by Donna Sealy
Do you remember the television sitcom Cheers, where everybody knew each other’s name?
That is how it is at Lio’s Den restaurant.
From the time regular customers walk into the Spooner’s Hill, St. Michael restaurant and greet owner, Lionel Lio Toppin, or his two cooks, Icilma Rowe and Ria Blackman, they order, settle into their favourite chairs and, while waiting to be served, sip on their preferred beverages.
The restaurant is located in what some patrons term “a rustic setting”. It is very serene, has an array of fruit trees, and is very easy to miss as it is not easily visible from the road.
Those are some of the things the regulars like about it.
That and the fact that they can talk about anything, be as boisterous and muscular in their language as they want and relax if they feel to after a generous serving of food.
Lio’s Restaurant was around for more than a couple years, and Toppin said the present location was a good one given that it was central and spacious.
“We started in Gun Hill and were operating basically on a Friday, Saturday but we had to leave there. We started out here about 11 years ago, initially doing just the Fridays and Saturdays and we kept adding extra days so now we operate from Tuesday right through to Saturdays,” he told Barbados TODAY.
He said their menus were varied and featured Bajan staples such as pudding and souse and other delicacies including bul jol, but you would hardly find macaroni pie because he hardly prepares it “because every body does”.
Toppin, who said he also used the fruits on the property into his menus, either directly into the food or in juices, recalled how he started out.
“I used to go down by a girl and it started from there. I used to do pudding and souse and it expanded from there. She’s no longer on the scene, hasn’t been for years and I started out on my own. When I started I used to cook but as I was getting ‘young’ it became a bit tedious so I had to get some help. I wasn’t a chef, I just like to cook,” he said.
One of his customers, Smokey Burke interjected “he’s fantastic”.
Another customer who was having chicken soup after 10 a.m. and who shall remain unnamed in this article, likes that it is “easily accessible”, is “private” and “close to corporate Barbados”.
Burke said he likes “the rustic aspect of it” and that it was “not pretentious”. He said he stopped by the restaurant a few years ago with a group from Harrison College and he only returned recently.
There are plans in the works to liven up the restaurant up during Crop-Over and some of the regular customers have a say in what they want to see.
Burke said that additional chairs and tables will be provided in the grassy and shaded area behind the main area, and he hopes there will be some “unplugged” sessions” with his tent mates from the All Stars.
“During Crop-Over we would like the expansion to at least start happening. The place has lots of room for expansion and we thought we would start during the Crop-Over season… We have a regular clientele and people normally come here. They are normally themselves here, they can be themselves here. We’re talking about building a room and calling it the Inner Chamber. It is a sweet place and food is served from 10:30 a.m., 11 a.m. and runs as late as necessary.
“People come here primarily for the food which is outstanding, you can’t wonder if its going to taste the same tomorrow. It is always good! They love the food and the camaraderie is special and then you have the serenity which is all part of the allure of the place,” Burke said