On the Go Caribbean Cove is the best restaurant in London, and it’s closing in a week and a half.

For five years the little shop has stood just south of Wellington and Simcoe in London’s Soho district. In that time it has never been a place that puts on airs.

There’s no fancy decor, no jumped-up cocktails (the place doesn’t even have a liquor license), no mysterious back-door entrances – just the authentic flavour of carefully prepared food.

If you haven't been to On the Go Caribbean Cove, it's literally now or never.
If you haven’t been to On the Go Caribbean Cove, it’s literally now or never.

On the Go Caribbean Cove isn’t much more than a storefront on a forgotten strip of Wellington Street. Walking in you’re met by bright orange and green walls, two chairs and a little island tucked into a corner by a serving counter.

The smell, a mixture of garlic and onion, meat simmering in curry sauce and freshly cooked rice and peas, hangs close in the air. Behind the counter in the kitchen, along with a small stove and two refrigerators, is the proprietor, Junior Dann.

All are welcome

Dann is an oddly charismatic host, infusing his restaurant with a friendly, low key energy. If he knows you, he knows you, and he knows pretty much everyone who walks through the door. As I chat with him three lunchtime clients bounce into the cramped space. He greets each one enthusiastically:

“My boy.”

“My man.

“There he is.”

Ting is just the t'ing to accompany any On the Go meal.
Ting is just the t’ing to accompany any On the Go meal.

Everyone gets a handshake and a smile, and everyone knows what they want to eat. As with most clients the orders come out quickly.

Spend time here and you quickly realize that you’re in an authentic Caribbean shop. The cramped, ad-hoc space and relaxed vibe remind of Toronto island barbershops: small rooms where people sit close together, waiting to be served.

Popular demand

The nature of Junior’s kitchen – he and his mom, Sonia, prepare all food by hand each day – means that, unless you’ve called ahead, you’re going to wait to be served .

Unless you’re really pressed for time, the wait is a blessing, not a sentence. Lively banter among patrons, often premised on the news blaring from the kitchen’s small television, fills the gaps in service. People chat sports; they chat business; they chat about nothing at all.

Junior Dann will be serving up London's best Caribbean food until Feb. 28.
Junior Dann will be serving up London’s best Caribbean food until Feb. 28.

And since Junior Dann announced in January that he would be closing his shop at the end of February that’s all people seem to want to talk about. They marvel at his decision to  close: it’s not because the business is in trouble, but because it’s at a crossroads.

Junior explains that the business has reached a point in popularity where a larger space has become essential. But this expansion would almost certainly mean higher rent and more employees.

The recent hike in Ontario’s minimum wage, along with rising food prices, mean that the prospect of expansion would call for a serious jump in prices for his customers, something that Dann isn’t comfortable with.

But still…

Asked whether he couldn’t just figure out how to make it all work, Dann – referring to his restaurant’s pioneering popularity – responds.

“London needed a Caribbean restaurant, and my mom can cook,” he says. “I reached my goal. It’s time to think about something else”

Dishing up rice and beans at On the Go Caribbean Cove.
Dishing up rice and beans at On the Go Caribbean Cove.

And so, the restaurant that built the Caribbean food scene in London is shutting down. On The Go Caribbean Cove closes its doors on Wednesday, February 28.

If your palate has yet to take a tour of this restaurant’s menu it’s worth making a plan to get there before then. And whether you’re a seasoned sampler or trying things out for the first time, be prepared to wait. It’ll be worth it.

Photos by Allan Lewis

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