A Strange New World

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris June 18, 2020 08:14 in Dining Diary

Beginning in early May when restrictions eased a bit for restaurants, we started to go out. It’s not that we didn’t really enjoy being homebodies during lockdown, but dining out is a way of life here, and that’s just what we do.

The first place we went was to La Caretta on a Friday evening, the very first day it was allowed. I had seen our favorite Mexican place in the height of the shutdown, and it was just sad. The tables we frequented all pushed together, chairs on top of them, wait staff running food to cars wearing masks and gloves.

When we sat for the first time in months, we received chips in a paper bag and salsa in styrofoam cups. Waiters in sanitizing equipment. That too was sad, but a little less so than chairs on tables.

The next day Tom and I went to Mattina Bella for breakfast, Tom’s all-time favorite Saturday hangout. The Marys have La Caretta, and Tom his Saturday ritual. The scene was the same. People sitting at every other table, everyone wearing masks and gloves.

I felt sorry for the customers but even sorrier for the staff and owners at these places. Everyone is just trying their best to comply. I can’t imagine having to wear a mask every day at work. One waiter told us his lungs hurt. I believe it.

We stopped in for lunch at the English Tea Room and it’s a good thing there are lots of nooks and crannies there because it helps the restaurant keep to the guidelines for social distancing. There are enough outdoor tables here it was not too prohibitive.

It wasn’t until we had dinner at Annadele’s Plantation two weeks ago that dining in seemed even remotely “normal.” The dining room was small but none of the tables had been removed, and there were definitely no chairs on tables. The owners played all the roles, bartender, and waitress. The dining room was filled to its 25 percent "allotment," and the atmosphere was convivial. We loved this evening and felt like there was hope that we could enjoy dining in restaurants again.

We went to PePe’s in downtown Covington after that, and ate outside in the courtyard, where it was relaxed enough to feel somewhat “normal.” Only the masks were a reminder of the strange new world.

There was a breakfast I had in Metairie last week that was truly depressing, with nearly all the tables covered in chairs, and only one or two open for seating in the whole dining room. I wasn’t sure they were open at first glance.

At Vera’s yesterday it also looked busy, and kind of normal. It is representative of the ownership to see how they regulate the regulations. A fun little study.

Today we went to one of our big favorites, Keith Young’s, and left sad again. This is a very large place with several private dining rooms where customers can observe the distancing guidelines.

The normally full-to-capacity dining room was still full-to-capacity, but capacity meant that half the tables were just gone. Moved out.

The menu was different too. Dishes from Keith’s other place Crabby Shack down the road have turned up here. The big menu is scaled down. And on paper.

I love this handsome dining room and like to see all the tables filled with the buzz that creates. It was too quiet today. And the masks everywhere was a downer.

At New Orleans Food and Spirits we have been waiting for them to return to making their excellent chargrilled oysters. Still no. We were excited to see two tables in the front of the restaurant. It was actually quite nice to sit outside there and watch the cars go by on the street, and to see the waiters run out to cars. This seemed normal, even though they never have outdoor seating. We were disappointed when the tables returned to the dining room as Phase 2 started.

Sal & Judy’s last Friday had a situation similar to Keith’s, where all tables were filled, but there were less tables than usual.

My feelings of sadness or peace definitely depend on the individual scene. There are places where the staff is very lax about mask-wearing. I like this. Seems like old times. 

And I wonder if we will ever again feel like old times in these new times.