Eateries eager for region’s reopening

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As Oneida County enters its first phase of economic reopening after months of a pandemic-related shutdown, some area restaurants are ready to fire up the burners and skillets.

It’s been a long two months for local eateries, as many have had to adjust their business style to the situation, offering take-out or curbside orders. Others unable to make the accommodations, and those who made the decision to “stay safe” and ride out the storm, have been forced to shutter their doors.

Although social distancing rules remain in place, the gradual economic reopening has been met with optimism by many area business owners.

DiCastro’s offers takeout
and curbside pickup

“We wanted to let everyone stay safe and for us to stay safe and let it play out,” said Lisa DiCastro, co-owner of DiCastro’s Brick Oven Pizza at 615 Erie Blvd. W. “Now that it seems like we’re getting closer with Gov. Cuomo’s announcement — now we can start getting our toes back in the water and get everything back in operation, as safe as it needs to be.”

Starting Friday, DiCastro’s will offer take-out and curbside pickup dinners for the first time since social distancing and other requirements were mandated by the state due to the pandemic. There will be a limited menu, and customers can check out what’s available on social media or at dicastrosbrickoven.com.

Although the restaurant will be open at 11 a.m. for prep work and cooking, orders will be taken from 4-8 p.m. For now, pickup and curbside will be available Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

“We’re implementing hand sanitizer centers” inside the restaurant, as well as social distancing protocols, “and we can walk dinners out,” Lisa DiCastro explained. “We’re waiting to see what the guidelines will be from the state to know what to do for dine-in. Right now we’re thinking our outdoor space could be an area, or avenue, people can enjoy, and we’re making use out of that space and have the space to expand.”

She said, “You gotta do things correctly, and we thought the smartest move when this hit, was to stay home and stay safe. We were always more classified as dine-in, but now I think we’re getting closer” to a gradual re-opening, “so take-out is a start.”

Although there will be a limited menu for the time-being, DiCastro said it’s still “pretty extensive,” offering a variety of gluten-free choices as well.

“We’re very happy to keep that in play,” said DiCastro as for the gluten-free meals.

For ordering and paying, “You can do pre-payment by telephone. We’ve always had options in place over the phone if they don’t want to worry about coming inside” the restaurant, she said. “There will probably be just one person handling the transaction,” and inside the restaurant for pickup, “all the proper social distancing stations are in place, and we’ll have signs to let people know we want you to have masks on if you’re coming in, and to please observe social-distancing requirements.”

After not being able to feed loyal patrons and see a friendly face at the restaurant for some time, DiCastro said they’re excited they will be up and running again.

“It’s good. We’re happy to be there for people,” she said. “The response through social media has been heart-warming. We appreciate that customers have respected our decision, and that they’ve been helping out other local restaurants and businesses during this time as well.”

Creativity flows at Villa Verona with curbside entertainment

Villa Verona Vineyard at 4914 Route 365 in Verona completely adjusted its business model, switching to hand sanitizer production, as well as offering bottles of its sweet whites and bold reds made on-site. In addition to selling the sanitizer, the winery also donated 4-ounce bottles to first responders, non-profit groups and members of the media.

Thursday through Saturday, May 14-16, Villa Verona is celebrating the lifting of some restrictions with its Curbside Live concert series. Local musicians Phil Arcuri, Tim Creaser and Mark Macri will perform on the patio, weather-permitting, as patrons can drive into the parking lot and listen from their cars.

There will also be food-to-go, or audience members for the concerts can eat inside their vehicles. Owner MaryJo Beach said customers will get a 2-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer with their orders, as well as a coupon for a free wine tasting once the bistro is able to re-open.

The menu will include an array of dishes, from burgers, fish fries and steak sandwiches, to duck and hog wings, and edamame dumplings. There will also be Nutella Bites and strawberry shortcake offered for dessert.

As far as hand sanitizer at the winery, Beach said production has halted.

“We have nine gallons left and we’re not making any more. The cost of alcohol has quadrupled in last few weeks, and that would be impossible to pass on to the consumer,” she said. “We did give away 75 gallons to first responders and essentials, so we’re really proud of that.”

The owner said she hopes area residents can get out and enjoy some music and good food, even though customers are unable to sit inside the bistro at this time.

“Music will be live and you can eat in your car,” Beach said, adding that bottles of wine to-go will be available for purchase as well, such as the Bistro Red, 50 Shades of Red, Cayuga White and “Miss Sassy Pants.”

“I know some restaurants have been doing curbside, but we’re known more for our winery than our bistro, so we closed our doors,” she said. “But now it feels great to put my employees back on the payroll.”

In June, Beach said she hopes to bring back a barbecue-themed night on Thursdays to Villa Verona, that would feature barbecued chicken dishes and steamed clams, with outside seating at the back of the bistro.

International flavor inside and out at Gardner’s Farm to Table

In an idea to bring food diversity to downtown Rome last year, Shelly Gardner, owner of Gardner’s Farm to Table restaurant at 401 W. Dominick St., thought to invite local food trucks to her property to create a daily outdoor food court collective as area residents look for more food options.

Originally the plan was to provide food diversity in the neighborhood. Flashing ahead to this spring, it now provides an opportunity for some eateries to remain in business during the current restrictive climate.

Gardner said the idea of launching from 4 to 8 p.m. this Thursday and Friday is solving a problem for some local food truck owners. The following week, the trucks are expected at the site Wednesday through Friday, Gardner said.

Because of coronavirus guidelines and restrictions expected to be in place over the next weeks and months, “fairs and gatherings are not going to happen,” Gardner explained.

In the warmer months, it is those gatherings that help food trucks generate revenue.

Gardner said the takeout food experience will include Greek, Mexican, Thai and barbecue foods, in addition to her own soul food from her kitchen.

“This has never been done...I just want to create a fab space,” she said.

As the new venture launches, Gardner adds that social distancing guidelines will be practiced. Gardner’s restaurant itself will be open noon to 8 p.m. Thursday, while the food trucks will be on site from 4-8 p.m.

For more information including future expansions of hours and food truck offerings, visit Gardners Farm to Table on Facebook.

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