205 - Cuban Comfort Food
By Mary Luz Mejia
May 2nd, 2007
The last time I had a really good plate of the Cuban staple, ropa vieja, I was in Miami’s Little Havana surrounded by the cacophony of Cuban families out for their Sunday lunch. Why, I pondered, could I not find such a place in Toronto? The kind of uncomplicated eatery where down-home good cooking fills the air with wafts of cumin, garlic and bay leaves. My Cuban request has been answered by Sylvia and her partner Jesus, the owner’s of Julie’s Cuban Restaurant in Toronto’s west end.
The restaurant is named after Sylvia’s mother Julie who, decades before, turned her house into the neighbourhood grocery store. You can still see the original sign outside proudly welcoming you to “Julie’s Snack Bar”. Today, Julie’s stands for great food and drink, tropical Cuban style. You can start off with some tasty tostones - green, pounded plantains (the starchy, under-ripened cousin to the dessert banana) that are twice-fried, dusted with salt and served with Julie’s home made salsa. Or there’s one of my favourites, the yuca con mojo - cassava root spears that are fried to a golden crisp and served with an onion and garlic dipping sauce known in Cuba as mojo (not to be confused with the Mojito - the island’s more notable cocktail of choice).
When you’re done with your appetizers, I suggest at least one person in your party order the famed ropa vieja as their main. The name literally means “old clothes” and it consists of shredded beef that’s been slowly simmered in a tomato, red and green pepper and garlic sauce, served over white rice with a side of sweet fried plantains. The savoury meat, paired with a heap of white rice that soaks up the fragrant sauce alongside the sweet bananas are a combination made in tropical heaven. Jesus prepares plate after terrific plate of his homeland’s most comforting fare with the ease of a seasoned pro - not bad for a guy who never used to do much cooking! Lucky for me, Jesus discovered this latent talent because Julie’s is in my part of town and a whole lot closer than south Miami or Cuba. Buen Provecho amigos!
Julie’s Cuban Restaurant
202 Dovercourt Road
Photo Credits: Mary Luz Mejia