Sometimes I Like Surprises!

Do you remember the pop band The Lovin Spoonful from the 1960’s?  I was pretty young when they were popular and their music hit the charts, but I still remember hearing their songs on the radio even if it was just background sound in my child’s mind.  Now, I realize their music characterised the lifestyle of the era and instantly transports me to a specific time and place when I was 4 or 5 years old.  Songs such as Do You Believe in Magic, Daydream and Summer in the City, with their part folk part pop sound, reverberate with everything that was happening in the world during this golden decade of social awareness that would change the world forever in a way that society had never seen before and may never see again.

So what brought me to think about this band and their music at this particular time?  An out of the way back ally restaurant in Kingston, Ontario called Chez Piggy.  Yes, that’s right, that’s what I said, Chez Piggy.

It really is in a back alley of sorts and if you don’t know it’s there or if you aren’t looking for it, I can’t imagine how you would ever find it.  We were looking for it, so we found it through the technology of my iPhone’s map app.  We were looking for it because my companion had heard such good things about it and was determined to dine there on our brief stay over in Kingston.  Being a trained chef and connoisseur of good food and good wine he was intrigued by the hype around Chez Piggy and discovered the restaurateur had published a cookbook.  He sought out that cookbook just a few months prior to our trip and was further intrigued by the Mediterranean cuisine within its pages.  He was excited to meet the restaurant’s owner and discuss the recipes on the pages of the cookbook.

I am sorry I did not get the name of our server, because she was like an encyclopedia on the history of the restaurant and its owner.  She advised us that the building itself was 200 years old and had been restored by the owner and his wife, who by the way, was 10 years his senior although “she didn’t seem it”.  The reason the restaurant is in a back alley is because it’s actually the livery stable in back of the house that once belonged to a wealthy man.  The walls are limestone and the ceiling high and slanted.  There are 2 levels; we chose to sit on the upper level that was likely the hay loft at one time.  There is a fabulous, outdoor, courtyard patio encircled with twinkle lights.   Had it been warmer and not raining I would have insisted we sit outside.  But inside the light was wonderful, the ambiance amazing and the food spectacular even though it was not Mediterranean. The selection was wonderfully eclectic.  I had seared sea scallops which were perfectly tender and flavorful  in a lemongrass coconut milk sauce.  My partner opted for Doro A’Licha which is Ethiopian Chicken.

Wanting to know why the menu wasn’t the expected fare my partner asked if ownership had changed.  That is when we discovered the owner had died 10 years ago, his wife 2 years later and his daughter now ran the restaurant.  This man was obviously someone special because she talked about him in a way that you understand that he was someone who lived his dream, encompassed a passion for life and made an everlasting impression on the community in which he lived.

“He was larger than life”, our server explained.  “He was so boisterous and the leader in everything, getting his friends and family to do things they never would have done on their own.  It is very quiet without him here.”

So what did this man and Chez Piggy have to do with the band Lovin Spoonful?  Well, the man was Zal Yanovsky, the lead guitarist and one of the founding members of Lovin Spoonful!  It astounded me that someone with such an illustrious background, owned and operated a restaurant in Kingston, Ontario in such an obscure almost secretive manner.  Many pop stars and celebrities own restaurants and use their fame and status to promote it.  But in this instance we never would have known if it wasn’t for our server.  Take a look at Chez Piggy’s website and there is no mention of who Zal Yanovsky is or what he has done.

So this fact alone prompted me to research Zal.  I was only 2 or 3 when Lovin Spoonful was at the height of their fame so I had no real knowledge of the history or details of the band.  I just remember hearing their music on the radio and relating it to a carefree time in my life and the world.

What I discovered was this; Zal was an extraordinary person who lived a full life even though he died of a heart attack at the relatively young age of 57 on December 13, 2002.  In fact, read a bit about this man and you will discover he probably lived more in his short life than many people do in 87 years.  He was full of energy, creativity and charisma.  No wonder our server missed him.

He performed with the likes of Denny Doherty and Cass Elliot of the “Mamas and the Papas” and Kris Kristofferson.  I watched some old video footage on Youtube and discovered he was a scene stealer!  And not in an obnoxious “I’m a big rock star” way, but just this raw, genuine, love of life enthusiasm.

I also discovered that he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 with fellow band mates and that many of his piers considered him one of the greatest guitarists of all time; a relative unsung hero.   John Sebastian, Lead singer of Lovin Spoonful has been quoted as saying, “Zal could play like Elmore James, he could play like Floyd Cramer, he could play like Chuck Berry. He could play like all these people, yet he still had his own overpowering personality”.

Other interesting trivia about Zal include the fact that he was a Canadian in an American band and his first wife was Canadian actress Jackie Burroughs who may be best known for her role as  Hetty King in the TV Series Road to Avonlee which was based on the books of my favorite author L.M. Montgomery.

There was something magical and wonderful about my very brief layover in Kingston.  The city itself is beautiful and historic and I certainly would love to go back to do a real vacation there.  Zal and Chez Piggy were fascinating and my company was so surprisingly interesting and worldly.  I heard stories about New York City, Georgia and New Zealand.  These are the experiences in life I enjoy the most; the ones which are so incredibly, unexpected.  There is no real plan around them and you have no expectations.  They are just a complete and wonderful surprise!

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