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Dining Out … at Home

Originally Published in Lancaster County Magazine.

Many restaurants have always offered take-out as part of their regular operations. However, the COVID-19 pandemic took take-out to another level when in-restaurant dining was prohibited during Gov. Wolf’s “stay-at-home” order, as well as during the yellow phase of the state’s re-opening process. In all probability, take-out will continue to be an important part of Lancaster’s dining scene for months to come.

From Sprout Rice & Noodles: Bun Bo Hue, a soup from central Vietnam featuring spicy pork and beef served in a fish stock with noodles topped with Vietnamese cilantro.

Hopefully, we’ll soon be able to dine at our favorite restaurants – the process started in early June, when yellow-zone restaurants were permitted to begin offering outdoor dining.  However, with both indoor and outdoor capacity reduced, take-out and curbside pick-up will no doubt continue to provide a way for local restaurants to keep pace with pent-up demand.

Restaurants in other areas of the country have been getting creative in order to keep their kitchens cooking. On the Outer Banks of North Carolina, restaurants have turned portions of their parking lots into outdoor dining rooms. In cities across the country, government officials have closed sidewalks and even streets in order to allow restaurants to set up outdoor dining rooms.

Closer to home, two restaurant owners – Dean Oberholtzer and John Moeller – are providing some insight into how they have incorporated take-out/curbside-delivery into their businesses.

Special legislation now allows restaurants to include cocktails on their to-go menus. Before the Belvedere curtailed its to-go service, cocktails such as Taylor Made Lemonade were available for transport in stylish Mason jars.

The fact that the coronavirus is causing policies to change at a moment’s notice is especially evident in the restaurant industry. Many restaurants made an immediate switch to take-out/curbside-pickup in order to use up the supplies they had on hand. Once that was accomplished, they closed their doors and adopted a wait-and-see philosophy. Others have been on the job non-stop since mid-March.

When the state’s re-opening process was unveiled, many initiated or relaunched take-out/curbside service. And, like other cities, it was announced in early June that temporary permits would be issued to allow Lancaster restaurants to make use of outdoor areas around their properties to accommodate guests.

Himalayan Curry and Grill: Lamb curry, rice and Naan bread.

“Curbside delivery is a way we could deliver our food to guests,” says Dean Oberholtzer of his three Lancaster City restaurants, the Belvedere Inn, C’est La Vie and Josephine’s, all of which provide guests with what Dean calls “the dining experience – ambience, food and service.”

When selecting items for the curbside delivery menu, Dean says some of the restaurants’ most popular items were included. For example, C’est La Vie’s take-out menu, which includes 10-inch, brick-oven pizzas and take-home pizza kits, also features favorites from Josephine’s (Kennett Square mushroom bisque, poutine, boneless wing dings, crab cake croissant, vegetarian risotto, braised short ribs). Consideration was also given to items that transport well, plus some family-friendly options were made available.

While the Belvedere made an all-out effort to offer customers the “Belvedere experience” – providing no-contact curbside service, updating menus to reflect lighter, summer fare, offering cocktails to-go and rolling out the red carpet for Mother’s Day – the staff grew frustrated by the fact that they couldn’t provide the full-scale dining experience. As a result, on Saturday, May 30, the restaurant’s website and social media shared the announcement, “We would like to thank our loyal patrons, friends, and family, during these difficult times. After evaluating the current circumstances with covid-19, and the restrictions placed on the restaurant industry, we have made the difficult decision to temporarily close to protect the longevity of our business. At the end of business today, we will be suspending food and cocktails to-go service. Carryout beer, wine and gift cards will still be available from our 6-pack shop 10-2am – 7 days a week. We look forward to re-opening the doors to our dining room and bars when we can once again offer you the full Belvedere experience that we have built over the past 22 years. Watch for updates online and please stay safe and healthy. We miss all of you.”

Menus and information are posted on C’ La Vie’s website (clvlancaster.com) and Facebook page. C’est La Vie/Josephine’s is sharing Market Alley – for outdoor dining – with Old San Juan Lancaster, Spring House Tap Room, Shot and Bottle and Lancaster Dispensing Company. To stay updated on the Belvedere, visit belvederelancaster.com.

