Post-pandemic: Does dining out still do it for me?

Adam and I had been planning it for days.

Even though our home state of New Jersey’s opening date for outdoor dining – June 15 – was still in the distance, Pennsylvania was opening its al fresco tables on June 5. And, living about 40 minutes from the state border, we were more than ready to start making calls to secure our own reservation for that following Monday which we were sure would offer us a taste – literally – of our former foodie lives.

So, Adam, my boyfriend Mike’s coworker and friend who had come to feel more like family in the last few months of the pandemic, and I sat on the couch and began to make some calls to New Hope, Penn. restaurants a few days before June 5. Dialing sequence after sequence of numbers, it began to feel a bit reminiscent of my days working as a telemarketer.

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Out at Earl’s New American.

No answer. All booked up. No outdoor dining. A busy signal. As we made our way down the line of New Hope restaurants, I wondered if maybe we would be spending Monday at our own dining room table once again.

Eventually, though, Adam got a hold of Earl’s New American, a casual restaurant in New Hope’s Peddler’s Village, a tourist-friendly outdoor shopping center. It wasn’t exactly our first choice – I was hoping to try Marsha Brown, a fine dining destination for Southern cuisine; or Stella; a small plates restaurant headed by Iron Chef Jose Garces; or Italian Cucina, a hole-in-the-wall Italian spot with rave reviews. But the menu and photos looked good and the options were limited anyhow.

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Chicken sliders from Earl’s New American.

But when Monday came, nothing felt right.

Why was I putting on makeup and regular clothes to eat? A basic daily activity?

Why were we driving 40 minutes?

Why was a strip steak $37, when Mike could grill one up for a fraction of the price at home?

Why were we waiting for cocktails, when I could be making one at this moment right in our kitchen?

Why were we spending the whole night doing this, when we could eat for a bit, then watch some TV, I could get some work done, play with the cat, and get to bed on time?

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Lobster dumplings from Earl’s New American.

That’s not to say anything was wrong with the meal. There absolutely wasn’t. The cocktails were balanced and my chicken slider appetizer, lobster dumpling appetizer and crab cake sandwich entree were all delicious. The service was friendly. The bill was reasonable. It was exactly the dining experience I had hoped for after a three-month hiatus.

Read more: Just some chicken to remind you who you are

But now, dining out had seemingly lost some of its swag.

Normally, I had a solid three-times-a-week, if not more, restaurant habit. Mike is only off work two or three nights per week from his job as a bartender, so when he is off, he’s usually too tired to cook. I cook for myself on the nights when I’m alone, but it’s hard to muster enthusiasm when you’re trying to eat healthy and cook for just one person – I usually end up making something boring and eat it quickly at the counter so I can head off to the next item on my to-do list. Plus, as a food writer, I go to a lot of restaurant events and openings; and with a large social network and an even larger palate, I’m often out with friends.

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Nashville hot chicken made by Mike.

But the coronavirus lockdown obviously put a major damper on all of that. And at first, it was a major struggle for me. But as the weeks went on, it became, in some ways, downright enjoyable – and cost-effective.

Read more: Life, reduced

Every night, Mike, who is a fantastic home chef thanks to growing up in his mother’s kitchen, would cook up something delicious which included chorizo tacos, Nashville hot chicken, pulled pork sandwiches, jerk chicken, mushroom and sausage pasta. We would eat it together at our dining room table or on our deck and chat about boring couple things. Our neighbor, Laurie, would walk by and wave with her Lab, Lola.

It was exactly the domesticated life I always imagined with a partner and the one I also imagined as I worked, unsuccessfully, to get Mike out of bartending during the last few years. But as Mike was out of work due to the pandemic, it became a reality – for the short-term, anyway.

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Grilled shrimp and Romaine made by Mike.

As life crawls back to normal in New Jersey, I’m sure I’ll soon be back to my old ways. At the end of the day, I am a social person and I enjoy trying new places and foods. However, Mike says that after this, we’ll continue to cook at home more and I do hope it’s true.

The pandemic, as Dr. Fauci said, is truly nothing short of a nightmare. Almost half a million people worldwide have died and the impact on the economy is catastrophic. But, for just a little while, it was nice to find a silver lining in a dinner on the deck in my pajamas.

 

 

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