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The Great Outdoors 

From patios to walk-up windows, these “streateries” are upping the Fox Cities’ outdoor dining game 

Unlike the fruity drinks and seafood overload usually prized during the warmer months, summer dining in 2020 has taken a turn with priority focus on safety and comfort in response to COVID-19. Fox Cities restaurants are gearing up for the demand with innovative ways to bring the safest and most satisfying experiences to customers. 

Outdoor dining has grown in popularity as it provides plenty of room for social distancing and minimal contact. Thanks to new allowances for temporary outdoor seating from cities including Oshkosh, Kaukauna and Neenah, restaurants are taking on the challenge of creating safe, comfortable and cool outdoor dining experiences. 

Chic & Shielded

Photo by Harle Photography

Walking downtown in Appleton, “spur of the moment” and “pandemic-related” would be the last phrases used to describe the newly added outdoor seating at Rye Restaurant. Yet this classy seating was no easy feat. Chef Nick Morse described the project as “team-building” as the entire kitchen staff hand-built custom, wooden dividers as “a way to create a physical-barrier between tables.” Decked out with vibrant flowers and bold black and white umbrellas, these tables offer beautiful dining and a close-up view of Appleton’s bustling downtown. Yet these new tables are not the only changes Rye made in response to COVID. “The whole restaurant has become a new concept,” Morse says. New sanitation methods, redesigning and fresh paint have accompanied their reopening which occurred May 26. The eight outdoor tables are each equipped with a QR code, allowing customers to opt for online ordering and payment, yet with servers still waiting on each table. Wanting to plan ahead? Rye has online ordering through Facebook, Instagram and their website, allowing customers to plan up to seven days in advance. Rye is hoping to keep this seating, possibly adding live entertainment in the future. Feel free to bring your pets and dine in style with Rye’s first come, first served outdoor seating and experience the food and view that will always make the Fox Cities home. 

A Newcomer with a View

Though COVID-19 has caused many setbacks, it hasn’t stopped new businesses from opening and providing more fun, unique dining opportunities in the Fox Cities. One of these new additions which opened June 19 is River Tyme Bistro in Appleton’s Atlas Mill. This bistro is the new creation from the owners of Fox River Tours, Christine Williams and Candice Mortara, and  is the year-round “sister” to the riverboats River Tyme and River Tyme Too. With 32 outdoor seats facing spectacular views of the Fox River dam’s roaring rapids, River Tyme Bistro cheekily claims to have the “best dam view” in Appleton. While taking in the view, Williams recommends trying the “around-the-world menu,” like queso dip from Mexico and baguettes from France. The “Ports of Call” menu features items from ports around the world, yet the bistro has the ideal balance of international and local foods, such as bagels from Appleton’s Bagelicious. Perfect for a coffee date or night out with friends, River Tyme’s liquor and coffee bar offers a full craft cocktail menu, mid-higher end wine list and Colectivo Coffee. Try any of their seasonal drinks or the popular boat tour beverage the “Pain Killer,” a rum-based drink with coconut cream, orange and pineapple juice, finished with nutmeg. 

Bringing Indoors Out

Fully embracing the concept of outdoor seating, Barrel 41 Brewing Company in Neenah has expanded to create their beer garden, a pet-friendly patio featuring 12 three to four-seater tables with the thoughtful touch of water dishes for any thirsty pets. “It’s a really nice spot to enjoy some beers and some laughs,” explains Barrel 41’s co-owner Matt Stubing. With new additions like repurposed beer-aged barrels as tables, string lights  and a custom mural, the beer garden is a unique spot in Neenah and perfect for a drink or even a family get together. To minimize points of contact, mounted TVs now display the menu inside the brewery and disposable glasses are used. Need a quick bite? Barrel 41 has an ever-changing list of “not your average tacos” every Tuesday and other snacks and limited treats like spent grain crackers with cranberries and walnuts made right at the brewery. When businesses first closed in March, Barrel 41 took action with canned beers available for call-in and text orders, and they are still offering them today. Try their barrel-aged St. Rojo Rosé, a blonde ale aged in chardonnay wine barrels with Concord grapes. Barrel 41 is hoping to keep this outdoor oasis “when the Wisconsin weather allows it,” which is perfect for the current demand and the warm summer months. 

Walk-up Wonders

With outdoor seating and curbside pickup, the only thing missing is outside walk-up windows, and 313 Dodge in Kaukauna has got you covered. Kyle Megna, who owns the restaurant with wife Janel Abel Megna, opened their first-ever walk-up cocktail window to combat COVID restrictions. With directional arrows and distanced circles to manage foot traffic, this walk-up offers safe drink ordering, service from 4 p.m. to sunset, and a truly unique experience. From serving 70 drinks the first night to 700 a few days later, 313 Dodge has certainly seen a boom in their business, yet the fresh ingredients and hand-crafted care will always remain. “All we can ask is for people to roll with us,” Megna says. “We’re learning just as much as anybody.” The drink line-up changes weekly and runs the gamut from lavender margaritas to blueberry mojitos. One of the restaurant’s biggest hits is to-go charcuterie boxes – artfully made with all local Wisconsin products – that are part of a small-plate menu and are available for online ordering and pick up in their cleared-out main room. The rest of the inside is heavily limited in seating, yet the elevated patio facing Hydro Park and the Fox River is distanced yet open, and to pets, too.  Only in their second year, 313 Dodge is impacting the community as stories are circulating around Kaukauna of friends and neighbors buying their drinks in bulk to deliver to hospital workers or others struggling. “Thanks to the community for supporting us and keeping us all afloat,” Megna says.

Double the Fun

With two locations offering outdoor seating, Greene’s Pour House in Oshkosh and Neenah has double the al fresco dining options. The Oshkosh location in the Granary building has about a dozen tables in front of the restaurant protected by awnings. The Neenah location has six streetside tables with 10 more on the back patio. This year, the Neenah restaurant’s famous garage-style front windows are rolled open every day regardless of weather for fresh air flow. “It doesn’t matter how hot it is, we are keeping them open every day because of what’s going on in the world,” says owner Bobby Greene, who believes the open air atmosphere has made more customers feel comfortable eating inside. And additional safety precautions are in place – employees wear masks, hand sanitizer is available upon entry and touchless menus are downloadable to your smartphone by scanning a QR code. Both the cities of Oshkosh and Neenah passed temporary permits that allow Greene’s restaurants to relocate more inside tables outdoors. “We are dealing with the same number of tables, but the inside tables we removed to get them six feet apart went outside,” he says. “[Oshkosh and Neenah] have done a really good job working with restaurants trying to figure these things out.” 

 

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