Everyone has a COVID-19 wake-up moment. For Anne Quatrano and her husband, Clifford Harrison, it hit home when they traveled to the James Beard House in New York on March 4 to experience a dinner by celebrated Slovenian chef Ana Roš.
“We were like, ‘Should we or shouldn’t we?’ It seemed like such an opportunity,” Quatrano said. “She was flying all the way from Slovenia. We flew up there. It was odd. There was certainly unrest.”
Unrest turned into full-fledged fright 10 days later, as the pandemic grew.
“Once it hit the fan, we closed all the restaurants, except Star Provisions,” said Quatrano, whose restaurant group includes Bacchanalia, Floataway Cafe, W.H. Stiles Fish Camp, Pancake Social at Ponce City Market, Star Provisions Market & Cafe, and Little Star Provisions. After two weeks of takeout-only at Star Provisions, they shut that down, too.
“In 28 years, it was the first time we had no business open,” Quatrano said.
She said they “kept waiting for a little bit of calm.” That has yet to come.
She furloughed 140 people, including her sister, Frances, who has been Bacchanalia’s front-of-house face since Day One.
All of the restaurants, except Little Star Provisions and Floataway Cafe, now are up and running for takeout. May 21 will see Floataway reopen for takeout and sit-down service. Bacchanalia also will reopen its dining room that day. Quatrano expects the latter to be the biggest challenge yet.
How do you give a well-heeled crowd an over-the-top dining experience during a pandemic? Home-made hand sanitizer will be at every socially distanced table at Bacchanalia. Rolling carts will bring food on fancy silver plates with domed lids so that the food is not subject to an errant achoo. Customers can decide whether they want to lift the lid, or have the server do it. Contact points have been limited further by wrapping all the evening’s flatware into specially sewn linen holders with pockets for each utensil.
“We want to think of all the things that make people feel more comfortable in our dining room,” she said. “Establishing — or re-establishing — trust” is a huge part of things.
“It’s a new evolution at Bacchanalia,” said the James Beard Award-winning chef.
More like the latest evolution at Bacchanalia.
Since early May, the restaurant has been offering meals to go. The $93-a-person meal ($103, with tax) includes butter and rolls, an amuse bouche, four courses — including the celebrated cheese course — extra side dishes, and mignardises, sweet thank-you nibbles that you normally would get when the check got dropped off at the table.
“I love the way we did it,” Quatrano said of Bacchanalia’s takeout program, with each course boxed and labeled. “I didn’t want to change the Bacchanalia experience. I wanted it to be super special.”
The career chef paused.
“This is the hardest thing a restaurant can go through.”
We spoke after a weekend when business was looking up for most of her restaurants. Nearly 50 of her 148 employees were back at work. And, Bacchanalia had 26 orders for takeout.
“Who would think that, 28 years in, the big milestone would be serving 26 meals to go?” she laughed.
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Menu: Bacchanalia at-home, intended to re-create a fine-dining, multi-course meal in your home. Diners can choose one of four dishes for each of the four courses
What I ordered: Bacchanalia at-home. The meal included amuses (cheddar sablees, cheese gougeres and a compressed marinated heirloom tomato); various breads — pretzel ficelle, a mini baguette and potato-onion rye rolls with butter; a first course of Maine lobster with English peas and blood orange ponzu; a second course of steelhead trout with asparagus; a third course of cheeses; a dessert course of strawberries with meringue; extra sides, including collard greens; and mignardises of dark chocolate mendiants, coconut macaroon and madeleines. Every course was specially boxed and labeled. The meal also came with reheating instructions. If you are searching for a special-occasion meal at home, this one is exquisite.
Service options: order online or by phone; contact-free pickup only; no delivery
Safety protocols: adhering to all COVID-19 safety protocols for restaurants
Address, phone: 1460 Ellsworth Industrial Blvd., Atlanta, 404-365-0410
Hours: Tuesdays-Saturdays; place order by 4 p.m., pickup 5-7 p.m.
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