“Big Al” Robinson came to Vancouver from Louisiana 40 years ago to play as a rookie for the BC Lions. But an injury prevented him from ever playing. Instead, he stayed and turned to cooking. He’s run several restaurants and now a catering business. Thanks to this fabulous article from Vancouver is Awesome, I learned about Big Al’s annual American Thanksgiving feast.

Big Al used to host the dinner at his restaurants but when he closed them, his friends Ken and Junko who run the Lion’s Den Cafe, teamed up with him to keep the tradition going. By the way, their cafe serves all-day breakfast and “Japaribbean” food (ie, jerk and teriyaki combo), which deserves a separate entry in itself.

This year, Big Al’s American Thanksgiving moved into the bigger space of the Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Centre off Main Street. I eagerly phoned Ken to buy advance tickets with my credit card. But after taking down all my info, he said in his slight Caribbean accent, “You should bring cash to the door. I don’t trust these credit card numbers and stuff like that.”

The dinner was perfect timing for us because it was on a weekday that J was home and early enough (5-9 p.m.) so we could bring H.

The all-you-can-eat buffet was ready to go around 5:30 p.m. Sliced turkey and ham greeted us right away, then rice, black-eyed peas, mashed yams, mashed potatoes, stuffing, salad, steamed veg, collard greens, and the best cornbread I’d ever had. It was so good that H stopped mid-bite with his and stole mine to double-fist it.

It was only after we polished off our heaping plates that I remembered there was supposed to be “Junko’s special jerk turkey.” Not seeing it on the buffet table, we muscled our way to the kitchen and asked Big Al. He yelled over for someone to cut us a few pieces and I brought it back to the table.

The jerk turkey looked like the plain turkey, but a delicious heat crept up as you chewed on the meat. Mmmm.

Then there was dessert: a never-ending tray of mini sweet potato tarts, and plates of regular-sized pumpkin pie and apple pie. I only got through the sweet potato pie which I’ve never really before. So good.

To top it off, Checo Tohomaso sang soul, gospel and Motown hits on stage all throughout dinner. He’s toured with Marvin Gaye! So cool.

The event is very kid-friendly. The centre had a few high chairs but we brought a booster for H just in case. Lots of kids were running around and enjoying the food and entertainment. There’s a change table in the women’s bathroom.

I’ll be watching for this next year, for sure.

Big Al's American Thanksgiving, Vancouver

Big Al’s American Thanksgiving, 2011 cost: $30 adults, children 11-18 and seniors $15, children under 10 free.