by Lauren Mote
A different kind of comfort food, comforting a different kind of person.
This casual yet grungy haven of rum and Caribbean comfort food pleases the people who show up in track-pants and winter toques, or the local diners coming in for their date night, wearing something in between their best and their track-pants. Regardless of what you wear, the staff are so easy-going here, they probably wouldn’t notice if you were wearing pajamas. Christmas cards and novelty tin signs hang wherever possible, along with streamers and ribbons – definitely a place where anyone can feel a sense of belonging – isn’t that the first sign of a successful restaurant?
Starting the meal with a Dark ‘n Stormy ($9) at the bar was a must – The Reef uses homemade ginger-beer, Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, lime juice and sugar. Delicious. On the “Small Tings” menu, I shared a J.A.H. Dip ($9) – jalapeno, spinach, artichoke, cream cheese and fried tortillas – with my friend Luca who joined me, followed by “Caribbean Special Tings” West Indian Curry ($10) – goat, white rice, coleslaw, mango chutney, and dahi, a cucumber/yogurt sauce.
I thought the service was attentive and genuine, not forced or over the top – they’re just having fun… the quality of homemade product was outstanding for the price, really great value. Almost everything was homemade, however I happened to peer behind the bar (we were sitting at bar stools) and spotted a bottle of Boone’s Sangria – I totally thought they would have made their own with fresh and wonderful exotic fruits – clearly I’m dreaming. Imagine how amazing a homemade Caribbean Sangaree (the West Indies equivalent of the popular mixed red wine cocktail originating from Spain and Portugal) would be? While Luca and I sipped on our digestives – me a double Barbancourt 15 yr rum (Haiti, $10/oz), and Luca a double Matusalem 15 yr “Gran Reserva” (Cuba, $10/oz), we witnessed the weirdest drink being created – the ABC Mango Cocktail, by the pitcher! Amber rum, blue curacao, lime and mango slush.
For dessert, just because we already there, and it was a suggestion from our super attentive bartender, fried bananas and vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce – it was a bit of an “Earl’s” dessert, but we enjoyed it anyway.
The Reef is extremely accommodating for vegetarians too, and I am not sure if that’s due to the location, or due to the amount of vegetarians consuming Caribbean food.
The bill was reasonable, food was great, atmosphere comforting – we shared a lot of laughs that night, although that could’ve been the rum talking!
It took me back to the days of Caribana in Toronto – the best Caribbean food I’ve ever had, but it’s nice to know that a place like The Reef always has it’s doors open, just up the road.