“Surreal” is the word I hear most often to describe life these days. The stay-at-home rules are producing positive results where they are being practiced, but there are still essential activities that one must engage in. Like eating.
That means either grocery shopping (with or without delivery) or takeout.
For a restaurant that engages in primarily dine-in service, dinners to go could be less than ideal. Crisp onion rings become soggy. Delicately sautéed fish fillets fall apart into a great tasting but unattractive mound. Cold dishes get warm and warm dishes become cold. And no matter how beautifully plated a dinner might be, served in Styrofoam it loses its attractiveness.
The solution is to stick with venues that already include takeout on at least some level. But because you want to support your favorite upscale restaurant, checking its specials or asking the chef or owner what will travel well is a good idea. Purchasing a gift certificate for yourself or for someone you care about also puts dollars in the cash register.
On an afternoon promising to reach a picnic temperature of almost 70 degrees, a friend stopped by to join me on the deck (at a 6-foot distance of course) for an adult beverage. Hungry, we decided to order from Backyard BBQ, which I had visited in a past lifetime of fewer restrictions. My recollection was positive.
Backyard BBQ on Mohawk Avenue in Scotia is a small, unpretentious restaurant with an unpretentious menu. Serving food from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., smaller items such as burgers, hot dogs and wings are served all day, while dinners like St. Louis ribs are served from 4-7.
The brief menu consists of items one might enjoy at, well, a backyard barbecue. Since their ribs would not be ready until 4:30, we placed our order by phone to correspond to that time.
In an effort to sample as many dishes as possible without being wasteful, we skipped the smaller items and ordered three dinners: BBQ pulled pork ($11.95); seasoned fried chicken ($12.95 for a leg and thigh); and a half rack of St. Louis ribs ($16.95). Other dinners include pulled chicken ($10.95) and beef brisket ($13.95, available Friday and Saturday only).
Our courier reported that the door to the restaurant had been locked. An employee came to the door, requested his name and delivered the appropriate bags (plastic!). A credit card number had been submitted over the phone, but an appropriate tip was left in an envelope a couple of days later when it was discovered it had been accidentally forgotten the day the food was ordered.
Dinners include the same sides with no substitutions. BBQ’s macaroni and cheese was among the best I have ever enjoyed. It was moist with real cheddar flavor and in no way resembled a melted cheese product poured over pasta. Collard greens were chopped into approximately 1-inch squares and sautéed with a hint of spiciness (cloves?) and bits of bacon or pork for smoky flavor. To round out the meal, an ample wedge of moist cornbread wrapped in foil was included.
The fried chicken was a winner — moist inside a crispy but not greasy coating. While I am not a huge fan of any variety of pulled meat (perhaps it is the texture or appearance that I have difficulty with), I nevertheless found the flavor of the pulled pork agreeable.
At the top of the list were the ribs. Served dry (naked) or wet (glazed), our order of sauced ribs was as close to perfect as ribs could be. A half rack consisted of about six meaty ribs smoked and with grill lines. Browned but moist, the meat did not fall off the bones, but was easily separated from them.
We had thought about ordering a side of cold potato salad ($3.95 small, $4.95 large) and an order of hot baked beans ($3.95 small, $5.95 large), but decided to try them another time. Banana pudding and cupcake ($3 each) were also on the menu, but we sensibly followed our instincts not to over-order.
I continue to hope that we and the restaurants we know and love will survive the pandemic, and that regardless of which side of the counter one is standing, we all do what is necessary to stay healthy.