COVID restrictions on dining were a relentless strain on restaurant owners across Westchester, but at eateries where the menu is laden with elevated items, like seared scallops, Long Island duck breast, and sesame-crusted you-name-it, the burden bordered on unbearable. Although such fare surely fits in a plastic to-go container, it doesn’t really fit, and it’s far from the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about takeout.
In order to survive, the county’s well-known restaurateurs had to tweak their menus to make them more takeout-friendly and extra-comforting. But it has proved to be a delicate dance between altering their offerings too much and staying in their lanes to remain true to their guiding principles.
Here are five local hotspots that seem to have struck the right balance during a most unsteady time — and each one says it is the better for it.
At this fine Rivertown Italian, where ingredients are locally sourced and the fish is market price, “we are seen as a special-occasion or weekend place,” says chef/owner Scott Fratangelo. “And that was a stigma.” To stay in business in a takeout world that was demanding at-home comfort, Fratangelo curated holiday to-go and pasta-party boxes, complete with instructions for family meal preparation, and each has become a permanent part (at press time) of his day-to-day approach. In addition, transportable items, like chicken parm, were added to the menu, and “it sells so damn well,” says Fratangelo, that it’s now served in-house alongside chicken liver crostini and a butternut squash cutlet. “[COVID] changed our business model in a good way,” he acknowledges. “We’re not what we were when we began, but I don’t want to move away from what we created.”
Knowing that highbrow gastropub fare, like grilled Spanish octopus and tuna tar-tare, “doesn’t lend itself to takeout,” owner Scott Broccoli shifted gears almost immediately, instituting takeout weeks with international themes. “We were forced to get creative,” he recalls, “and we had a good time doing it.” Asian week’s General Tso’s Cauliflower and pork-fried rice grace the regular menu now, along with avgolemono soup from Greek week. Plus, paired with “the versatility and talent of Chef Evan Kalogiannis,” Broccoli capital-ized on every holiday the calendar presented. As a result, new menu standards include the Bibb salad and vegan black-bean burger with house-made spiced bun that were debuted as part of the Earth Day takeout deal. “It was a struggle,” he says, “but we got such positive feedback and support. It was humbling.”
Chef/owner Rafael Palomino knew it was imperative that he “get creative to survive” when COVID hit, so he jumped into action early on and devised a clever “food court in the cloud” concept to provide a bevy of cuisines from his sole kitchen in Port Chester. Via
www.nyfullkitchen.com, customers can take out from several mostly Latin-inspired menus, including one that is entirely vegan and another that is all tacos. Hyper-flexible in his approach, customers who occupy a table indoors or on the patio have the choice of ordering from the regular menu or the virtual one. “Food is food,” says Palomino, “so long as you’re not compromising on quality, you can provide many different options from the same kitchen.” He had to hire four more cooks and extra delivery people to make it work, but that’s the cost of what he calls “COVID creativity.”
Hudson Valley foie gras and roasted bone marrow are standard starters, alongside mains of seared duck breast and mahi-mahi, at this American-eclectic sensation where chef/owner Brian Sernatinger admits, “I changed the menu quite a bit” to stay viable. Quickly realizing that the key to keeping discerning diners feasting on his fare was the addition of first-class comfort food to go, Sernatinger introduced a grass-fed Wagyu burger, more house-made pasta options (think: fettuccine with duck confit), and house-smoked pork ribs, as well as buttermilk fried chicken, tacos, and chicken, veal, and eggplant parm. It worked, he says, and “our famous sangria to-go” didn’t hurt. The new offerings have found a home on the in-house and takeout menus (save the fried chicken and tacos), and Unico’s signature craft cocktails complement them nicely, too, no matter where the meal is consumed.
For Peter Kelly, celebrated chef/owner of this exquisite gem on the water, stay-at-home guidelines presented a nearly paralyzing challenge: “I hadn’t done takeout before at X2O.” Yet, within a week, he was preparing family meal packages that included soup, salad, and a whole roasted chicken with truffle potato purée, along with a few fresh-baked cookies on the house. “Takeout was doing something good for the community and keeping a few people employed; we didn’t see it as a viable business plan.” Yet, even as indoor dining capacity steadily increased, customers continued to crave the fruits of Kelly’s down-home pivot. “Guests were asking about the family meals, so we added them back to the menu” — right there next to his shellfish crêpe and grilled Portuguese octopus with green papaya.