Dining at a Distance

Exploring the “new normal” of dining, one East Bay eatery at a time

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The past few months have been a bizarre whirlwind for most of us. When COVID-19 became a household name, few industries got rocked as hard as the culinary scene. Restaurants were forced to close immediately. Dining establishments scrambled to adjust to a world where takeout was the only option and would-be patrons were understandably hesitant about ordering food in any capacity.

But after months of innovative, dedicated restaurateurs figuring out various ways to roll with the punches, we are finally finding our way back to normal – and we’re here to give you an inside look on what to expect as you venture back out into the world of wining and dining (with all necessary precautions, of course).

“It’s been busier, everyone’s excited to get out there,” says Peter Cabral, co-owner alongside Marissa Ferris, of The Wharf (215 Water Street, Warren). If you’re looking to forget your troubles for a little while and appreciate the world around you, I recommend watching the sun go down from their deck, where tables are already so far apart that you won’t even notice the guidelines affecting your dining experience. “[Customers] are conscious about social distancing,” adds Ferris. Plus, the highly anticipated rooftop bar came just in time for the outdoor dining boom. The Wharf is seeing the results of a cooped-up community finally getting the chance to come out of hibernation: “The biggest challenge that we see is overwhelming reservations!” says Cabral.

The magic of Seven Stars Bakery (20 Newman Avenue, Rumford) can’t be overstated. With a table set up in their entranceway, they’re pleasantly fulfilling online orders. This was actually one of my favorite experiences back out in the world: I had preordered a Vermont Cheddar Sourdough and a Honey Latte, and as I walked up and waited near the door, that’s when I saw it: People. Sitting outside. Drinking coffee. As I joked with my good friend and sipped my latte, amongst other people doing the exact same thing, the world felt like it was falling back into place (even if I did eat my pastry on the way home in the car like some kind of sophisticated version of the Cookie Monster).

La Piñata (520 Main Street, Warren) is the town’s newest Mexican restaurant, opened pre-pandemic in place of India. “La Piñata has a great outdoor space,” my friend and fellow podcaster Craig Depina (Needless to Say) explains. “I personally wouldn’t have felt comfortable [eating] indoors at this time. They did a great job at spacing everything out without it actually feeling spaced out. It felt great to finally be out enjoying a meal and a few margaritas in the sun.” He also recommends the “awesome” paella.

Okay, the Comedy Connection (39 Warren Avenue, East Providence) isn’t a restaurant per se, but RI’s premier comedy club recently enjoyed a triumphant return. Brian Beaudoin was the headliner for the club’s first weekend back in operation and he tore the house – er, outdoor tent – down at an appropriate distance, of course. The comedy club vibe was strong, even without the elbows-touching-elbows closeness. We comfortably ate cheesy tater tots, drank Whalers, and enjoyed a great night out for the first time in months – so I’m counting it as a dining experience!

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