Happy meals are here again as a restaurant embraces the great outdoors | Pamela’s Food Service Diary – SILive.com

Restaurant News

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — In Phase 3 of the pandemic Rob DeLuca’s first restaurant venture at DeLuca’s Italian Restaurant has struck a new high. The outdoor dining gig has been a stunning development for the three-year old business, adding to it a fresh new dimension.

Rob DeLuca
Rob DeLuca of DeLuca’s Italian Restaurant, Tottenville, tweaks his backyard dining. (Staten Island Advance/Pamela Silvestri)

Rob embraces the summer setting and planted tomatoes and herbs around the backyard “dining room.” Here he built a wooden stanchion to even out the parking lot surface. He tented the space, added strands of white lights and will install a chandelier under the temporary shelter. The entrance to the alfresco area is bordered by trelliswork and a pergola entrance.

Specials with squash blossoms, crisp salads and seasonal veggies mark the menu.

He feels the key to the new sit-down world in the pandemic is to keep tables well-spaced apart and ensure servers wear masks.

But it’s not all sunshine and roses, says Rob. And as flourishing as the dinner scene appears, there have been glitches — like a flash rain storm or two.

What does a proprietor do in such stormy times during these pandemic days?

“The weather is a big factor. It’s like we play chicken with the rain — do we set up the tables? Break them down? Saturday was tough — we had all these reservations for people. Then, 6:30 p.m. all of a sudden the sky opens up,” said Rob. He moved as many patrons as possible under the tent and put others under the front patio awning.

When the rain stopped, the restaurant kicked back into action. The kitchen crew recooked their food. Rob pushed the reservations back.

“It wasn’t fun,” said Rob with a laugh.

One day the restaurant business will resume again with indoor dining, he said.

“Day by day, step by step, it’s a process. We’re preparing right now for September or October,” said Rob. By that time he hopes for a minimum of 75 percent allowed in the building.

If people also can stay outside to enjoy food and drink, he says, “Then we’ll be OK.”

Rob DeLuca of DeLuca’s Italian Restaurant, Tottenville, tweaks his backyard dining. (Staten Island Advance/Pamela Silvestri)

Some good things have come from the pandemic, said Rob. For one thing, he found a new camaraderie with fellow food service mavens going through the same ups and downs. Together they’ve weathered the to-go only formats and the curveballs of delivery service as they’ve never experienced before. In this band of brethren Rob and pals formed I.R.O.A.R., a group of restaurants dedicated to reopening more quickly than politicians were prognosticating.

The year 2020 has had its bumps. But Rob keeps looking forward.

“Oh, look at that,” he said pointing to giant signs on the building facade reminding that the restaurant does curbside pickup.

“I have to take those down,” he said. The backyard dining beckons. And the reservations right now are very steady.

On the other side of the Island, the hard seltzer flows. From the White Claw and Truly suds stacked in the aisles SuperFresh in Rosebank to the Ralph’s Ices collaboration with Flagship Brewing Co. in Tompkinsville, it’s the cool stuff of the Millennial gods.

Suddenly there comes Pastime Summer Ale from the borough brewer and social distancing on Minthorne Street with a few picnic tables on which to perch. Take that latter beer with a Jody’s Club Forest burger while sitting on the sidewalk in West Brighton and waving at friends driving by along Forest Avenue.

Beep. Beep. Hi!

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Looking back, in all honesty, several things kept me from losing my mind in the darkest part of the pandemic’s quarantine days. And that was nature continually going, for one thing. No matter what kind of crazy was happening in the world the flowers kept blooming on target — snowdrops begat daffodils, tulips and azaleas. Roses came in May and June. And now hydrangeas and tiger lilies keep blooming like clockwork. The garden is a whole other ball of wax with tomatoes ripening and cucumbers blowing up on the vine. It’s all really amazing to see the plants pushing forward all along, not mindful of politics or bad news or people’s hardships.

And in all this as earth still spins we just lost one of our last senior citizen chickens, one that my boys named “Coo” years ago. We’ve had this creature since my husband worked at the Decker Farm in New Springville.

It was a quiet sendoff by the boys — no six gun Nerf gun salute, Ave Marias or brotherly shoving matches. Andrew was particularly sad because he treated the bird like a pet. But that’s why there are flowers for us to enjoy — they perk up a world that otherwise can seem just brown and gray.

A little memorial to a good chicken named “Coo.”

Keep in touch.

Pamela Silvestri is Advance Food Editor. She can be reached at [email protected].

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