Cool Runnings is a classic-style Jamaican restaurant located just south of Gerrard on the west side of Main Street. It is quite appropriately named after the Jamaican bobsled team of the same title, who’s challenging journey to the Olympics in the face of prejudice and eventual earning of respect was made into a movie. On that note… Hey International Olympic committee, remember when your biggest controversy was Jamaica competing in a winter sport? I’m sure they’ll answer after clearing their diving pool of algae and their landline phone of pleading voice mails left by Ryan Lochte.
I imagine it may be somewhat difficult to run a Jamaican restaurant in Toronto, while there’s definitely a strong Caribbean influence in our city, proper sit-down places have a pretty big rival. The Real Jerk–one of my favourite eateries–is such a Toronto icon that it was even featured in the music video for that terrible ear worm Rihanna made that even her biggest fans decided never to speak of again. I first heard about Cool Runnings when–work work work–no, not again!
After recalling the cleansing sound of TV static, I can tell you that my mom actually met the head chef of Cool Runnings, who wanted us to try his place for the blog. I can guarantee you my review is completely unbiased when I say that this place blew my mind and absolutely challenges The Real Jerk.
It’s surprising, I know, like when I found out upcoming thriller movie Don’t Breathe is not about that one friend who thinks Ax cologne makes them smell better. One of the biggest problems with The Jerk is, ironically, their jerk chicken. Despite being named after the dish and featuring it in their aforementioned music video, I found The Real Jerk Chicken too dry. Keep in mind that this was so long ago that I had it in their old establishment, and I get rotis or other dishes now, so the chicken there may be better.
I mention jerk chicken because Cool Runnings’ jerk is some of the best I’ve ever had. I got a meat combo: two choices of meat (I had chicken and oxtail) over rice and peas and coleslaw on the side. Noticeable off the bat is how large the individual dinosaur pieces are, and they were cooked in just the right way. To elaborate, the meat was beautifully juicy and tender the way it should be, falling on the sweet spot between being left pink or being made dry. The skin, which was the right amount of chewy, was rubbed with a powerful blend of spices that was as strong in heat as it was in flavour. Seriously, if you are craving that quintessential jerk taste, this will more than match that.
As for the oxtail, I hadn’t eaten a whole bunch of it before, but I loved this. Oxtail is noticeably tougher than other bovine meats, with a texture somewhere between the softness of beef and the thickness of goat or mutton. It has the colour and full-bodied presence of goat as well, but falls off the bone easier and, in this case, was rather creamy with the rich oxtail gravy poured all over it. Another thing I liked was the taste of the meat itself: which felt similar to a cut of meat cooked with the fat left on, but without the unpleasant chewy vein running through it. You can see why they make gravy out of that meat, it’s smooth, meaty, savoury palate works perfectly for such a recipe.
Even Cool Runnings’ rice and peas were knocked out of the park. Not only was the serving size generous, but the rice had a lot of flavour impacted into it by the beans and was extremely comforting. The texture was creamy enough to feel soft, yet had enough mass to be chewable too, another perfect balance. For the record, I also found the food stayed warm unusually long during my meal, while it did eventually go cold during the following hour and a half, it kept the temperature longer. Also, the coleslaw was nice.
One thing I wouldn’t recommend is the beef patty. It wasn’t bad and actually tasted good, but I’ve honestly found either the same or better while going to the metro station (The bakeries at Kennedy, Warden and Bathurst station are good patty shops). Decor and service is decent, a comfortable atmosphere for this kind of cuisine. My mom said it was odd that we got the bill before it was clear we wanted to leave, since we were considering getting a desert before that point.
For a final recommendation, I absolutely say that Cool Runnings is a great Jamaican cuisine restaurant. It is at least as good as The Real Jerk, better than it at Jerk Chicken, although The Jerk has a bar, dishes I haven’t compared yet, and is one of the focal points for Toronto’s Caribbean culture. Today we learned not to underestimate the underdog: to try out restaurants serving similar food to one of your favourite places, and to let Jamaica compete in any sport they want without being racist about it. Also, if you take the six degrees of separation theory to its logical extreme, I compared a subway station to a music video.
Cool Runnings 146 Main Street