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Are we tired of the word “pivot” yet? It’s been almost a year since COVID-19 forced the province’s restaurants to shut down in-room dining for the better part of three months, followed by so many service swivels it’s making restauranteurs’ heads spin.
St. John’s restaurants have gone through a dizzying number of changes since March 2020. Pedestrian malls, outdoor dining, take-home cocktail kits, plexiglass booths, family-style takeout, closures. And yet, here we are in another lockdown trying to decide which of the countless delicious offerings we want to order for takeout.
On a snowy evening a few weeks back, my husband and I were trying to make our weekly decision of which local restaurant to order takeout from. But I looked out the window at the snow swirling around the street and I hesitated.
“Should we order delivery tonight? It looks a bit treacherous out there,” I pondered aloud. “I wouldn’t want to be driving out there.”
“They’re going to be out there anyway, so we might as well order,” my husband surmised. This interaction was followed by a heated (hanger-fueled) debate about the safety of delivery drivers and whether or not it was better for them to be out in the storm making money or be safe at home.
We ate Kraft Dinner for supper.
As consumers — both in the economical and gastronomical sense — we have a duty to understand how our takeout makes it to our front door. St. John’s restaurants have gone above and beyond in this yo-yo year to create amazing food for us but taking heed of their overhead is necessary. In our hanger haze, we sometimes forget that these people are also trying to sell a product: they are trying to make a living.
We forget that restaurants are a commodity and that the consumption of restaurant food makes you the consumer. Choosing to eat at a local restaurant and not at a chain is the equivalent of buying your niece’s birthday gift from a local shop instead of at Walmart.
By choosing to order your takeout from a local restaurant, you are choosing to “buy local” and you are supporting the local economy. But the same goes for the delivery service you opt for, and like any consumer, you need to be informed of the details. Widespread delivery services like Skip the Dishes or DoorDash take more than 30 per cent of the customer bill in commission fees from restaurants with already slim margins, which can make or break a local eatery.
New on the takeout scene in St. John’s is Goods to Go which takes less than 10 per cent. And those drivers out in the snow bringing you sushi and hamburgers? They only take home the $4-delivery fee and the tip you pop into a cube on your computer screen. The next time you think about supporting local restaurants — and I hope you do — take a pause to think about that gastronomic ecosystem and how it gets that delicious dish to your table.
As per current lockdown measures, St. John’s restaurants are only able to offer takeout meals, but once again they’re stepping up to the plate (and filling it with delicious food).
Last year I reviewed the newly Sinaing Home of Filipino Cuisine’s beautifully packaged Filipino dishes resting atop banana leaves, and now they’re offering up delicious lockdown specials featuring fried chicken and sweet spaghetti inspired by the Filipino fast-food favourite Jollibee.
I’ve eaten takeout from dozens of restaurants in the past year, and I’ll keep on downing dishes from Get Stuffed, Piatto, Toslow and more for the weeks to come.
For those wanting to spice up their quotidian takeout routine, here are a few that I’m really excited about.
No. 4 Restaurant and Bar on Cathedral Street is offering up a Pasta Night for Two in addition to their a la carte menu for takeout. This includes an appetizer cheese board to share with their housemade preserves, the choice of two main course pastas like spicy fennel sausage rigatoni or their famous mac and cheese with mornay sauce and toasted breadcrumbs, and a sweet dessert to finish. For full menu options and takeout information, you can check out their social media channels.
Seto has been consistently offering their diners’ favourites like their acclaimed vegetable fried rice and charred brussels sprouts with spicy honey, but the guys in the kitchen have also started a weekly pop-up pizza takeout called Prohibition Pizza.
The naturally-leavened sourdough pizzas come hot out of the Seto oven in huge rectangular slabs featuring classic pizza combos like pepperoni and mozza, but Prohibition Pizza is also serving up provocative pies like black garlic white sauce with goat cheese, caramelized onions and sesame or jalapeno garlic fingers with donair sauce. You can only order via their Instagram account.
Nam Jim is the newest pop-up restaurant to hit the dining scene in St. John’s, showcasing Newfoundland and Labrador’s bounty in Thai dishes. They started doing in-person dining at The Rocket, but since Alert 5 measures have been in place they’ve been popping up at restaurants around the city like Terre Restaurant & Cafe and Mickey’s Sandwich Co. — this weekend Nam Jim is serving up Thai soup star Khao Soi for takeout at Bannerman Brewing. To pre-order their Thai food, check out their Instagram account.
Gabby Peyton is a freelance food writer based in St. John’s.
You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @gabbypeytoneats.