On Wednesday this week, Governor Newsom announced that dine-in options would close in 19 counties, including Orange County, for the next three weeks. Outdoor dining and take-out can still continue. Minutes after the announcement, Laguna Beach restaurateurs and chefs were in full sprint, once again churning up the turf at every bend to accommodate the many changes this year has wrought.
“Bring it on!”
In mere hours, Restaurateur Cary Redfearn announced that his new Yard Bar is now waltzing with the entire Lumberyard menu along with the Yard Bar’s menu of original appetizers.
“We had patrons inside Lumberyard when the announcement was made, so we let them finish their lunches and closed our indoor dining at about 2:30 p.m.,” said Redfearn.
“I had my evening crew coming in anyway, so we just walked over to the Yard Bar and changed everything from counter service to wait service in about a minute. We did it!”
He laughs and adds, “Bring it on, I’ve got this!”
Redfearn will continue to employ some staff indoors for take-out preparation at Lumberyard and Slice Pizza and Beer, while the Yard Bar will provide full-service wait staff and bartenders beginning at 4 p.m. Reservations will not be taken, and all three locations (Lumberyard, Yard Bar and Slice Pizza and Beer) are closed just for the day of July 4th.
Patio expansion downtown
Meanwhile, Broadway by Amar Santana is movin’ on up … or north, that is, into the neighboring bank parking lot.
“We start dining service in the bank’s parking lot at 6 p.m.,” Ahmed Labbate told me. “It’s a lot of work breaking down each night and putting back up the next day, but we’re certainly not the only ones faced with this issue in town. We’re just thankful we were able to negotiate the space.
“We were so pleased to see so many diners return to us when we were allowed to do dine-in that we didn’t want to go backwards,” added Ahmed. “But we’re still providing take-out along with cocktails to go, as well.”
Mirroring a more European Italian experience, Romeo Cucina on Broadway has moved onto the wide sidewalk in front with additional tables. “We’re adapting! We’re accepting reservations for the patio and are still doing to-go orders with cocktails as well,” said Chef Marisol Romeo.
Just a few doors up, Chef and Co-Owner Lindsay of Nirvana Grille is still cookin’ with expanded outdoor patio seating in play. The team is also finishing rooftop seating with plans to open in a week or so. Aside from closing early on the 4th of July, Nirvana is open Tuesday and Thursday through Sunday for dinner. Take-out, delivery and grocery co-op is available those same days and on Wednesday, too.
The (unofficial) “Canyon Promenade”
In Laguna Canyon at what I’ve nicknamed “The Canyon Promenade,” half of the parking lot next to the Sawdust is already devoted to outdoor dining. So, it’s pretty much business as usual for Laguna Beach Beer Company, McClain Cellars (providing live music and serving food from its neighboring restaurants) and Chef Erik’s Oliver’s Osteria (pictured above).
“Most of our guests have wanted to sit outside since we began dine-in anyway,” said Chef Erik. “I’m just relieved we were able to put this in place weeks ago.”
Business has been so good, in fact, that Oliver’s has recently introduced an “Apertivo Hour” on weekends from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Italian-styled happy hour offers a variety of small plates and drinks. (More on this next week.)
North Laguna ingenuity
In north Laguna, Reunion Kitchen and Asada Tacos + Beer Owner Scott McIntosh has expanded his outdoor dining into the old Gina’s Pizza patio as well as along the wide sidewalk fronting Reunion.
“We’re also just opening at 4 p.m. for dinner service because we’ve negotiated with Jan’s Health Bar for their patio space in the evening because they close in the afternoon,” said McIntosh. “We’ve all got to work together here!”
McIntosh is still working on opening his 4,000-square-foot Asada restaurant at the end of the month in San Clemente. He’s also putting up a “Cirque de Soleil kind of tent” in the parking lot of his Anaheim Reunion Kitchen location. “You have to roll with the punches and keep your sense of humor about all this,” he said. “It’s the only way to get through this.”
Just a few blocks south of Reunion, Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill Owner Maro Molteni quickly expanded yesterday with sidewalk patio usage, noting that he’s now able to accommodate 40 outdoor diners at a time. He opens for weekend lunches at noon, including this holiday weekend, and is otherwise open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner.
When life gives you limited options
Faced with smaller or nonexistent patios and lack of sidewalk accessibility, other Laguna restaurant owners have had to make hard decisions.
Fearing an inability to properly social distance its patrons on its small patio, Gina’s Pizza & Pastaria on Oak Street chose to close its on-site dining and is back to offering take-out and delivery only. Oak Laguna Beach and San Shi Go will continue to seat their small patios for the time being with hopes it will prove consistently profitable.
With just a tiny patio in front, Ristorante Rumari has just completed a new patio in the parking lot behind the restaurant for at least 30 diners. “You can actually see the sunset from here, so it’s not all bad for dining,” said Chef Craig Connole.
A few weeks ago, anticipating another possible closure, Wine Gallery Co-Owners Chris Olsen and Paul Spiegelman swung for the fences, securing permits to expand up into the wide, open air corridor above their restaurant.
SoLag’s Coyote Grill has added a few more tables to its patio parking lot with plans to continue serving breakfast, lunch and dinner from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., happy hour included.
Lastly, our fine friends at Starfish in South Laguna have no patio at all, therefore no current options. As if this COVID year hasn’t dished out enough, a Tesla plowed into the Starfish patio a couple weeks ago, putting a serious dent in their outdoor dining experience. (No one was hurt.)
“We’re back to construction phase. It’s given us a chance, though, to re-imagine the space here to make it more amenable to the times,” said the ever-optimistic Co-Owner Archie Mack.
“And our take-out and delivery is still in full play. It’s rocking seven days a week starting at 11:30 am,” he said. “I figure we’re just getting all the speed bumps out early this year,” he added.
(We can only hope.)
DIY Backyard BBQ Kits
Still not comfortable in outdoor dining? No problem. While outdoor patios will undoubtedly be bustling this holiday weekend, the vast majority of our Laguna restaurants are continuing a stunning array of take-out and delivery options.
Be sure to check my website for the same. You’ll find a number of great holiday weekend-specific options from places such as GG’s Bistro, Harley Laguna Beach, Nirvana Grille and more. Enjoy your holiday weekend!