If it weren’t for the small pieces of fabric covering the faces of the servers, the scene on the patio at All Saints Public House in Battery Park could have been mistaken for one that took place pre-Covid. Approximately 60 guests were scattered across the picturesque landscape, one graced with towering trees, aromatic fire pit, murmuring water feature and pleasant soundtrack emanating from unseen speakers. Out here, it appeared as if everything was back to normal in the world.
But of course nothing is back to normal, despite what some diners elect to believe. As case numbers continue to move in the wrong direction in Cuyahoga County, there is a simultaneous uptick in outdoor dining as glorious summer weather continues to lure weary quarantiners from their nests. After being forced to close in mid-March, restaurants were allowed to reopen for outdoor business on May 15 and indoor dining the following week. Many held off doing so for any number of personal and professional reasons, but now it seems like the floodgates are fully ajar.
What I have observed over the course of a few weeks is a wide range of behavior from both operators and customers with respect to following mandated and suggested safety policies. One restaurant checked temperatures and required guests to wear masks when entering and moving throughout the restaurant, while others, like All Saints, appear to take a hands-off approach. That hands-off approach directly translates (during our visit at least) to a masks-off approach by most diners, almost none of whom opted to wear one when checking in with the host, moving through the public space or speaking with their server.
Seated on this meticulously landscaped patch of earth, it’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security, especially while sipping a bracing Apricot Smash ($10), an herby elixir made with Maker’s Mark, apricot preserves and fresh sage. The kitchen was sold out of the gazpacho so we demanded to speak to the manager. Just kidding, we simply swapped it with the grilled Caesar salad ($8), a bisected canoe of romaine that is charred and garnished with parmesan shavings, white anchovies, croutons and pink peppercorns. A thick, garlicky dressing is served on the side.
Watching the scene play out as it did on that particular patio on that particular night, I couldn’t help but think of the laborers’ lament that goes, “We’re servers, not servants.” My wife and I elect to wear masks when entering a restaurant and speaking with our server because we believe that it reduces the risk of harm to the staff, most of whom do not enjoy employer-sponsored healthcare. As a diner, I am in contact with only one or two employees, but over the course of an evening, each server will have been in close proximity to dozens of people. The absolute least we can do is return the favor.
We move onto a trio of excellent crab cakes ($12) and a pair of Popeye-sized fried chicken legs ($9) in a curry-spiced batter. Those items are followed by a heaping platter of fish and chips ($14) sporting flaky white cod beneath a beer batter shell. More than just a moniker, the lobster risotto ($18) contains plump nuggets of the namesake seafood awash in a rich, satisfying rice base.
Few businesses are struggling more than restaurants right now, so we need to support them if they are to have any chance of making it through the pandemic. Dire predictions estimate that anywhere from 20- to 50- and even 75-percent of independent restaurants will close permanently before an effective vaccine is rolled out. Ordering take-out is a safe way to support them, as is dining out safely and quickly. Because seating is drastically reduced right now thanks to social distancing and a public that prefers eating under the stars, diners should eat and make way for the next table. This is no time to camp out.
Already we’re seeing restaurants that recently reopened their doors for the first time in months close them after an employee tested positive. We are also seeing states reverse course for the entire industry, with governors forcing bars and restaurants to return to delivery and takeout-only service. With the numbers going the way they are, there’s no reason to think Ohio will be immune from the same fate. If all that separates us from that bleak future is a piece of fabric, the choice seems like a no-brainer.
All Saints Public House
1261 W. 76th St., Cleveland