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6.15.2020

Dining During COVID19: Tampa Bay Area Restaurants Doing It Right

It was pretty jarring coming from DC, where we just started Phase One re-opening to Tampa which has kind of seemed like a free-for-all. I've been looking for resources to find places that are taking safety seriously and having a hard time finding a one-stop-shop, so I'm creating one myself. Here's my personal threshold for what feels safer right now (I'm writing this in June 2020, as coronavirus is surging in Florida.)

My COVID19 Restaurant Safety Parameters:

  • Outdoor Seating, Distanced: In Florida, restaurants can operate legally indoors with reduced capacity. But, I can tell you, my jaw dropped when I picked up my first takeout order. The bar was full of people, the seats were full and zero people were wearing masks. After I started breathing steadily again, I realized, that's beyond what I'm up for and what I feel is safe. But, I *am* totally ok with outdoor seating since the virus has not been traced back to any outdoor spaces.
  • Safe Takeout Options: I'm staying with my parents and they aren't interested in actually going to restaurants, so a lot of what we are doing is takeout and delivery. I've found that when you go to pick up your food, there are scalable options. On one end of the spectrum, I walked inside to pick up a to-go order and there was hand sanitizer on the bar by the to-go pick up sign, but the staff wasn't masked and it felt like if you were at-risk, that may not have been safe. On the other end, we've had restaurants where you pre-ordered online and had curbside pick up where my Dad popped the trunk and the masked server put it in the car for him. Easy peasy. 
  • Staff Wearing Masks: This is a no-brainer for me. I get that guests are rogue here, but it's important to me that we try to protect the restaurant servers and staff (most of whom do not have employer-provided health insurance if they get sick.) When I wear a mask, it's not for me... it's to try to protect those workers, my friends and the people I'm coming into contact with. 
  • Clearly Defined Safety Procedures on Website: It's reassuring to know the steps restaurants are taking to keep their team and guests safe. It's one of the ways I decide where I'm going to order from or visit. 
So, who's been doing it right? I'll update this along the way. If you've got recommendations, let me know and I'll check them out. 

PLACES THAT WE GOT TAKE OUT/DELIVERY
Pane Rustica in Palma Ceia
This has so far been the hands-down best experience *and taste* that we've experienced in the Tampa take-out scene. Easy online ordering system followed by a contactless curbside pickup. You can get pre-prepared meals (like this spicy sausage rigatoni that we got) in single servings or family-style for four people. And their famous espresso cookies come pre-baked or in bake at home kits for that fresh gooey perfection. If you want to eat on-site, they also have outdoor distanced tables and their team was wearing masks.
Baked Rigatoni at Pane Rustica in Palma Ceia
Forbici Modern Italian in Hyde Park Village
Forbici had done a wonderful job of communicating with its audience through Instagram. So, before I even landed in town, I knew they were taking their staff and guest health seriously. I ordered the Cups and Char Pepperoni Pizza for takeout. Pick up is in a separate door that makes it easy to separate from the dining crowd. The staff was wearing masks and moved efficiently. They have a huge (72 seats!) outdoor dining tent, if you want to be safe and eat there. And, they have been very transparent when someone tests positive - relaying their safety protocols and contact tracing. All that, and the pizza is so damn good.

Cups and Char Pizza from Forbici Modern Italian
Cappy's Pizzeria in Winthrope Town Centre
We sent my Dad out to pick up the pizza and Greek salad and then I grilled him about the procedure when he got back. All good news. The contactless pickup was seamless, the staff had masks on, *and* they have an outdoor dining area that you can reserve. Win, win, win. Plus, the pizza and salads are great.
Cappy's Pizzeria TakeOut

Moreno Bakery in Brandon
Cafe con leche and Cuban toast is my favorite breakfast, so I needed to hunt some down to make it through a Monday morning. Moreno restored my faith in humanity. When I walked in, I was so glad to see the staff and most of the guest were wearing masks. There's enough space in the bakery that all of the guests were distanced. They had signage up to remind people of the precautions. And, even though I took mine to-go, they had distanced tables outside. Another win, win win. 
Cafe con leche and Cuban bread at Moreno Bakery

Fusion Bowl in Tampa
I met one of my friend's for an outdoor lunch at her neighborhood pool and we got delivery from Fusion Bowl via UberEats. Our driver was masked and gloved, and timely. The food was fresh, tasty and massive. I got the shrimp bun bowl and a summer roll. 

Shrimp Bun Bowl from Fusion Bowl

Michelle Faedo's TampaƱo Cuisine in Downtown Tampa
Cuban sandwiches outside of Tampa don't count. So, whenever I'm home, I try to eat as many as possible. My running fave is from Faedo's, so I picked up one to split with my friend as we at lunch outside by her pool. I looked up the menu on their website and called it in. Pickup was pretty seamless. You could call them and they would come out and do contactless curbside. I went inside and they had a lot of signage and awareness about distancing for the line (though only one other guest was there when I was.) One note, the team wore masks, but they were either askew or didn't have their noses covered. That's not really how this works. But, I dealt with the same thing in DC at restaurants and grocery stores and so I think it's more about public education and adaptation of new behaviors. I appreciated that they even had them on and were ready to cover. The counter also had predictions, so that kept the potential spread down. And, per usual, the Cuban sandwich rocked.
Cuban Sandwich from Faedo's

More to come.

And, let's be clear. I miss restaurants like crazy. When it's safe, I can't wait to jam into tables, run the menu and flirt with the bartenders. Bring it on. Once we've got a vaccine. 


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