The Greenfield Restaurant & Bar: Grilled salmon accompanied by seasonal vegetables has been a mainstay of the restaurant’s to-go menu. Photo courtesy of The Greenfield.

According to John Moeller, The Greenfield Restaurant & Bar began focusing on take-out and curbside delivery the week of March 17. “The last day we served dine-in was March 15. I was doing a catering job in Northern Virginia and preparing one of the courses when my phone began binging with messages from the restaurant about Gov. Wolf’s shutdown order,” recalls the former White House chef. “The Greenfield is more than just a meal, it’s a dining experience. But, we did what we had to do to obey the order, and shifted to take-out.”

The resulting “Bring the Greenfield Experience Home” menu focuses on “comfort food – there was no way we could offer our full menu,” he explains. “So, we turned to comfort food: food soothes the soul.” The menu has included such items as classic Caesar salad, red beet salad, braised beef short ribs, beef lasagna, chicken parm, chicken pot pie, crab cakes, grilled salmon and pork barbecue ribs with mac & cheese. Beer and wine can be purchased by the bottle and cocktails to-go are also available. A special menu was offered for Mother’s Day.

From Cocina Mexicana: Steak tacos, rice and chicken soup.

The Greenfield has aggressively marketed its services via social media – including reminders that normalcy will return one day, which means large parties and weddings will be held that require the services of a caterer. John also did an Instagram baking class in mid-May. “It was kind of fun. It was done in real time and I included the recipe for the flourless chocolate torte with raspberry sauce,” he explains.

The Greenfield’s decision to stay the course – albeit an altered one – has proved successful. “We’ve seen a number of our regular customers. We’ve heard people say they miss our food or they’re tired of cooking at home,” he says of the response the restaurant’s to-go menu has received (curbside pick-up is also offered). He adds that one of the interesting aspects he’s observed about the COVID-19 pandemic is that “families are having more family time.”

To see The Greenfield’s weekly to-go menu, visit their website (thegreenfieldrestaurant.com) and Facebook page. Note: The Greenfield does have an outdoor patio for dining.

Lancaster residents Nick and Lanie Gould agree with that assessment. “Before COVID-19, our kids, who are 13 and 16 years old, were busy and often had plans with friends,” Nick says. That, of course, changed in mid-March. They have been doing take-out about once a week. “I like to cook. But, since we’ve been at home for a while and I’m cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner for the family, it’s nice to have a break and do take-out,” Lanie says.

The Goulds – Nick, Lanie, Lily and William – have been treating themselves to take-out at least once a week since the stay-at-home order was instituted in March.

“It’s a special thing for us – a treat,” Nick adds. “We’ve done take-out from some of our favorites like Cocina Mexicana and have tried some new restaurants, too.”

“Sometimes we let the kids pick the restaurant,” says Nick, who adds that they tend to do take-out from restaurants within a short drive (five to 10 minutes) from their home. He names Rosa Rosa, Iron Hill, The Fat Crab Café and Splits & Giggles as favorite to-go sources.

Ice cream from Splits & Giggles allows you to finish your take-out dinner on a sweet note.

The family also likes to mix things up. One night they had take-out from four different Lancaster restaurants. Each family member ordered a favorite from a different restaurant – steak tacos, rice and chicken soup from Cocina Mexicana; lamb curry and rice with Naan bread from Himalayan Curry and Grill; pan-seared tuna and a cocktail from the Belvedere Inn; and Bun Bo Hue (a soup from central Vietnam) and shrimp spring rolls from Sprout Rice & Noodles Vietnamese Eatery.

Nick also stops for coffee at his favorite coffee shop on the way to his downtown Lancaster photography studio. “I can go to the coffee shop and have a conversation. I love the more social aspect of going out to dinner,” he says. “I miss it.”

“Doing take-out is a great way to honor and support the restaurants,” Lanie notes. “The restaurants and their staffs have really been hit hard [during COVID-19]. They’re working really hard to make take-out work in a safe manner.”

Cocina Mexicana

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