You feel the energy the second you walk into Tropikàl Restobar: It’s like the carnival just started. Thumping bass lines provoke; trays of colourful cocktails whiz by; the smell of smoky, savoury food spices the air.
Tropikàl Restobar: A Spotlight on Pan–Caribbean Flair and Flavour
Our Best Trailblazer tells the story of an underrepresented cuisine, backed up by a rum–fuelled cocktail bar.
Tropikàl is where chef Jae–Anthony Dougan wants the Caribbean under one roof. “There are more than a dozen Caribbean countries, and the reason they are separated is because of slavery,” he says. “I’m trying to bring education to our culinary journey.”
Dougan started the journey in his parents’ garage in 2012. He was a stylist at Holt Renfrew but, inspired by the cooking of his grandmothers and father, on weekends he took special orders and delivered them across Montreal. He has been grinding to get to this point in his life. “How many Black chefs are prevalent in Canada?” Dougan asks. “When it comes to Caribbean food, there’s no knowledge, and there’s a cultural bias. These are the barriers I’m breaking right now.”
For the all–Black ownership, being on Saint–Henri’s restaurant row was proof that their food was more than a mom–and–pop shop. The menu is Caribbean meets Afro–Latin cuisine via West Africa – impossibly tender curried goat, grilled octopus and jollof potatoes, deeply saucy oxtail birria tacos – plus local favourites (poutine) with an island twist (jerk chicken).
The cocktails are lessons in liquid form. The Palenque (Mount Gay rum, apple juice, housemade spicy apple syrup, lime juice and ginger beer) gives slow Scotch–bonnet burn while paying homage to the ancestors of African slaves brought to Cartagena, Colombia; and the deeply referential Rosa Parks is a strong, fearless mix of clairin, housemade spicy apple syrup and sorrel – no surprise that the opening of a private Caribbean speakeasy downstairs is imminent.
Right on cue, the music goes up a notch, the lights dim and the plantain bread pudding topped with a coconut crème anglaise is on the way. As Dougan says: “The proof is in the pudding.”
A Tropikàl sampler
Jerk Chicken Poutine: “This was my first widely known dish,” says chef Dougan of the fiery Caribbean spin on a Quebec staple. “It was a hit right off the bat.”
Grilled Octopus: Impossibly tender, lightly charred octopus sits atop piquant, smoky, lightly crisped jollof potatoes – Tropikàl’s riff on the jollof rice that hails from West Africa.
Trinidad Sour: Wash it all down with a perfectly balanced sweet–meets–sour mix of cognac, housemade orgeat syrup, pineapple and lemon juice.