By Rose Divecha

My husband Rob’s birthday landed on a Friday this year. We knew how we wanted to celebrate – dinner at Salt Lick Smokehouse. We had held off visiting the restaurant until both our kids could join us and we could fully indulge in the platter sharing dining experience as it was meant to be enjoyed, family style.

We pulled open the door and entered the restaurant after a quick summer rainfall, the type where the clouds open up dropping buckets of water one minute, followed by glorious rays of sun acting like nothing happened, the next. The patio tables, which would normally be our first seating choice, were being hastily wiped up by staff as the host greeted us.

“Hi folks. Four?” he asked in a loud friendly voice as we stood in the doorway and shook the last raindrops from our drenched umbrellas. “I can seat you outside or at the bar.” He motioned to the back of the packed restaurant. We looked out to the still soggy patio and quickly decided the four stools at the bar were just right.

“The bar please.” We unanimously responded. The host escorted us back to the bar and placed menus in front of us as we wiggled into our seats.

“Diego will look after you.” were his parting words as he left us to peruse the mostly meat menu.

Diego was the short statured man who stood behind the bar partly obscured by the assortment of beer keg faucets, handles and shanks that lined the counter in front of him. His large smile and friendly demeanor welcomed us and we soon found what he lacked in height he made up for in personality. We placed our order – three meats, three sides – and had our first drinks while we waited for our food to arrive. Rob was especially looking forward to his side of macaroni and cheese.

“I have bad news for you.” Diego reported back to us. “No more mac and cheese left.” He quickly took in the look of disappointment on Rob’s face and offered up the homemade biscuits as an alternative.

“Yeah, sure.” Rob sadly conceded. But I was really looking forward to the mac and cheese the look on his face said.

“It’s his birthday.” I explained. (Just in case they had a backup stash in the kitchen reserved for significant milestones and mildly important people.)

Lucky for all of us, Rob only mourned his mac and cheese for a brief period of time and we were able to sit back, relax and enjoy much in part, thanks to Diego who kept us laughing between bites of brisket and biscuit. In the span of an evening he had become an honourary member of our small family, the comic relief, the mediator. We learned that he usually didn’t work at Salt Lick. He was just helping out his friend, the owner, and normally worked at the bar next door.

As our evening came to an end, we stood to rise and amidst handshakes and accolades of thanks and best wishes from the staff, Diego came around the bar and handed Rob a small take out container. He had managed to scrounge up a serving of macaroni and cheese to send home with us. Rob accepted it with joyful surprise and we promised to be back.