Sneeze Guards or Germs: Which Is Worse?

Now that the holidays are upon us and we’re feeling all touchy-feely, we decided to revisit one of our favorite topics. Germs.

I know we’re supposed to be all supportive of the work of the Westchester County Department of Health, but sometimes its requirements run counter to the proper enjoyment of food. Take
Antipasti in White Plains, for instance. Its cool, Carerra-marbled antipasti bar is all about “interactive dining,” to borrow Union Square Hospitality Group’s David Swinghamer’s phrase. Sitting in the front row, diners are supposed to be engaged in the sensual pleasures of food—the smells, the sights, the slicing and shucking. Great—but it doesn’t really work with fascistic US Department of Health Codes.

Antipasti’s sneeze guard is an impenetrable, inch-thick barrier that separates diners from the action. The spectacle might as well be on The Food Channel. Sure, Antipasti has always been one of those restaurants that you either love or hate. Some love its loud music and guiding abbondanza aesthetic, where 50 types of wines by the glass are joined by a wide, totally visible spread of attractively arrayed antipasti. It’s got a fun vibe, but for us, there were always problems. Primarily, we hate that sneeze guard.

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Sneeze guards only make us more aware of the ballistic pattern of spray emitting from other people’s orifices. Look, we’ve haunted the pintxos bars of San Sebastián, where the plates are offered right on top of the bar next to people drinking, smoking, and braying with laughter. You know what? It’s wonderful. You smell the food when it is placed next to you. You hear the snap and crackle of it cooking. You don’t flinch when the guy next to you sneezes. You simply say bless you in Basque.

Antipasti’s goal of an overwhelming sensual impact was always gutshot by the Health Department. For instance, what is the point of the visible salumi selection if all the meats are wrapped in Saran and stacked in a glass-fronted fridge? You might as well be in the grocery store. Ditto the chilled, sneeze-guarded, pre-deep-fried antipasti spread and dead, plastic-wrapped cheeses. Why even bother? Look, I love looking at Antipasti’s sexy red enameled slicer, but it looks so lonely without the bony legs of prosciutto arrayed on the marble alongside it. Unrefrigerated. Dangerously at room temp. Call us adrenaline junkies, but yum – I’ll take a sneeze over cold fior de latte and prosciutto, anyday.

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