For anyone who loves to cook, the dream of some day opening their own place never dies. Most people though never act on it. The reasons will vary from fear of failure to job security. It would be difficult to give up everything you have to venture into the restaurant business. It’s a cruel and unforgiving trade. Most don’t make it.
In 1970 when Jeslin Needham immigrated to Canada opening a restaurant was simply a dream. Trying to establish yourself in a new country and raise a family isn’t a time to gamble. Thought she was always in the kitchen preparing dinner, readying for back yard BBQ’s or family gatherings job security was important. So she took a job at an accounting firm. Ever the loyal employee, Jeslin toiled away at virtually the same job for some 30 years. Never getting ahead.
Finally in 2004 enough was enough. Tired of the long commute and same old boring job, Jeslin took the advice of her friends and family. “You should open your own place” they’d say so that’s precisely what she did. Taking the recipes she learned at the feet of her grandmother in Jamaica, she leased out a small unit in an industrial mall in Newmarket and started gaving the locals “A Taste of the Islands.”
Offering the best of Jamaica, A Taste of the Islands would build a loyal following which included myself. Business was such that her son Richard joined her within the first year. Together they served up the Jerk, Curry and stews that have made Jamaican food famous. Although doing well, the tiny take out place near Yonge and Mulock wasn’t THE dream. After five years of learning the business it was time to open a proper sit down restaurant. The new place is bigger with a proper dining room and an expanded menu with items such as Jerk Shrimp added. Soon there will be a liquor license and island drinks and beer will flow.
When it comes to the food, “Everything irie.”
I’ve had almost everything on the menu except for the new items. It’s all good and it’s all (just about) made on site. The only exceptions are the patties (Non Nisa/Tastee) and roti skins (hand made though).
The Oxtails are simply superb although not spicy. They have a rich gravy and are slow cooked until the meat is so tender. Oxtails aren’t for everyone though. They’re rather fatty which also makes them greasy. Greasy in a good way I say.
The Jerk Chicken is spicy, slightly salty and very robust. The chicken is slow roasted in the island spice paste until it’s fall apart tender. It had enough heat although if I were in the mood, I’d have kicked it up a bit.
The rice and peas that come with it are also very nicely cooked. The extra gravy we asked for went nicely with it without drowning. A fantastic fresh slaw accompanied our entrées.
Based on the fact that their Curry Chicken and Curry Goat are both great I can assume the roti is fabulous as well.
Once they’re in the swing of things at the new place, a Saturday special will alternate between Akee and Saltfish (the national dish of Jamaica) and Liver and Onions. The Akee as I can attest is fantastic. I do add a bit of hot sauce to mine as I like it a little hotter than they serve it.
They also carry a selection of island soft drinks including the favourite Ting.
You can find A Taste of the Islands at 16700 Bayview Ave. in Newmarket, Ontario.
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You can also find them on the web
Well that’s all for now.