. A short menu's posted on a chalkboard.
But the best of this casual spot's lineup isn't listed: fabulous shoestring sweet potato frites ($2/$4.50). Carby figures that, like Tim Hortons and TimBitsTM, she doesn't need to advertise these yummy yams; everyone just knows about them. She modestly refers to them as fries, although the process of cooking them twice is the same one far more chi-chi boîtes use. Add a shake of salt and a splash of bottled mango hot sauce, then inhale immediately.
They go great with Saturday's special, Island fried chicken ($7.50), four breaded and spiced pieces of wing, thigh and breast. The secret: fresh herbs and spices combined with to-order cooking.
Gently seasoned jerk chicken ($6/$8 as a main) finds itself wrapped in a flour tortilla ($3.99) or sandwiched between thick slices of coco bread ($3.50) and spread with delicious avocado mayo. Heartier appetites will favour beefy oxtail with lima beans ($7/$9). Vegans can bliss out on veggie rotis ($5.50) that are rich with firm chunks of potato, pumpkin squash and chickpeas in light turmeric gravy, minus the usual channa mush common in these parts. First-rate flaky dhalpoori, too.
Finish with the unofficial ice cream of Jamaica, Grapenut (yes, the cereal, $2.50), alongside an old-fashioned square of pineapple upside-down cake that's just like Mom used to make ($1.50) - if the old dear could bake. Or take home a whole 9-inch Florentine quiche ($8.50/eat-in slice $4.50) made with caribe calaloo rather than spinach. Tell your dinner guests you invented the recipe and whipped it up from scratch.
Caution: as its name suggests, Island Thyme runs on island time. Those in a hurry know to place their takeout orders - except for the fries - well in advance of pickup.
- FRESH DISH -
True Patriot dead
Patriot is dead. The swellegant supper club in the Colonnade declared bankruptcy last month after a more than respectable five-year run. The art deco-ish room with the spectacular view of some of Toronto's chic-est real estate launched to rave reviews (it was named best new restaurant by NOW in 99) for then chef David Chrystian 's innovative fusion of modern technique and local organic product. Patriot paled when Chrystian left for a hotel gig, but the spot's $25 three-course prix fixe bargain - owner Scott Billows admitted he was giving the food away at cost - continued to draw the faithful. Others grumbled about Patriot's aggressive wine mark-ups. Still, it will be missed.
Meanwhile, whiz kid Chrystian has been slogging away ever since at Accolade , the expensive noshery in the touristy Crowne Plaza , to little notice. He's just announced that he's jumped ship to become executive chef at the Drake , the soon-come verymuch under-construction West Queen West club. No news on the opening date, menu or price range.