Mickey Donatello never imagined that he’d be selling family-style portions of lasagna and chicken piccata.
He opened Corner Bistro in 2003 to serve creative food with a European flair. Picture Niçoise salad, sweet potato gnocchi and steak frites.
The Talleyville eatery still offers those signature dishes, but it also features daily family meals for four.
The restaurant launched the program after the stay-at-home orders in March.
“We knew we could only sell so many duck meatballs or ahi tuna,” noted co-owner Mickey Donatello of the regular menu. “Parents are keeping their kids entertained. They don’t have time to go to the grocery store. We said: ‘Let’s do family meals at a reasonable price — something kids will eat.’”
Corner Bistro is one of many restaurants that now offer complete meals-to-go, and although dining rooms have reopened, the specials have staying power.
“They are only available Friday and Saturday, and we nearly sell out every weekend,” said Scott Stein, co-owner of Bardea Food & Drink in downtown Wilmington. As of Thursday morning, this week’s specials were sold out.
Something to please everyone
Donatello, who has two children, works hard to come up with family meals that will please adults and kids. At least one of the two specials is family-friendly.
“I can tell you that as a 12-year-old kid if my mother put a piece of salmon in front of me, I’d walk away from the table,” he said.
Hence lasagna, chicken piccata and roast chicken. The meal, which comes in the type of foil pan that caterers use, must also be easy to transport and reheat.
Italian checks all the boxes. La Casa Pasta has a full menu of “No Time to Cook Family Meals” named for Italian towns.
The “Venice,” for instance, includes tossed salad, chicken marsala medallions, spaghetti with tomato sauce and mini cannoli with chocolate chip-ricotta filling.
“They have been very popular,” said Gianmarco Martuscelli, whose family owns La Casa Pasta in Newark.
Even when the economy fully opens, he plans to continue offering the promotion at La Casa Pasta and Klondike Kate’s Restaurant & Saloon, which is also under the Martuscelli Restaurant Group’s umbrella.
Dinner for two
You don’t need kids to eat family style.
This Friday, La Fia Bistro’s weekly takeout is a five-course French-inspired menu that starts with gruyere gougeres appetizers and moves to chilled asparagus salad and coq au vin. It ends with mille-feuille, a pastry with vanilla cream, berries and shaved white chocolate. The price is $70 for two and $120 for four.
Bardea’s options are also for two to four people. A recent meal included spaghettoni, arugula salad with a corn-and-shishito pepper relish, burrata toast and chocolate panna cotta.
Prices typically range from $50 for two to $100 for four, Stein said.
“The cost is so reasonable, it’s hard to turn down,” said customer Jane Goldberg, who lives in Wilmington. “It’s really a go-to for us. We try to do pickup once a week.”
Even before the pandemic started, the Stone Balloon in Newark offered special “Cheap Date Night” menus on Wednesday.
Customers receive two entrees, a bottle of wine and dessert for $35. For $10 less, order the “Cheaper Date Night,” which includes a non-alcoholic beverage
“When we were doing takeout only, it was our busiest night of the week,” said general manager Curt Busz.
To-go still the trend
Now that the supply chain has somewhat stabilized, Donatello is putting together a rotating schedule of daily specials. It might include flank steak on Mondays, for instance, or roast chicken on Tuesdays.
In Newark, Caffe Gelato — which has meals for from two to four or more — has a home meal delivery schedule with two entrée options each day that are posted weeks in advance on the website.
It’s all about giving customers what they want, says Greg Vogeley, the owner of Drip Café in Hockessin in Newark.
Vogeley began offering family meals as people began sheltering in place in spring.
“You format the menu for the customers in front of you,” he says. “You want boxed lunches? No problem. You want family meals? No problem. You want trays? No problem. Takeout is still the big mover, and it can’t be ignored, even after restaurants open their dining rooms.”