During my travels in Bavaria I was surprised that most of the restaurants featured family-style seating. You would expect such a convivial dining option from Italians or Spaniards – but Germans? I’m sure it evolved as a practical measure to get patrons seated, served and out the door as quickly as possible.
For Phase Two of my 2013 summer staycation, I wanted to replicate that dining experience, so I searched for family-style service and was disappointed to turn up zero results in the tri-state area for restaurants. Entrepreneurs, take note. Last year it was BBQ restaurants. This year? Burger joints. Next year we definitely need family-style dining.
Seeking an alternative, I purchased tickets for a farm-to-table dinner, hoping for a communal dining event and was thrilled to arrive and find long, draped planks under a tent, instead of individual tables. And booze. And a beautiful summer evening.
It felt like Munich minus the dirndls.
The dinner is an annual event held to support the Black Dirt Scholarship Fund. The Black Dirt region of Orange County, New York, is famous for rich soil that produces some of the tastiest onions you’ll every eat. The site was the scenic Scheuermann Farms in Warwick. They operate a lovely nursery and, if you go, be prepared to leave with a case of lawn envy. The turf was thicker than Yankee Stadium’s outfield. This was confirmed by our friend John who attended a press conference in the stadium soon after our dinner.
Seven area chefs prepared the passed hors d’oeuvres and seated courses. Each of these was prettier and more delicious than the one that preceded it. The chefs all have restaurants that I haven’t visited yet and now can’t wait to try.
We were pressed cheek to jowl with our dining companions, folks on a mission to enjoy an evening of food and merriment. Strangers approached who thought they knew us from somewhere. A local turf farmer gave us insight into his daily travails; despite a pending 4 a.m. wakeup call, he and his wife stayed through dessert and racked up a massive babysitting bill. The woman on my right insisted, forcefully, that I simply had to visit the Rue du Bouchers in Brussels. Immediately. We chatted for an embarrassing amount of time about moules-frites.
As dusk turned into evening and dawn prepared to break, I looked across at my old friends who joined us and up and down the table at all of our new acquaintances and felt extraordinarily grateful for such a wonderful night. And then it hit me. Family-style dining is way to recreate Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday) any time of the year.
Question for the day: Do you enjoy family-style dining or does it make you wildly uncomfortable?