By Liz Johnson
As the cold weather begins to roll in and the spread of COVID remains unrelenting, Hunterdon County restaurants are finding creative ways to keep diners happy.
The state’s restaurants are currently capped at 25 percent capacity for indoor seating, a restriction that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.
“We will continue to serve outside as long as our guests are up to dealing with the elements,” said Rose DiMaro Carbonaro, owner of the Lambertville Station, Hunterdon Happening List Winner for Best Outdoor Dining. “We will be adding a few more heaters to try and keep it as comfortable as possible. We are also ordering blankets the guests can purchase at costs.”
Likewise, the Frenchtown Inn just up the river, intends to keep its new riverside patio open with heaters throughout the winter, said owner Colleen Tomko.
This weekend’s unseasonably warm weather is allowing area restaurants keep their outdoor dining open a little while longer.
Beneduce Winery in Pittstown, Hunterdon Happening List Finalist for Best Winery, will host its weekly Group Therapy happy hour outdoors this weekend, which is likely the last one before the event is moved indoors to a converted greenhouse, said Amy Rose, tasting room manager.
“It will be a smaller event as we’ll be limiting it to 75 people. Outdoors, it’s closer to 400,” she said. Despite the COVID restrictions, the winery has fared well this year.
“I think we’ve sold out for probably 85% of the events we hosted,” she said.
Artie’s Bar and Grill in Frenchtown, Hunterdon Happening List Winner for Best Live Music Venue, will also be serving outdoors this weekend, with plans to add two heaters outside on the deck for anyone who comes out to watch the band, said Maria Battimelli.
She said the bar will host bands willing to play outdoors during the winter.
“It depends on who wants to play,” she said. “It’s all up in the air.
American Spirits Roadhouse in Asbury, 2019 Hunterdon Happening List Winner for Best Live Music Venue, will be hosting drive-in movie nights throughout the winter, offering fare from food trucks such as Oink and Moo barbecue, said owner Pete D’Acosta.
“People like that because every weekend there’s something different,” he said.
Harper’s Table in Clinton, Hunterdon Happening List Winner for Best Beer Bar, is also offering drive-in movies with a special menu, two screens and an outdoor bar. The next one is scheduled for Nov. 12, featuring the film Dirty Dancing.
The Clean Plate Kitchen in Clinton is planning to launch a takeout dinner subscription service. Members would place their orders by Sunday evening, deciding what they’d like to eat and which night they want it delivered.
“The idea is you could have your meal delivered to your doorstep and within three minutes it’s ready to eat,” said Anthony Piazza, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife Nicole.
Customers can also order groceries from its market, including local honey, popcorn, roasted coffee beans, hot sauces, kimchi and locally sourced meats.
Every order of $60 or more comes with a free, insulated bag and ice packs (there’s a $15 fee for the option for smaller orders). And for every order over $100, the restaurant will donate a meal to the Flemington Food Pantry, he said.
“This could be a silver lining,” said Piazza, whose restaurant had prepared 50 meals for the food pantry this past week. “We may be able to segue into a totally sustainable, rewarding business.”