Toppa Top 10: The Best Caribbean Eats in Toronto

June 28, 2015

Cuisine: Jamaica

(3918 Cotrelle Boulevard; Brampton, L6P 2R1; 905.794.0211)

In an unassuming strip mall in Brampton, a suburb northwest of Toronto, there’s a Jamaican joint that turns up on a Tuesday. Walk into The Vineyard and you’ll find its tables filled with men drinking Red Stripes and shooting the shit, their voices fighting the volume of Vybz Kartel and Alkaline songs through the speakers. Against bright orange walls, there are handwritten signs promoting the daily special, and Digicel “top-up” posters. The vibe is raw and real, which is why many Brampton locals can’t get enough of the ambience, as well as that five-dollar jerk chicken special.

“I’ve eaten here five times in one day,” says one area resident, Devin Gorgis. “I never get sick of it.”  Gorgis lives down the street, and has become a familiar face at Vineyard, where owner and head chef Michael Bailey doesn’t even have to take his order. “When I walk through the door, Michael sees me and says: jerk chicken, rice and peas. I know people that drive from Bradford for the Tuesday special. If the food is that good, you’re bound to come back.”

The fedora-wearing Bailey likes to crack jokes, but he’s serious about his jerk chicken. What makes it special? It’s all about preparation. “We wash our meat three, four times, until you see no more blood,” he says. “We wash our rice until you see clear water. We make our own seasoning from scratch. Most restaurants go to the supermarket and buy seasoning, but we blend everything. Pimento is number one.”

A classically trained chef, Bailey moved from Clarendon, Jamaica, to Toronto in 1992. Vineyard has been open since 2007, serving diverse Brampton with an array of classics — breakfasts abundant with ackee, saltfish, callaloo and “food” (typical provisions of yam, dumpling and boiled green banana), to a daily soup special (cow foot, fish) and melt-in-your-mouth oxtail. The Vineyard also serves a and practically-perfect fry bake.

Bailey compares his establishment to the “United Nations” for its ability to attract all races and occupations. He often serves “more Indian people than Jamaicans” from the local population of South Asians, to notable celebrities like Kardinal Offishall, who lists Vineyard as his favourite Jamaican restaurant outside of the city. The restaurant even makes a cameo in his short film, “The Invention of Truth.” Before the video, Vineyard’s proprietor had no idea who he was. “The first time he come here, he don’t stop [eating]. My daughter brought it to my attention… [Now] when he has a party or birthday, I do the cooking for him.”

Bailey never takes a day off. Peeking out of the kitchen to take orders often sends him to front of house, where he receives enthusiastic greetings and goodbyes of “see ya later, boss!” He’s preserving Caribbean culture in the community through his food and his attitude. “I love to serve people, you know? I’m doing my part. I get to know everyone, and it brings people together.”