A meal in three acts, or… Dining out in the age of coronavirus

While we all long for the days when we can return to our favorite restaurants for a leisurely meal or to our favorite pubs for drinks with friends, we find ourselves making do with what we’re allowed to have in difficult days of social distancing.

We also find ourselves doing our best, in a historically difficult social and economic atmosphere, to not only sustain ourselves but also to help these local businesses we love. And it’s really not difficult to do.

I decided to treat myself to a full-blown meal, carryout style, from three different places. Here are my suggestions for places to visit one after the other or on different days, as I did.

I started with Royals Hot Chicken as the main course because, well, I like it spicy. And if you haven’t ventured out to get local carryout yet, I’ll tell you this much: Royals makes it easy. First, I jumped onto the restaurant’s website, selected my three-piece tenders meal (extra hot), selected a side (spicy wedges), then chose a dipping sauce (Mississippi Comeback).

Once my online cart was full, I simply went to checkout, typed in my payment info, added a tip and the deal was done. I was even able to choose a pickup time. When I showed up, about two minutes early, I was greeted by a pair of young people sitting behind a table. One asked for my name, I provided it, and she stepped inside and emerged seconds later with my dinner in a brown paper bag.

It was a perfect transaction. And while, by the time I sat down to eat, the food wasn’t as piping hot as if I’d dined in the restaurant, that’s true with any carryout meal, pandemic notwithstanding. But the food held up to the usual Royals’ standard. That said, the extra hot sauce dripping from the crispy chicken lit me up pretty well – thank goodness for dipping sauce to ease the burn.

The Café’s tuxedo cake.

For dessert, I decided on The Café, which is noted for its fresh cakes and pies. I’d had the tuxedo cake once before, so I called the restaurant – no online ordering options available – and told the person who answered what I wanted. She told me to call her when I arrive, didn’t even take my name.

When I arrived, I parked outside the entrance facing Brent Street and called. It was a different person, who asked for my name. I explained I had ordered the cake and she said she’d be right out. No one came. So I called again and got a different person, who asked for my name. Turns out, I had parked in the wrong spot. Oops. So, if you get carryout from The Café, be sure to park in the back parking lot.

But they were understanding and friendly, conducted the transaction as I sat in my car, and the slice of cake they gave me, along with plastic utensils and napkin, was ridiculously huge. Not surprisingly, it was just as rich, fresh and delicious as I’d remembered.

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Course three? After-dinner drinks, of course. Now, by drinks in this case, I decided to keep it simple and stop by Apocalypse Brew Works, which is near my house.

Saki, one of the two Apocalypse Brew Works cats, and social distancing setup. Photo provided by Apocalypse Brew Works.

The taproom at the brewery is a phone booth compared to many breweries around the city, so I was curious about how the carryout process would work in the age of coronavirus-mandated social distancing.

As I approached, I noticed a couple of people standing outside the propped-open doors. Empty kegs were placed at roughly six feet from the counter, marking the waiting point. All others simply wait outside until they’re on deck. Also at the six-foot point is a hand sanitizer station, which was a nice touch, offering the opportunity to sanitize your hands going in and potentially going out.

I placed my growler on one end of the bar, which conveniently is about six feet long, asked for a fill of Apollo IPA and simply waited. I did the same with my card once the growler was sealed, and the only real point of contact outside of the growler itself was using my finger to sign off on the transaction.

On the way out? Another squirt of sanitizer, just for safety’s sake.

I wiped down the glass growler once I got home, but other than that, I felt like it was an efficient and relatively germ-free experience, which is exactly what we all want right about now. And the beer was pretty darn good too.

But the point of all this is that it’s not difficult to dine out and also dine in, being observant of the social lockdown we’re all under right now. Consider trying a place you haven’t been to in a while, or one you’ve wanted to try and just haven’t.

Local restaurants need the help if they’re going to get through to the other side of this pandemic.

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