ONE LOVE CORN (235 Queens Quay West, at Lower Simcoe, no phone) Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes and tip. Average main $5. Open Friday 6 pm to midnight, Saturday noon to midnight, Sunday and holiday Mondays noon to 8 pm from June to September. Closed Monday to Thursday except holidays, and from October to May. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, no washrooms. Rating: NNNN
Other than haute dim sum at the unfortunately named Pearl Harbourfront in the Terminal Building, Queens Quay is a culinary wasteland of nautically themed tourist traps and fast food franchises.
No locals I know would ever consider eating at a seafood restaurant next to a lake they can't even swim in, let alone eat the fish that do. But since 90 per cent of the clientele who frequent these questionable lakefront cantinas are from out of town and unlikely ever to return, is it any wonder standards are so low?
Harbourfront's World Café is an exception. Located in a tent behind the Concert Stage, this multiculti food court near the water offers inexpensive Asian noodle noshes and Caribbean-style chicken from June through September. But best of the lot has to be One Love Corn, a stand-alone stall found in a small tent across the way, adjacent to the Toronto Star Stage and just west of York Quay Centre's Brigantine Room.
There, Ras Iville Wright and his wife, Ikeila, have been selling grilled corn on the cob ($3) slathered in salty butter and doused with a family-secret spice mix for the past seven summers. That first year, the corn was free.
"It was Caribana, but we didn't come with the intention of selling corn," explains Ras Iville. "We just set up our pots and started giving it away. A friend said, "Are you crazy? Everyone else is selling corn for $3. You have five children to support!' So we started charging $2, and by the end of the day we'd made $116. That's when we knew we were onto something."
They didn't stop there. Back as official vendors the next season, the Wrights expanded their menu to include what's become their signature dish, One Love corn soup. Available in two sizes ($3 for a styrofoam coffee cupful, $5 for a 12-ounce tub), this potent potage deservedly causes lineups.
Thick with thyme, coconut milk and pulpy Jamaican pumpkin, this entirely vegan chowder also overflows with split yellow peas, crumbly Yukon Gold potato, firm diced carrots and across-the-cob slices of corn on the cob. If you've tried Greg Couillard's famous Jump Up Soup in the last 25 years, you'll know exactly what to expect. Damn, it's good!
"Is it spicy?" asks a nervous first-timer in the quickly moving queue.
"Not really," replies one of the Wrights' personable daughters, who must surely have a cast-iron stomach.
But despite the presence of garlic as well as both cayenne and Scotch bonnet peppers in the broth, it's really not that incendiary. Those who like it mellow can always add a squirt of fresh lemon to temper the heat, while pyromaniacs need only add lime to further sharpen the flavours.
The Wrights, who also operate a vegetarian catering business called Leaf of Life, are hoping to launch Toronto's first all-vegetarian Caribbean eatery once they find a space in a suitable neighbourhood. That's a no-brainer: Kensington Market.
"I hear you on that one," laughs Ras Iville.