Dish

Roti to the max

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A good lunch at Classic Caribbean doesn’t mean shelling out a lot of cash

I first fell in love with Caribbean food in Calgary, at a little shop in the
Kensington neighbourhood. I was young, inexperienced, and had never really
been interested in much more than pizza, burgers and fries. So, when my
father dragged our family into a Caribbean place that he knew of, I was a
little apprehensive. It required some convincing, but after I took a few
tentative bites into what looked like a cross between a pancake and a burrito
(my only real reference points at the time), I was hooked.

That day in Calgary was a gastronomic epiphany of sorts, and as a result
there’s a special place in my heart for a decent dose of
Caribbean-style curry. Which is why, when I learned of a Caribbean place on
the south side that I hadn’t been to before, I jumped at the chance to
give it a try.

Even though Classic Caribbean Cuisine is located in what Sim City aficionados
would call a mix of light commercial and industrial zones, it’s
surprisingly easy to find. Only a few blocks north of the Millgate transit
station, just up from the Whitemud Freeway on busy 86 Street, the yellow
awnings direct your attention to the small, humble-looking restaurant. While
Classic Caribbean Cuisine a variety of dishes to choose from, their specialty
is that bastion of island fast food: the roti.

So what’s a roti, you ask? Well, it depends. It’s technically a
flatbread shell, not entirely unlike a flour tortilla, but with more of a
soft, chewy texture. That said, many people refer to the popular combination
of a roti shell with a curried meat and/or vegetable filling wrapped up
inside of it as a roti. At Classic Caribbean Cuisine, they give you a choice:
you can either take the curry in a bowl with a shell on the side, or have it
wrapped in the roti shell. For the sake of being different, I ordered my roti
wrapped, while my wife ordered her roti shell on the side.

The menu is on a whiteboard near the entrance, which allowed us to consult
with the friendly gentleman behind the counter before placing our order.
After a bit of helpful advice, I picked a potato and chickpea roti ($6,
filled with, as you’d expect, curried potatoes and chickpeas), while my
wife went with the potato and chicken roti ($7, containing—wait for
it—potatoes and chicken). We picked a pop each, my wife choosing her
standby can of 7-Up ($1.25), me opting for a genuine bottle of imported Busta
brand Sorrel ($1.75, a sweet, bright pink/red cold beverage, traditionally
made from a special type of hibiscus flowers, often seasoned with ginger,
cinnamon and other spices), imported from the sandy shores of Trinidad and
Tobago. To round things out, we ordered a beef patty ($2, a flaky pastry
shell filled with spiced ground beef) for my wife, who had never tried one
before.”

We sat down at a corner table by the window, though there was little
competition for a place to sit, as we were the only people in the building,
save for the two behind the counter. The décor was simple, with
Caribbean flags hung from the ceiling providing one of the only clues as to
the nature of the food on the menu. The tables had tablecloths, but those
were covered by a layer of clear plastic (just like at your Grandma’s
place). A combination of artificial and photosynthesis-capable plants added a
bit of visual texture, along with a few miniature steel drums dangling from
the walls. It’s all very simple, but with a friendly mom-and-pop appeal
that fits with the homestyle grub.

Our rotis had a distinctly handmade feel; instead of a fancy, elaborate
presentation, they were served on basic white plates with a little side salad
and a tiny (though sufficient) cup of salad dressing. Since not everybody has
the same definition of hot, they provide bottles of hot sauce at the tables,
which, after sampling, my wife assured me was plenty spicy.

My only complaint about the meal is that the shells, while good, didn’t
seem as fresh as they could have been. While they apparently make both the
shells and the curry filling at the restaurant, the roti shells had what
I’d almost describe as a been-in-the-fridge-too-long twang. Still, the
filling made up for that shortcoming, and we both quite enjoyed our meals. My
wife was particularly fond of the beef patty.

When we eventually made our way out of the restaurant, we both felt quite
satisfied with the experience. At $18 before tax and tip, it wasn’t a
particularly expensive night out, either. While there are probably more
fancy, upmarket Caribbean places in town, the simple, homestyle meal, along
with the welcoming service, made for a pleasant dinner. V

Classic Caribbean Cuisine
8624 53 Ave • 469-7007

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