Enjoying Your Party of One: 7 More Standout Spots for Solo Dining

Dining alone does not have to be a harried, self-conscious affair. These days, people dine alone for all sorts of good reasons. One of the best is the opportunity to eat at your own pace and fully take in the experience of the food and atmosphere around you. And while I often enjoy a seat at the bar, there is no reason not to ask for a table where one can have a more intimate experience.

If you find yourself too embarrassed to dine alone, don’t be. As evidenced by OpenTable’s list of 25 top spots for solo diners in America, there are restaurants that are adept at creating a delicious meal just for you. So skip the bad takeout in your apartment and the lukewarm hotel room service. There are thousands of restaurants on OpenTable that are quite happy to reserve your table for one. Below are seven more standout spots for solo dining.

Barking Crab, Boston, Massachusetts
The Barking Crab is a South Boston landmark and one of my favorite summer hotspots. For 21 years, they’ve been serving up New England seafood and microbrews in a casual clam shack setting that makes me yearn for summer all year round. From crabs and lobsters to fresh fish brought in from the docks each day, this is a place to bucket up and chow down. The lively communal seating makes it easy to feel like you’re part of the crowd without feeling conspicuous.

Solo Dining Barking Crab

Cipriani Dolci-Grand Central Terminal, New York, New York
There’s seemingly no end to the number of great destinations for solitary food and entertainment in New York. But, for me, one stands out among the others for its superb location and life-affirming people watching. Dining beneath the star-speckled ceiling of the Grand Central Terminal offers no end of fascination as you watch one of the most spectacular acts of daily human migration unfold before you. Nestled in an upper corner on the main concourse of Grand Central Station, Cipriani Dolci offers refreshing cocktails, eye-boggling appetizers (try the Prosciutto Crudo di Parma), and a birds-eye view of pure unbridled humanity. You will witness loves both found and lost, trains both caught and missed. You will make groundless assumptions about the lives, personalities, and aspirations of all before you. And you will leave feeling like the great American bluesman Taj Mahal — “satisfied and tickled, too.”

Solo Dining Cipriani Dolci

Cork, Washington, D.C.
With more than 50 wines by the glass, the D.C. wine bar Cork is a fine place to break bread and pay your respect to Dionysus, god of the grape harvest, in simple solitude. Sure, they have dishes to share, but no one says you have to! Prices at Cork are very reasonable, too, with plenty of small plates, cheeses, and charcuterie, and most hot offerings coming in at under $20. Food and wine pairings and wine flights just might make this casual Logan Circle joint your new local.

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Picky Eater’s Paradise: Restaurants to Please a Crowd #friendsgettogether

You’ve been there before. You’re planning dinner with out-of-town guests and you have to find a venue. You don’t know everyone’s personal dietary restrictions or preferences, and, more important, you don’t have time to make inquiries. You just need to find a place that is going to serve delicious food that will satisfy each guest – a tall order given the number of possible considerations there are around what people choose to eat.

You’ll want to steer clear of single-cuisine (or single-dish!) restaurants, but fusion and seasonally focused eateries typically have expansive menus that can both satisfy the finicky and wow the adventurous. To help you plan a get together with any number of picky eaters, here are five types of restaurants to please a crowd.

The Dazzler: FT33, Dallas, Texas
The menu is a head-turner, but the first thing that will catch your group’s collective eye is the restaurant itself. The Dallas Design District darling has a modern, rustic feel with a crisp open kitchen and a farmhouse-meets-industrial design aesthetic. Chef Matt McCallister creates artistic dishes featuring fresh ingredients from the restaurant’s personal garden as well as local purveyors. The oft-changing menu is broad and exciting — think chicken liver and onion sausage with potato porridge and black truffle, and smoked potato with maitake, pictured. The chef’s tasting menu, available Tuesday through Thursday with advanced notice, will create long-lasting memories for you and your out-of-town guests.

Blog FT33 - smoked potatoes, maitake, chile kewpie mayo, savory herbs copy

The Casual-Yet-Cool Catch-All: Fig Tree Café-Hillcrest, San Diego, California
A quick glance at the menu for Fig Tree Cafe reveals a cornucopia of offerings that includes short ribs, pork belly, pork chops, pizza, ravioli, jidori chicken, crispy eggplant, and much, much more. The short-rib flatbread, pictured, and meatloaf hash are persistent favorites in this relaxing venue with a fresh-air vibe. Gorgeous boards of cheese and charcuterie will whet your appetite for more, and a broad list of drinks both soft and hard will rejuvenate your group any time of day. Try one of the antioxidant juice shots (açai, mangosteen, or goji) or a flight of all three! Or, throw caution to the wind and settle in with a pomegranate Bellini or strawberry mojito.

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The Hotspot with the Broad Menu: Essex, New York, New York
From oysters and tacos to veggie burgers and seared ahi tuna, pictured, this Lower East Side Sunday brunch favorite has the goods and the space to make your group meal a winner whatever day of the week it is. If you’re a drinking crowd, you’ll want to hit their wallet-friendly happy hour for $1 oysters and half-price drinks Sunday through Friday.

Essex RestaurantContinue Reading

Joan Schmitt + Susan Dunlop of Joan’s in the Park on Raising a Restaurant After Raising a Family

JoansIn our second interview with some of the talented women featured in our Top 10 Mom-Owned Restaurants in America spotlight, we spoke with Joan Schmitt and Susan Dunlop, co-owners of Joan’s in the Park in St. Paul, Minnesota. Joan’s opened in late 2011, has garnered many accolades locally and nationally, including a 2013 Diners’ Choice Award for Top 100 Best Overall Restaurants in America. The married couple’s blended family includes Joan’s children, Dan, 33, Mark, 30, and Kelly, 27, and Susan’s daughter, Lindsay, 26, all of whom work at the restaurant, either full or part time.

