Feasting, COVID-19 style

From burgers and fries to foie gras, one Philadelphia diner has had his fill of area eateries due to the pandemic. | Image provided

As coronavirus moves along, Philly’s restaurants have had to survive through the clever curbside pick-up menus and inventive take-out and delivery packages.

Not including eateries long trafficking in take-out, many of Philly’s 6,000 restaurants are thrown into new versions of themselves, as they enter a fresh culinary fray. Imagining the chefs at Jean-Georges or Fork preparing value meals with their usual culinary language is inspiring. But, how could anyone – even the most active dining-out connoisseur – get to every specially packaged meal?

Michael McCue does.

Retired from restaurant work – front and back of house jobs for Jose Garces, Al Paris, etc. – McCue is currently employed by Broad Street Pharmacy with a full tank of gas and a curious, epicurean appetite. On a daily, heck, twice-daily, basis (“lunch and dinner,” says McCue, who has a working wife and a golden retriever at home to feed) for the last eight weeks – around 112 meals, so far, has hit the curbside and opened his door to delivery. A lot. McCue has and can be seen, driving around with his top-down and his mask up, snapping up daily specials like a kid in a candy store.

PW: Did you get sick of cooking and started ordering take out, or did curbside menu options blossom?
Michael McCue: Both. I also felt strongly about helping out restaurants because I know how hard the business is to make a profit. I wanted to help them stay around instead of being forced to close due to lack of money. Plus, Yana (McCue’s wife) and I have very different tastes and it was hard to find a place we could go out and eat at that we would both enjoy equally. Now it is easier to go grab something she wants at one restaurant, and I can get what I would like from somewhere else, that way everyone is happy. Kipper can get what he likes too.

Today is May 14. What can you say about how many times you’ve dined out, and what’s been spent since March 17?
A lot of times I will order more than needed for one meal so I can eat the leftovers or extra entrees I ordered at another meal, so I do have a lot of things in the fridge or freezer. There are also times when I will just eat a lunch meal or just a dinner meal, so I don’t always have both every day, and on days I have three courses pre-ordered, I will skip lunch or just have a sandwich or taco. Last week was a big week with Bibou, Fante’s, Fiorella, June and Fond, and it cost a little over $400. Everyone is charging around $35 per packaged meal. It’s like Restaurant Week, every week.

What have been the best meals?
That’s tough. They were all the best. Bibou, June, Caffe Chicco, Angelo’s Pizzeria and Porco’s Porchetteria stand out because they have been consistently amazing. I was kind of disappointed with Ralph’s because I had fond memories of how good I remembered it to be, and Fiorella’s because of the hype around Marc Vetri and his pasta and sauces. Weird that the Italian joints would be my disappointments when I pretty much live on Italian food.

For some like Michael McCu, the pandemic has made for the appropriate time to check out (literally) some of the best cuisines the city has to offer. | Image provided

Who and what chef-restaurants offer the best, most diverse and tastiest options?
Bibou, June and Pumpkin are the top three that I check every week to see what three-course meals they have going on, and June has offered some really affordable a la carte options that have turned out to be excellent.

Is there any chef who hasn’t opened their doors to take out that you’re long to try?
Nick Elmi at Laurel and Chad Williams at Fri, Sat, Sunday. Also Greg Vernick at Vernick Fish. There are others that just have pick-up after 5 p.m. when I don’t have wheels.

Would you say that – though tragic – this pandemic has been the very best opportunity for chefs to show their stuff and for diners to try them out?
I enjoy tasting and learning about different cuisines and techniques, so trying places that I always wanted to get to was inviting. Especially since I hate going out once I get home from work. Now, I could pre-order meals and pick them up before I came home or get them delivered when available.

Final thoughts?
I’m enjoying how the restaurants have adjusted, and that I have more access to them as many are open during the day when I’m driving. Being a sociopath, I can eat at home by myself without dealing with crowds. For me, it is all about the food, flavors, different tastes and textures. Now, that I’m older and would rather be comfortable than getting decked out and taking in a restaurant’s atmosphere – a large part of the experience as well as how service can make or break one’s opinion – I’m liking the options available because of the shutdown. Trying to do my part to help hard-working chefs has made it convenient for me to try places that I wanted to get too but never got around to it, especially if it allows me to avoid supermarkets. The hardest part is deciding where to eat, some days, by the time I make up my mind, I’m no longer hungry or it’s too close to dinner.

  • A.D. Amarosi's Headshot

    A.D. Amorosi is an award-winning journalist who, along with working for the Philadelphia Weekly, writes regularly for Variety, Jazz Times, Flood and Wax Poetics, and hosts and co-produces his own SoundCloud-charting radio show, Theater in the Round for Pacifica National Public Radio station WPPM 106.5 FM and WPPM.org.

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