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    Thursday, April 18, 2024

    A Brother with wings

    Well, what am I gonna do for gumbo now? My most reliable source, Brian Brother, is no longer part of the equation.

    But let’s back up a bit.

    Most folks have, at one time or another, and with equal parts amusement and amazement and not a little envy, had a friend they’d describe as a “free spirit.”

    A free spirit is someone who’s always curious about all sorts of things and, more often than not, willing to go to great lengths to impetuously explore one or another of these in a context that extends quite a bit beyond the norm. Those whose spirits are not so free typically decide NOT to explore.

    Brother, the New London chef most associated with his Bayou BBQ & Grill, and whose various culinary adventures over the past three decades have also included a taco truck, delighted and fed an appreciative following throughout southeastern Connecticut, is a Top 10 Free Spirit.

    At least to me — and I’ve known a few.

    On March 6, Brother will close the doors of the Bayou and officially retire as a restaurateur. It’s true that, as he posted on Facebook, he recently suffered a minor heart attack; a stent seems to have mercifully done the trick. But Brother is 67 now, and a life spent working in restaurant/hospitality culture is as demanding as it is exhilarating.

    So, in a few days, Brother’s mostly free spirit becomes officially liberated and he can pilot it unimpeded to wherever the hell it wants to go. The potential is vast. Doesn’t mean he won’t occasionally engage in some sort of cookery in some unexpected fashion. He probably will. But who knows?

    Another quality of his Free Spirit personality profile — and admittedly a source of puzzlement and even frustration among those of us who enjoyed Brother’s cooking — is that there was always an aspect of unpredictability to any of his ventures. Not in terms of quality but rather the sense of flighty impermanence.

    Brother is exceptionally well read and a student of music, history, politics and all sorts of things. Part of the fun of being a regular in his restaurant is talking to him. But this innate intelligence and sense of wonder has, on occasion, caused Brother to, well, take off. Might be a few days, might be six months.

    When it happened, we watched for clues and compared notes and rumors.

    “He’s opening a Tex-Mex place!” “He’s gonna have a food truck and cater!” “He scored the old Raider’s Roost location!” “He’s waiting tables at Jaspar White’s!” “He moved WHERE?!” “They’re open for lunch!” “They’re not open for lunch.” “His Facebook post says he’s in Peru!” “OK, he’s back.”

    Let the record show Brother opened the original Bayou on Connecticut Avenue in New London in 1988 and quickly established himself as a true local icon and favorite. He also had a Bank Street location before the final address off the traffic circle near the highly developed Fort Trumbull neighborhood. When indeed he did disappear, Brother might be found cooking in San Francisco or on Long Island; working in food services; or traveling in a fashion reminiscent of throwing a dart against a map on the wall, then booking his ticket and hauling ass.

    Brother did ALL these things and more. But at heart, he was a student of the kitchen and a fan of people who loved to master techniques and cuisines and then MAKE THEM HIS OWN for us to enjoy. The impromptu travel was part of that.

    I thought it only fair, since I’m blathering with my take on Brother’s place in New London food and cultural lore, to ask the man himself what his thoughts are as he prepares to hang a CLOSED sign on the Bayou door. He texted:

    “It never occurred to me when I began my culinary journey in New London in 1988 that I was building a community. It is what I will miss most though, my community. Weddings, birthdays, deaths, births, first, second and third generations of families that celebrated their cherished events at the Bayou. I will miss that connectivity, but I have gained the world by the experience.”

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