With Long Island's dining terrain changing moment to moment in response to coronavirus, those who want to eat out this weekend face a raft of uncertainties.
ARE RESTAURANTS STILL OPEN?
Most restaurants, cafes, bakeries and breweries remain open on Long Island. A few closures have taken place on the North Fork — notably, Greenport Harbor Brewery and Southold Fish Market both shuttered temporarily, after one employee at each tested positive for COVID-19. In Jamesport, Grana Trattoria Antica has closed for two weeks, “to stay ahead of this coronavirus," as its window notice read. "Any crowd large or small has the potential for infection.” In Garden City, the Rose Room — a speak-easy under the Garden City Hotel, has closed “until further notice," though the owners chalked that up to "freshening."
WILL THEY LOOK — OR FEEL — ANY DIFFERENT?
Mindful that customers might still be nervous to cross their thresholds, many owners are taking a hypervigilant approach to cleaning, with accelerated disinfection and near-constant sanitizing of tables, shakers, handles and menus.
“We are wiping all menus after every use — as well as desk and counters with Clorox wipes,” noted sommelier Fadi Yako of The Carltun in Eisenhower Park. On Thursday afternoon, at Carolina Kitchen in Medford — immaculate in the best of times — co-owner Shelly Wheeler wielded Lysol and disinfected every table, chair and shaker minutes after guest turnover. And in Commack, at Jackson’s Restaurant in Commack, utensils, shakes and other condiments have been removed from tables, “and available by request as single-use servings,” according to a post on social media. Dozens of restaurants have posted testimonials to Facebook and Instagram attesting to the sanitation measures they are now taking.
WHAT ABOUT CROWDS?
Something much more obvious will confront diners this weekend: Reduced seating, some by choice, and some by mandate. At Roast Coffee in Patchogue on Thursday afternoon, general manager Brittnie Perry had rearranged the cafe’s tables, taking out seats and posting notices that the measure was to “encourage social distancing.” (The staff also moved milk and sugar behind the counter, where they wouldn’t be touched by multiple hands).
Roast’s preemptive strike was a harbinger of what was to come: Also on Thursday afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that all places of business with fewer than 500 seats would need to reduce capacity by 50 percent, including restaurants and bars. Several restaurant owners said they haven't received official word with more details, but are still scrambling to comply.
Meghan LaCourte, who owns Leilu in Huntington with her husband, James, said “a bunch of us family-owned restaurants [are] texting each other, trying to collaborate where we can and find solutions not to go under.”
However, the new rule may be unnecessary, she added. “We only have one reservation on the books tonight — so something tells me fear alone will keep people at home, and this mandate is irrelevant.”
Indeed, it was the rare Long Island restaurant that was more than half full on Thursday night. Though perennially busy Robke’s in Northport and Dirty Tacos & Tequila in Rockville Centre both appeared full (Dirty Taco had its usual line), other venues across the island were not. On Nassau’s North Shore, Market Bistro in Jericho was a little over half full, and assistant manager Erika Darenberg said weekend reservations were off by about half. At One North, also in Jericho, there were fewer than 30 patrons — less than 10% of capacity. In Roslyn, Bryant & Cooper’s bar was full, but the dining room was more than half empty — and in Patchogue on the same evening, many bars and restaurants appeared half- to fully empty.
Bottom line: With the landscape shifting, diners should call ahead to check hours.
TAKEOUT, DELIVERY OPTIONS ADDED
Many businesses are turning to takeout to tide them over. Guy Reuge, executive chef at Mirabelle in Stony Brook and Sandbar in Cold Spring Harbor, said his team was planning a delivery service for “people who don’t want to venture out.” Reuge is working on a small menu of fried chicken, burgers, pastas and other comfort foods, and hopes to publish it soon. LB Social in Long Beach has begun free local delivery, and Sweet Mama’s, which operates in Northport and Stony Brook, has knocked 20% off of takeout orders.
“No contact” curbside delivery has also suddenly become a thing at myriad places, such as Babylon Carriage House, all Anthony Scotto restaurants and Broadway Market in Rocky Point. Co-owner Ann Olenick said Broadway Market began the practice Thursday night. “It’s for people who don’t feel comfortable coming out into public, and we’ll continue it through the weekend,” she said.