By Suzanne Corbett, STLSportsPage.com Travel/FoodEditor
I’ve been waiting for this week since the lockdown in March: the week restaurants in St. Louis City and County are able to reopen and welcome guests back into the dining room. I’ve missed dining out, especially at my favorite go-to eateries. We all have. But when we walk back into the dining room or perch on the patio, the table is going to look different. It’s going to look a lot different.
New rules, set for the safety of us all, will govern the experience. The table has changed.
“The look isn’t what it was,” said Roberto Zanti, chef owner of Roberto’s Trattoria & Chophouse in South St. Louis County, explaining how salt, pepper, condiments, olive oil and balsamic must now remain off the table and brought out when requested. It’s a big change in service for both restaurants and diners. “The table is naked (no place setting, water glasses etc. Only a white tablecloth, It’s just not us. Everyone needs to adjust and be safe and follow the rules”
In sprite of the new rules and restrictions for dining distancing Zanti’s creativity has allowed Roberto’s to solve the challenge with style. He commissioned custom made, oak framed partitions with high-grade plastic, (shown in the photo, left) which delivers the social separation needed.
He did this all without sacrificing dining room elegance. One can see in the photograph how pretty they look. It’s an extra touch I can appreciate, because it’s a nice change from just shower curtains hung from the ceiling or plain old bolted plexiglass.
Keeping the dining experience for many restaurants while keeping the rules and without alienating customers is a balancing act.
“It is scarier than when we first opened. We’re now playing in a game where the rules are always changing,” said Highway 61 Roadhouse owner Bill Kunz, who like many restaurateurs, are working with the current guidelines to ensure everyone’s safety.
Highway 61 Roadhouse reopens for dine-in, carry out and curbside business on Wednesday, May 20. It’s a strategy, including the addition of family meal menu and carry out beer and cocktails, designed to offer patrons the options needed to feel not comfortable, safe and happy.
Dining al fresco (dining outside) on patios and decks will be the coveted tables this season. NO surprise, open spaces are easier to provide social distancing and for the most part provides a freer feeling, even if the tables are naked and servers are masked.
A hot spot for Cards fans yearning to just be near Busch Stadium will feel like they hit one out of the park when they snag a table rooftop at 360 at the Top of the Hilton at the Ballpark.
Amber Lanwermeyer, social media director at 360 predicts this year her restaurant will attract more Cardinal fans than ever.
“The Patio is going to be an even bigger hit this year, “ she said. We can’t wait to welcome fans back 400 feet in the air on the patio overlooking Busch when we reopen this week.”
Back on the ground, across the Missouri River, Ameristar Casino Resort Spa’s Executive Chef Josh Schlick is also looking at a different culinary game.
“The table landscape will be dramatically different. The tables won’t be set. Silverware will be wrapped. I think some of the buffets will be open but they’ll also have a different structure,” Schlick said. “ It’s a tough call, but I think some buffets could be open with grab and go options. For now, the buffet is going to wait because we’re focusing on getting our other restaurants open first.”
Finally, the ultimate small but mighty eatery, Crown Candy is also celebrating its reopening under the new rules. When asked what was the one thing they were looking forward to, owner Andy Karandzieff said, “Customers. A store full of people, of course, following social guidelines.”
Crown encourages online ordering since only one person at a time can come in and order. And that’s OK. After all, you won’t find its killer BLT anywhere else. As Karandzieff said, “ Everyone wants bacon.”