Solo dining, without regret or shame7/24/2013
A new cafe in Amsterdam only provides small tables with single chairs, requiring customers to come solo. In America, dining alone is more awkward, particularly, it seems, for ladies. Female readers tell us that still, in the third millennium, they are scorned and shamed by some people when dining alone. One said that while eating at a restaurant bar, she overheard another woman, one she had never met, tell her husband “to give the slut her room.” Another told about a Gramercy Tap bartender who threw a group of male wrestling fans out of that place after he overheard them addressing her with sexually abusive language.
Many singles choose to eat at a bar for a very unselfish reason: Waiters lose tip income when waiting on just one person at a four-top table. In support of singles of all sexes, we asked several restaurant owners and bartenders how solo diners can become more comfortable. Their No. 1 answer was to go to familiar places where you’re known or to introduce yourself to your bartender at new places. Trostel’s Dish bartender Sean Giza thinks that singles are more comfortable dining alone at lunch and that bringing work or a book makes the solo experience less awkward.
Several people suggested that solos are more comfortable at downtown restaurants where business travelers swell the ranks of single diners. Django, Zombie Burger + Drink Lab and Centro owner George Formaro said he sees so many singles eating at the bar these days that his staffs don’t give it a second thought anymore.
Many downtown restaurants attract people into their barrooms with discounts. Alba sells superb burgers and martinis for $5 each on Monday evenings but only in their barroom. Also exclusive to their barroom are half-priced appetizers on weekdays during happy hours. Django offers oysters on the half shell and jumbo cocktail shrimp for $1 each every day during happy hour, along with sharp discounts on charcuterie and cheese plates. (Django recently became the first restaurant in central Iowa to win state certification to prepare its own charcuterie.) Splash lets oysters go for half price and discounts charcuterie in its oyster bar at happy hour. Full dinners are served there, too. Americana offers 14 appetizers for $6 each before 6 p.m. Dos Rios sells 11 appetizers for just $5 between 3 and 6 p.m. 801 Steak and Chop House offers discounted oysters, shrimp cocktails and burgers till 6 p.m.
Barroom-only specials extend beyond downtown, too. Christopher’s discounts its exceptional thin-crust, personal pizza and sells excellent steak and prime rib sandwiches but only in their barroom. Fleming’s barroom-only menu presents five appetizers, five cocktails and five different glasses of wine for $6 each until 7 p.m. Its prime carpaccio is frequently on that menu. We’ve even seen its marvelous crab cakes there.
Side Dishes Carl Blake’s Rustik Rooster Farm, creators of the sensational Iowa Swabian Hall pig, is planning to become a tourist food destination. Several episodes of a new reality series about Blake and his pigs have been shot and sold to a major cable network. The farm’s parent company has leased the historic Tripoli Opera House and built a bar and kitchen there. It opened last week for special events. Café hours are coming soon, and its second Boucherie will be there on Aug. 31. Celebrated chefs Stephanie Izard (Chicago), Matt Steigerwald (Lincon Café), Jimmy Fiala and Kevin Nashan (both of St. Louis) are coming this fall. The company also took over two Iowa bakeries with 120 years of history between them —Johnson’s in Waterloo and Waverly Bakery. Isle of Capri Casino in Waterloo branded its buffet Farmers’ Pick and signed the farm and Hudson’s superb Hansen Family Dairy as providers… The Trostel family sold their Chip’s restaurant in Ankeny to Denny Elwell and Todd Rueter, who then sold the restaurant name and concept to current Chip’s chef Guillermo Cano, his brother and sister, and original Chip’s chef Javier Guzman. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.