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GABBY PEYTON: DIY meals: an unexpected pivot for restaurants during COVID-19

The take-home pizza kits from Piatto Pizzeria and Enoteca is just one of the restaurants retooling their establishments and offerings in order to sustain business and keep staff employed. GABBY PEYTON PHOTO
The take-home pizza kits from Piatto Pizzeria and Enoteca is just one of the restaurants retooling their establishments and offerings in order to sustain business and keep staff employed. GABBY PEYTON PHOTO

Even on its worst nights, a restaurant is a well-oiled machine.

Hosts manage walk-ins and reservations at the front (with a smile) while servers weave through a minefield of tables delivering cocktails, appetizers, an extra fork, more water.

In the back, cooks do their nightly tango in tight quarters while dishwashers are up to their elbows in the pit. It’s not always pretty, but our favourite local spots always get it done. 

As the weeks turn into months, restaurant restrictions in Atlantic Canada due to COVID-19 have forced local establishments to think outside the box. Creative approaches to take out and pressure on government entities to allow the sale of alcohol for delivery have helped, but when a crisis occurs, that well-oiled machine can’t just change on a dime — a dishwasher cannot become a microwave.

Do-it-yourself kits are an unexpected pivot many restaurants have been forced to make in order to make ends meet. Without adequate kitchen space to safely distance their employees or the budget to pay staff for a full-menu take-away, some restaurants have started to offer the ingredients of their star dishes so patrons can cook their favourite meals at home. 

Newfoundland and Labrador’s restaurants are a minimum of four weeks away from any type of in-house dining according to the alert levels projected by health officials and many eateries in St. John’s have rapidly retooled. Manna European Bakery & Deli reformatted their entire dining space to accommodate social distancing practices and are offering DIY sandwich kits. The Isolation Kit comes with two loaves of bread, a plethora of deli meat and cheese along with pastries and coffee beans, while the Ultimate Breaded Chicken kit comes with the fixings for four of their most popular sandwiches, along with four cronuts.

Piatto Pizzeria + Enoteca has been selling their DIY pizza kits since they teamed up with local restaurant-cum-deli Chinched back in January. Since the restaurant restrictions came down, they’re offering pizza kits for four of their most popular pies, along with salads, pasta and desserts, which are available at their St. John’s, Halifax and Charlottetown locations in addition to a variety of grocery stores in Atlantic Canada. Piatto has also renovated the front facade of the Duckworth Street location in St. John’s in order to facilitate contactless pickup after weeks of that location being closed.

With no firm plan in place for dining room reopenings in Nova Scotia, many of Halifax’s restaurants have reshaped their fare options as well. Award-winning Bar Kismet is selling pasta kits to regulars craving their handmade noodles comprised of ricotta gnocchi with pomodoro sauce, sweet potato agnolotti with brown butter sauce, or cavatelli with tuna puttanesca.

Though the ever-popular wine bar Little Oak is closed, they’re offering a shrimp dumpling kit with ponzu dashi and crunchy chilli sauce which can be picked up at their sister restaurant, The Ostrich Club.

Bars and restaurants have been closed on P.E.I since March 17 and with the possibility of indoor dining at least a month away many seasonal restaurants are reconfiguring before they are even open for the 2020 summer season.

Alex’s Ice Cream in Summerside reopened the last week of April, converted into a drive-through, while in Charlottetown the PEI Brewing Company, owned by Murphy Hospitality Group (MHG), is the stronghold for MHG’s online grocery store, offering everything from potato chips and wheels of local gouda to Chef Adam’s Bolognese and Gahan House’s cheese dip so you can recreate your fave meals at home.

We’re all counting down the days until we can visit our favourite restaurants again, but thanks to the creative thinking of local chefs and owners, take-home meal kits offer the next best thing.

Gabby Peyton is a freelance food writer based in St. John’s. You can reach her by email at [email protected] or via Twitter and Instagram @gabbypeytoneats.

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