Need happy stories or some good news for a change? Look no further! Every Monday, I’m posting happy travel stories to brighten your day and temporarily distract from these uncertain times! Today, it’s about an unlikely friendship in Prague.
What do you remember about the best meal you ever had? For me, what makes a good meal memorable is equal parts the food and the environment.
I remember last year when I went to Montreal and ate at Holder… holy cow. The lobster ravioli was out of this world. But also, the restaurant just felt warm and inviting as soon as I walked in. The waitress was so kind and had some great recommendations. The food was so good that I ordered dessert so the meal wouldn’t have to end.
Good food is one thing. But the people behind the food can make or break an experience.
There’s no better example of that than Tonton Garby in Brussels. I didn’t realize this until recently, but “tonton” in French is “uncle.”
Uncle Garby! How fitting! He is basically the Mister Rogers of sandwich-making.
Uncle Garby’s little sandwich shop seems nondescript when you first step in. But, take a look around. The walls are full of positive affirmations written by the man himself. He is a one man show, and as happy as they come. And he wants you to be as happy with his sandwiches as he is making them.
Garby’s sandwiches and selfless attitude entered my trip at just the right time. My foray to Brussels had started off disastrous. I had barely slept after spending the night in a not-so-great Airbnb. I was tired and had run myself ragged trying to cram all of Brussels’s main sites into one fell swoop. I needed to sit down and eat. Badly.
I got lucky. Only a few folks were in front of me. Usually, the line goes out the door. Partly because it’s a little shop, but also because Uncle Garby is a man who wants to take his time with each customer. I would soon see for myself.
I scanned the menu and planned on a gruyere cheese sandwich. I got to the front of the line, placed my order, and Uncle Garby kindly informed me that the shop was out of gruyere. But no worries! He also has a very similar type of cheese, and he’ll let me try it to make sure I like it. I watched him carefully slice off a wedge of a cheese who’s name I can’t even recall now.
Conscious of the people in line behind me, I basically crammed the slice in my mouth, but Uncle Garby quickly said, “No, no, no! No rush at all! Savor it, make sure you like it.”
So I did. I loved it. And Uncle Garby got to work.
Remember that episode of “Spongebob SquarePants” where Spongebob is in a Krabby Patty competition and takes his sweet time making one perfect burger? Yeah, Uncle Garby works exactly like that.
He treats each sandwich like a work of art, carefully cutting up each slice of cheese, nesting a slice of tomato between them, and adding a seasoning to each individual tomato until it was perfect.
It was three ingredients, and the best sandwich I’ll ever eat.
I sat down and took in the scene. The shop is cash-only, but Uncle Garby has more faith in folks than most of us. If someone doesn’t have any cash on them, he’ll fix their sandwich anyways. He’ll tell them to eat and take a stroll through Brussels, find an ATM when they’re ready, and then come back to pay him.
I can’t imagine being so sure that people will find their way back with money in hand, but Uncle Garby repeated this to a few customers while I was there. It must work pretty well. Truth be told, if I were in that situation, I would walk through every street to find an ATM and pay him back. He was just so kind, how could I not? I imagine everyone else felt the same, and didn’t abuse the honor system.
I saw a lot of incredible places in Brussels, but my sandwich at Tonton Garby stands out to me. The kindness, attention to detail, and killer good result made for the best sandwich I ever had.
When it’s safe to travel again, here’s the address. Budget some time, it’s quite popular.
Rue Duquesnoy 6, 1000 Bruxelles
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