Diners, we need to talk.
Your relationships with restaurants need to change – for now, at least.
Places that aren’t built on carry-out have retooled to serve a takeout-only universe. But jammed phone systems, frustrated customers and overloaded staff have too often kneecapped the restaurant-eater pas de deux we had come to adore.
Let’s face it: We loved restaurants for being easy. If we could arrive at an address with a credit card, they took care of everything – a no-brainer.
That was then. Since the March 16 safety shutdown of dining rooms, you’ve probably heard that local restaurants need your support in dollar form, with takeout orders and gift cards.
That’s true, they do. But every customer has something even more crucial you can give them for free: forethought. Planning. Bring your brain to bear.
Turn the relationship from purely transactional – I will give you this money for that food – to holistic – how can I help keep you going, because I want you to stick around?
Try this: See if you can make restaurant orders count three times, at least. When you call, hopefully at an off-peak hour, consider ordering what will feed you now, tomorrow and next week, in one go.
Not long ago I pulled to the curb on Hamburg’s Main Street, and took delivery of a wide variety of Grange Community Kitchen delights. Cinnamon rolls to be baked off in the morning, packed with instructions and icing, gave me something to look forward to the next day.
A quart of Grange white bean and beef chili was destined for my freezer, to be summoned upon need for a meal for two to four carnivores, over crushed Fritos, lemony chopped salad or rice. Invest in the future of dinner.
In the moment, though, I fell upon the Neapolitan-style pizza in the driver’s seat. The blistered beauty of its tender-crisp crust fades swiftly, so I wasn’t going to wait.
These days, if you seek peak culinary experience, sometimes you have to eat in the parking lot. A canister of hand-wipes is essential equipment in any mobile nosher’s auto.
The further people have come to pick up a pie, the more likely they’re going to crack into the box in the lot. There’s a reason Bocce on Bailey hands out plates and napkins on request.
Wings, too, have to be encountered in the parking lot for peak pleasure. Takeout wings fade with every mile they travel from the fryer, so unless you’re allergic to crispy, get stuck in for a few before heading off. If just seems too needy, look around at all the steamed up windows in the parking lot, and let yourself go.
Then again, sometimes the real action is at home. If you’re even the slightest bit of a cook, your better restaurants are more than happy to coordinate with your needs.
There’s nothing fresher than finishing a dish yourself. So do what I did: Tell them that you’ll be re-firing the entrée at home, and prepare it appropriately.
That’s how I got Lucia on the Lake’s Australian wagyu steak laid out in its buttery-beefy beneficence upon a table 45 minutes away, in peak form. The chef seared it “black and blue,” crispy outside, cold rare inside. At its destination hot pan in the oven eased the splurgy steak ($67) into rare form.
Once it was in my fridge, the timing was under my control. I didn’t fire it up until two days later, and its lush peak-of-the-food-chain magnificence was undiminished by the interlude. Don't expect delicate dishes to reheat well, though – I'd stay away from wispy fried whatnots, hollandaise sauce and grilled chicken breast.
Big-format dishes for a bunch of people have become a mainstay of many takeout-only menus, family-style and swankier. How about brunch with booze by the batch: Billy Club’s offer for a jug of John Stamos cocktails (Campari, orange juice, prosecco, $30).
Then there's places expanding their repertoire to get in on the time-shifted meals trend, like Fresh Catch Poke Co. adding cod pot pies ($8.50) that can be refrigerated and baked at will to is core offerings of fish-centered bowls and bulk poke packs.
Ristorante Lombardo, the white-tablecloth pinnacle of Hertel Italian, now offers kits for customers to make some of their popular pastas. Housemade macaroni – including a gluten-free version – anchor the do-it-yourself dishes, sized to feed three.
Housemade bucatini with artichokes, ricotta, mint and lemon ($38), and tagliatelle Bolognese ($45), with pork, veal and beef ragu, thyme and pamigiano reggiano, are chances to take a terrific pasta dish from third base to home plate.
The restaurant delivers, with its own staff, for orders over $30 with a $5 fee. Yet there’s nothing fresher than off your own stove.
Dining rooms will be back. In the meantime, try to reform your approach to restaurants. Like any relationship, it will have a brighter future if you consider both of your needs.