The Great Outdoors
With new restrictions, restaurants can survive in the sunshine
By Greg Sabin
First thing you should know, I’m writing this in early May. Restaurants have not reopened for on-site dining. Life has not returned to anything resembling normal. And, from this point of view, a few weeks behind your current perspective, it doesn’t look like we’ll be gathering in large crowds anywhere anytime soon.
My friends in the restaurant industry have been hit harder than almost any other group during the pandemic. The well-loved institutions that have stayed open by offering take-out and delivery have done so with skeleton crews and shoestring budgets.
When restrictions lift, they will not lift completely. And even if they did, diners will not likely return in the same numbers. It will require thoughtful consideration by restaurant owners and diners to find a reasonable compromise between capacity and safety for all involved.
With all that said, it seems glaringly obvious that eateries with plenty of outdoor dining and drinking accommodations will be the quickest to adjust to space restrictions, and the easiest for diners to feel comfortable in. Here are a few options for the summer, when hopefully we’ll be able to safely and sparsely convene in the sunshine to make as merry as we can given the circumstances.
Randall Selland’s various fast casual outlets in Downtown, East Sacramento and El Dorado Hills have plenty of outdoor seating and convivial surroundings. The predictable menu of hot and cold favorites, such as herb salmon and teriyaki chicken, complement the impressive pizza offerings and indulgent dessert case. Each restaurant offers order ahead options online or over the phone.
DRAKES: THE BARN
With more than 2 acres of room to roam, this unique space perched on the river in West Sacramento seems like the logical place to grab a sip and a bite without having to be shoulder to shoulder with your neighbor. Exceptional New Haven-style pizza, made with thin crust and bold toppings, pairs well with Drake’s award-winning beers.
Other local beer specialists with large outdoor spaces and great menus include Urban Roots Brewing & Smokehouse at 14th and V streets, Oak Park Brewing Co. at 35th Street and Broadway, and The Shack at Folsom Boulevard and 52nd Street.
The singular team of Deneb Williams and Elizabeth-Rose Mandalou have the distinct privilege of holding down one of the most convivial restaurant spaces in all of Sacramento. Elegantly perched on the five-way corner of Del Paso Boulevard and Arden Way, the Woodlake Tavern boasts well-appointed indoor/outdoor dining options. Fully renovated and welcoming as all get out, the inviting courtyard offers plenty of space for socially distant dining.
On top of the physical space itself, the menu excels in almost every area, from casual barbecue dishes (the ribs are ridiculous) to upscaled cocktails and spot-on desserts. Curbside pick-up and delivery are available.
This might be wishful thinking, but picturing me and my wife, with maybe another special couple (you know who you are), seated under the sheltering branches of The Firehouse’s majestic oak while the mini lights twinkle and the fine dining fare comes smoothly out of the kitchen feels like a bit of Sacramento perfection.
The Firehouse courtyard was made for cool evenings. Between the Delta breeze and the clatter of surrounding Old Sacramento, I can’t think of anywhere that sings of our city’s past and present like this space.
SCOTT’S SEAFOOD GRILL & BAR
Let’s not forget some of the most scenic and spacious spots in town—those destinations on the river. Go to Scott’s Seafood on Riverside Boulevard for roomy and picturesque dining away from the business of town. The macadamia nut-crusted seabass is still a favorite.
Also, check out some floating treats at Crawdads on the River on Garden Highway for casual fare just feet from the water. Or make the short trek to The Virgin Sturgeon, also on Garden Highway. The food is homey and the spirit is undeniable.
To be honest, when and how some of these restaurants will reopen is still up in the air. But as we all look forward to better times ahead, keep in mind that things change daily. Make sure to call ahead to any restaurant you wish to patronize. Help support your local businesses. We will all get through this together.