Tuesday, 28 October 2014

You Can Call Him Larry ... Or Maybe Neil.

Sometimes you meet the most interesting people in the most unlikely places. A few years ago, I was employed as a cook in a local long term care facility, a job that I very much enjoyed but didn't offer a lot of culinary freedom, and that is one of the reasons that one of my trainee cooks only stayed a handful of days. The other reason was that he was also a very authentic Neil Young tribute artist who had just been given the chance to open his own restaurant.

Lawrence Christopher, (you can call him Larry), was working part time as a chef in a small eatery located at 41 Maple St. and looking for some extra work when I first met him. He was friendly, talented and easy going. Then he was gone. His employer decided to give up their business and asked Larry if he would like to buy it. He jumped at the chance and has never looked back.

It has been 4 years now since Larry opened his dream business, the TLC Bistro. He hasn’t had a single vacation in that time, but Larry is okay with that. The TLC is his baby. I asked him about the meaning behind the name. Is it The Larry Christopher Bistro? Close, but the T is actually for his wife, and business partner and book keeper, Teresa. Or really, it can be anything you want it to be, such as The Little CafĂ©, as some have suggested.

I have been meaning to drop in ever since Larry opened the place. Several of my nearly grown kids are self taught musicians and I thought the Thursday open mic nights would be fun, but we simply never got around to it. Then recently, a writer friend asked me if there was any place I would like to try for lunch some day. Aha, the TLC Bistro! Perfect.

I arrived just before 11 on a sunny Thursday morning and popped inside and up the few stairs into the main dining area. Larry was all alone and working on some food preparation at the counter. I reminded him of his brief stint working with me in the nursing home kitchen and then began to quiz him about his new venture at the TLC Bistro. He seems to be in his element here, surrounded by a vast collection of music related memorabilia, obviously years in the gathering. Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn, Gordon Lightfoot, and Ian and Sylvia portraits crowd the walls. Musical instruments sit in a corner waiting to be used. And the menu is of his own making.

At first, I sat along the front counter on one of the tall stools. A great place for people watching. Also a good place to keep an eye out for my lunch date. When Janis arrived, we moved to a central table and took a peek at the menu fare, which was simple, familiar and very bistro-esque. Sandwiches, salads, soups or combinations of the three, omelets, quesadillas and pierogis. Finish with home baking - banana bread, Nanaimo bars and butter tarts. Have an organic coffee or maybe have a beer or glass of wine on the back patio.

"What's the soup today, Larry?" Cream of broccoli. Mmmm that sounds nice. I ordered that along with a salmon salad sandwich on whole wheat. How I love a good sandwich. I always feel somewhat guilty at a funeral because part way through the service I start thinking about those delicious little sandwich corners that they always serve at the reception afterwards. Why are they so good?

Janis ordered the soup too, and a ham and cheese sandwich. Our lunches were divine. Thickly piled fillings on the softest of breads and a bowl of steaming and creamy soup. It felt a lot like having lunch at your best friend's house after school, so homey and comforting. I'm not sure how many places around serve a lunch like this. It was really delightful.

I would have liked to have seen some musical performance, but no one stepped up to the mic that day. Most likely it was a bit too early. Larry said that if he wasn't busy, he would entertain us himself, but other customers came in and Larry never had a free moment to let his inner Neil Young out for us. Actually, Larry has an outer Neil Young too. He keeps his hair and sideburns in character all the time, likely because he performs his tribute show periodically at other venues too.

It must be wonderful to be able to combine two passions and make a successful business out of it. Cooking and Neil Young - who would have imagined? Larry Christopher took a leap and it has paid off for him. Well done, Larry. Long may you run. Long may you run. - Neil Young (1976)