How did Joan’s in the Park come about?  And, how did you balance your family life while opening a restaurant?

Susan: Joan and I worked together at Morton’s Steakhouse in Florida. At that point, we’d started talking about doing our own restaurant, but Joan was from Minnesota, and her kids were all there. Our thought, this was in 2006, was that we would make a plan to get back to Saint Paul and do the restaurant and have our kids involved in it as well. They were all in the restaurant business to begin with. So, we had an opportunity to do something with our children, something that they were already involved in.

Did you both know that you wanted to work in the restaurant industry, and did you always know that you were going to be a working mom at some point?

Susan: Absolutely. I think I really wanted to have children, but I wasn’t a person to stay at home and not work outside the house and have a career. That was always important. Both things have always been important to me. My whole life has been balancing that, trying to make that work.

Joan: For me, I knew my entire life that I wanted children and if I could have been a stay-at-home mom, I would have done it in a heartbeat. Working in a restaurant allowed me the freedom to be home all day with them and still be involved in school and everything, and then also have a career.

What are the challenges around being the head of your family and the head of a business? Can you talk about some of the challenges around that?

Susan: I think for us the biggest challenge was that we both came from working in a corporate environment where you have departments that handle different things for you. To go from that kind of comfort to just everything being on us, that was the bigger transition than our families. Our children were grown and out of the house and financially successful before we started our own restaurant. I’ve always wanted to have a restaurant, but it wasn’t feasible when my daughter was still in high school or going to college because of the risk that you take when you leave a really comfortable corporate position and take everything you own and put it into a restaurant. I think sometimes that’s just not realistic, if you have a family that you’re responsible for.

There is a juggling act along the way of having to make hard choices and maybe sometimes either disappointing your child or disappointing your boss, I’m sure.

Joan: I think that happens to everybody, but for me, it was really hard and to have three that were all very involved in school and with friends outside of school. I was the general manager at Morton’s, and it was many hours of responsibility, but my kids understood that we had nice lifestyle, and that was due to me having to work. They didn’t mind a lot when I had to miss things, and we just prioritized what the really important events were that I always attended and I just let the little ones go.

Susan: I think also that things have changed. People’s ideas about things have changed in the 20 plus years we’ve been doing this. In the beginning, 20 years ago, the expectation was, and maybe this is what we call old school, that you took care of your work and work was your priority. Nobody wanted to hear that you had a baseball game or something to do with the kids. After 9/11, though, I think it really put things in perspective for people that work didn’t have to always come first, and I think that made it easier to start making some sacrifices at work to do more things with your family.

My expectation now, for all my staff, is a lot different, as far as making accommodations for things that they want to do outside of work. We have two women working for us who both have children, and we’re much kinder and gentler, as far as making accommodations for kids.

Do you think there is anything that the industry could do across the board, either in big or small ways, to help women who want to be in the culinary industry and still have a family?

Joan: I would like to see more restaurants change their hours on holidays. It’s really hard to be a new person in a restaurant and have to work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and that part of owning is really nice, that we’re able to say, “You know what? We’re not going to open on Christmas Eve, so that people can be with their families.”

Susan: I don’t think it’s the industry that needs to change. I think it’s people’s expectations of things — as a society, saying, “You know, I’m not going to go out on Christmas Day because I know people have to work to take care of me.” However, if you want to accomplish something, you’re going to have to put long hours in. It’s a personal choice.

When we put together the list of Top 10 Mom-Owned Restaurants in America, we thought we’d come up with a lot more than we did. But, while there are many female-owned restaurants, there are far fewer of these women who are also moms. Does that speak to the fact that you waited until a certain point in your children’s lives to sort of tackle entrepreneurship? Continue Reading

2012 Charlie Awards: Congratulations to the Twin Cities Honorees!

Congratulations to Chef Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant and Farm Direct Market on your Charlie Award!

The second annual Charlie Awards were held on Sunday, November 11, 2012, in Minneapolis at the Pantages Theatre. A celebration in recognition of the exceptional contributions of the Twin Cities metro area restaurant, food and beverage industry, nearly 200 local restaurants participated in this year’s awards. The 2012 Charlie Awards honorees include:

• Lifetime AchievementLenny Russo, Heartland Restaurant and Farm Direct Market
• Outstanding ChefDoug Flicker, Piccolo
• Outstanding Restaurant DesignBachelor Farmer
• Outstanding BartenderJohnny Michaels, La Belle Vie
• Outstanding NeighborRandy Stanley, Parasole (Burger Jones, Chino Latino, Good Earth, Manny’s Steakhouse, Mozza Mia, Muffuletta, Pittsburgh Blue, Salut Bar Américain, and Uptown Cafeteria)
• Outstanding Restaurant ItemMasu Sushi & Robata’s Masu Roll

The Charlie Awards are named after the legendary restaurant, Charlie’s Café Exceptionale, which was a mainstay in downtown Minneapolis until the 1980s. The Charlie Awards were created to recognize the outstanding contributions that our metro area food and restaurant industry to ensure a diverse, vibrant and creative lifestyle and economy. The Charlies are the inspiration of Minnesota’s own culinary expert and James Beard award-winning food journalist, Sue Zelickson.

Congratulations to all the nominees and honorees on your achievements.