Outdoor Dining, why we hope it’s here to stay

Covid-19 measures would have you believing that outdoor dining is new. It legitimately is ‘the new’ security measure to going out to eat, but in fact, dining “Al Fresco” goes back hundreds of years and spans all through Europe.  Today, I’m thinking of my outdoor dining experience from Wednesday, enjoying a meal along with my mask toting fellow humans as we make our way to as much normalcy as we can muster.  Outdoor dining is a saving grace for us.  Of course, weather permitting in most cases.

I recently had the pleasure of doing just that in New York City. I was there for work last week, from Boston.  While I was not looking at Big Ben, I had the opportunity to experience the hustle and bustle of outdoor dining in the big city.  People driving by in scooters (also very big in Europe) and passers-by taking in the amazing aroma of the neighborhood — an experience I will not soon forget.

Looking around the cobblestone patio where I sat, twelve black wrought iron tables were neatly set up in a row in the small courtyard nestled within three huge brick buildings.  Roses and honeysuckle climbed the trellises along the building’s brick walls. Birds flying in and out (and a couple fighting). It felt cozy and reminded me of my grandmother’s gardens.  While I was waiting for my order to be taken, I watched as one of the neighborhood kids was weaving in and out of parked cars and through puddles, no doubt from yesterday’s rain, which added to my most treasured memories of how I would stay and play at my grandmother’s family home most summers.

There is something awesome, holistic, and grounding about dining outdoors. The atmosphere and buzz make the food taste better. The fresh air, sunshine, and soul-soothing aroma of the food permeating the air bring to mind a simpler time, a more homey time when the meal was the main subject of conversation with friends and family.  A time when you could really appreciate the delicious meal in front of you, and the cook, while savoring every bite.

Historically, outdoor dining and tea houses were a major part of social life in the 1700s — so much so that people would mimic tea parties in their own backyard. And what little girl did not have a tea party in her bedroom with her dolls? Who doesn’t love all of those summer barbeques we have every year!  While outdoor dining now carries a dual-purpose, it has been a timeless and evolving way to enjoy a meal alone or with friends and family.  Once a pastime of the wealthy, where lords would bring the kill home for a feast, and later the elite would host in their private gardens, for a fee, where you would actually bring your own food. That changed later in the 1900s at New York’s very own Coney Island, where you could finally buy your food from a restaurant or vendor to enjoy outdoors.

Many restaurants today often have this dining option.  Some only have a couple of bistro sets due to space restrictions, and some have fully covered courtyards with a wine and cheese bar not far away.  The imagination of a restaurateur is massive, as are your options here in New York City! As their customer, you are privy to their creation.  You will enjoy the sights, sounds, and food, inside and out, of their little piece of paradise. 

Of course, I decided to dine outdoors during February.  You would think I was a glutton for punishment, but no. I still wanted to consider safety while I had to travel for work, in all honesty. Plus, I was able to stay warm because close to me, there was a raging fire blazing in a tall stainless steel fireplace.  It was crazy warm where I was! I think the fact that there was no wind helped keep the heat in this area.  There was another fireplace farther down the sidewalk, presumably to keep that end just as warm and cozy.  I have to hand it to the amazing owners and wait staff.  They really did have this outdoor dining down to a science.  My meal came out toasty warm, and everything was top-notch! 

I should mention that while I was eating, a few snow flurries came down.  It did not last more than five minutes or so, but what an experience!  All of the occupied tables had their umbrellas up, so no one got wet, but it just made everything that much prettier and inviting.  It snowed a minimal amount but enough to cover everything outside of our heated area lightly.  At that point, I decided I have to come back next year on New Year’s Eve to see the ball drop in Times Square….especially if it is forecasted to snow!

I am scheduled to come back next Friday for another business trip, but I think I’ll stay for the weekend.  This is definitely an experience I want to enjoy again and again.

I paid Melissa, our server, the cost of our meal, which I might add seemed small for the happiness this lunch experience brought me.  I made a mental note to write down this restaurant for future visits and the area as a whole because I have every intention to revisit this location often.  From European lords hunting to Melissa, it’s a timeless and fantastic journey.  My little lunchtime meal was filled with culture, natural beauty, and an atmosphere we are fortunately not required to pay a fee to enjoy anymore, like those tea parties of the past.

Moving forward, we need to keep this trend more commonplace.  Eating is so much more satisfying outdoors than looking at four walls and much more quiet as the city noise is somehow muted, except for the occasional car horn, which I’ve come to expect anyway.  Nom Nom!