The Queen Street Market building is gearing up to become a diverse food court, starting with just-opened stall the Jerk Joint.
The aroma of smoked jerk chicken makes its way from the little corner food stall throughout the gutted building on one of Toronto’s busiest streets. From the outside, the historic Queen Street Market building looks closed, with For Lease signs posted on the windows that look out on MuchMusic’s headquarters. But inside, way in the back, is The Jerk Joint, one of the newest, and perhaps best, Jamaican takeout spots you’ve unknowingly passed by in the past month.
Construction-crew members working behind the building are already regulars, as are nearby office lunchers and fans of the now-closed Ackee Tree Jamaican restaurant a block away on Spadina. The owner of Jerk Joint is Sharon Slacks, who managed Ackee Tree, her brother’s business.
After Ackee Tree closed last August (the building will become a condo), Slacks wanted to open her own place. “There’s a need for this diversity of food,” she says. “There are only so many shawarma places you can go to in the city, especially here in the downtown core.” So she moved into the market and built a kitchen in a corner. The space is slated to become a take-out food court but it’s cavernous right now. There’s only one other vendor (Dance Mac—it serves mac and cheese), no seating, and just two long tables to stand over while eating.
Behind the Jerk Joint’s counter is Colin Dean Walker, a fast-talking 49-year-old chef better known as Dino, who ends every sentence with “my friend” and smacks your arm like a wisecracking uncle. Walker’s home cooking is the highlight of the menu. This is the food he’s been making since he was a kid in Jamaica, when he and his seven brothers and two sisters would take turns helping their mom with dinner. Walker’s jerk chicken ($7 with rice, beans, and coleslaw) is flavourful and juicy, owing to a 20-ingredient rub, a full day of marinating in his special-made sauce, and a smoking time of two hours. The earthy spices permeate to the bone rather than sticking to just the skin. The curry in the generously sized roti ($9.50) is made from a blend of Walker’s favourite Jamaican curry powders. Not wanting to miss out on the Queen West burger action, he has his own version: The Bolt Burger ($8), a six-ounce patty of ground sirloin and lean beef slathered with Walker’s jerk sauce and sandwiched in coco bread (a sweet Jamaican bread) from Kensington Market’s Patty King.
People don’t realize how time-consuming making this kind of food is, says Walker: “Oh, my god, I’m here at 5:30 every morning. But I don’t mind—I get excited coming to work.” His enthusiasm for food is endless (he’ll talk about it for hours), as are his ideas for what he wants to add to the menu. “I want to bring in jerk fish, salmon, yam, real back-home food. Just wait,” he says. “This is the least I can do right now. I want this space to go crazy. Trust me, believe me, my friend: There’s so much more coming. I just started.”
The Jerk Joint, 238 Queen St. W., 416-804-4952.