Address: 409 Dalhousie St, Ottawa
Hours: 11:30am – 10pm (Mon-Fri), 12pm – 10pm (Sat), closed Sundays
Now that I’m well, well beyond my big partying years, the main thing that interests me about the Byward Market/Lowertown area is the variety of foods available there. Some of the best Mexican food in the city is there, and I was recently able to try a new-to-me restaurant – local Caribbean legend, Island Flava.
While in the area to top up our stores of Italian goods at Bottega Nicastro I popped into the small shop at the very bottom of Dalhousie. The compact menu is built with the most familiar Caribbean foods – ox tail, jerk chicken, curry goat, plantains and house-made rotis – and some more specialty items like saltfish, and bissap, a hibiscus-based drink that they make in-house.
I wanted to start with a good baseline on my first ever visit, so I went with the large jerk chicken platter ($13; $2 more if you want white meat, but that’s crazy talk). It was ready in a flash, and I took a short walk to find a place to eat in the cool fall air.
Upon opening my container, it was obvious that I wasn’t going to be hungry for a while after this – two drumsticks and a thigh of jerk chicken, a generous heap of rice and peas, a few fried plantains, and some garden salad on the side to ease your guilt. It’s definitely a “late dinner” kind of day after a lunch like this!
The chicken was fall-off-the-bone tender, with a deep, rich flavour profile and a lingering spice that won’t melt your face off, but it’ll let you know that it’s there. I appreciated the execution of the rice and peas, as the beans were nice and tender, and not at all grainy like at some places, and the down-to-earth side dish was taken up a few notches with a hearty dousing of jerk chicken drippings.
The plantains were tender and sweet, and the garden salad was fresh and crisp, if not all that exciting.
All told, it was a well-executed, flavour-packed meal – and at a hell of a good price to boot!
On my second visit, I went for the saltfish roti ($11), with a side of plantains ($3) and a beef patty, and a jerk chicken platter for my wife.
Rotis are a flatbread common in the southern Caribbean islands and northeastern part of South America, having been brought to the region by indentured labourers from South Asia. Island Flava makes their own in-house, and they come filled with curried potatoes and any of the aforementioned proteins, plantains or curried veg.
Being from Nova Scotia and an adventurous eater, I wanted to try the saltfish roti.
After a short wait, I soon had my bag o’ food, and made my way home.
Figuring that time and travel didn’t do the structural integrity of the roti any favours, I chose to knife-and-fork it. Also, it’s hefty, so half of it – along with some plantains and beef patty – would make for a hearty lunch.
My first-ever roti was a goody – the curried potatoes and salted cod makes for a delicious combination, and the roti itself was lightly pliable, and held up well to its messy filling. I don’t know if these are common in Newfoundland, but I have to say that these would kill it there, and would be a nice full circle for the history of saltfish in the Caribbean.
The beef patty was equally well executed, with a rich and slightly spicy filling, not at all dry, and a lightly flaky pastry. And at $2.50 each, the price is right!
With a menu that combines quality and quantity, it’s no surprise that Island Flava is a Caribbean food favourite in Ottawa, and I’m glad to have another go-to spot in Market for delicious international cuisine.