We ordered carryout for dinner last Saturday night. In the COVID scheme of things, ordering out has served as an occasional eddy or ripple in the pandemic’s quotidian stream. I remember the first time we did it. It felt like an adventure.
This was about a year ago, back when, unless you knew about Dollar General, you could lose half a day scrounging for toilet paper. Now I know that for many people, ordering out is no big deal. We learn to call out for pizza before we know how to drive a car. Those of a certain age may even recall their parents bringing home those dubious white cartons of chop suey.
But we tend to cook in our house — unless, that is, we want to go out. Going out is what, for us, restaurants are for. On any given night, a good restaurant provides pleasure, recreation and a social kick. It’s art that tastes good. We kissed all this goodbye once COVID came to town. We ordered out.
Part of this, naturally enough, involved wanting to eat things we couldn’t manage at home. We also wanted to support local favorites. The food scene here has been burgeoning over the past few years; we wanted to do what little we could to try and keep it afloat.
We were in lockdown that first night. The person who took our order was eager, but the drill between the kitchen and front of the house left a bit to be desired. I joined a mute line of folks waiting along the bar. All of us were masked like outlaws and keeping our distance — doubtless wondering to what degree we were putting ourselves at risk as, one by one, our meals materialized in their slightly off-kilter, translucent plastic sacks.
Of course, whatever trace anxiety this outing generated vanished when I returned home and we piled everything on plates. It felt like being a little kid at a birthday party. There was even dessert! In the dark night of COVID, take-out was like a Roman candle.
After that, we saved take out for whenever we needed a lift. We tried ordering from a variety of places and while the change of culinary pace was always welcome, it became apparent that the state of the art was tricky. Some dishes travel better than others. Proper heat, moisture, crispness, even flavor are hard landings to stick when what usually goes from kitchen to table makes an intermediate stop for packaging before being driven from point A to point B.
It’s been a year since the pandemic forced communities across the country to declare a state of emergency. Last Saturday, as we took turns warming up our orders in the microwave, there was, for the first time, a creeping sense of anticlimax. Like the birthday party was yesterday and we were having leftovers.
The vaccine should help change this situation. We’re getting our shots — I hope you’ll get yours. This will not only protect us from the virus’s most dire effects, but it will also make it safer for the chefs, servers, bussers, and hosts who do food for a living. Take-out has been a blessing. But I’m ready for a little mixology; someone to tell me, “Watch out, that plate is hot.”
David Hoppe’s memoir, Midcentury Boy is available from Amazon.