Meals with a view: Alfresco dining season in full swing
At the south end of Main Street in Lee, Mass., is a two-and-a-half story Victorian-style building with an open porch looking north.
The view of the Lee Memorial Town Hall, First Congregational Church and the rest of the historic downtown from the 19th-century former abode beckons passersby to stop in, enjoy a meal and libation from the portico while watching the world go by.
No surprise the outdoor dining area at 51 Park Restaurant and Tavern is a big draw as the residential atmosphere makes patrons feel like they are lunch/dinner guests at a neighbor's home.
"We hear of lack of outdoor seating in the Berkshires, so people like to seek it out," said owner Rob Trask.
Thanks to a warm, mostly dry summer, 51 Park is among the many Berkshire/Southern Vermont restaurants with full service outdoor seating enjoying a banner alfresco dining season.
Eating cafe-style at Gringo Jack's in Manchester, Vt., is a much anticipated affair.
"We run a contest as to the first day we'll be outside setting up a couple of tables," said owner Jack Gilbert.
Typically, outdoor dining can be found from Memorial Day through Columbus Day weekends — weather permitting.
The late spring to early fall always provides a spectacular scenery if one dines looking out over the regions hillsides.
The sign outside The Publyk House in Bennignton, Vt., proudly proclaims "Vermont Dining With A View."
The original three-story horse barn was moved to its Hardwood Hill location in 1972 and converted into a restaurant. The deck seats 65 facing south and running along the entire side of the building — perfect for watching a summer or fall sunset.
The outdoor dining venue is a hit with locals and tourists alike, according to front house managers, Kevin Whalen and Sophia Garder.
"We have some of the same customers who sit at the same tables and order the same cocktails," Whalen said.
With a section of the deck under an awning, dining under a gentle rain isn't a problem and for some hardy souls, no awning is required.
"We have had people sit under [table] umbrellas when it rains and say they are fine," Garder said.
Nevertheless, Garder keeps close tabs on weather forecasts and the latest radar for potential thunderstorms, the latter could mean suddenly trying to clear the deck and find room inside for the hungry customers.
At 51 Park, Trask doesn't let Mother Nature dictate whether outdoor seating for that day is in jeopardy.
"We staff either way; if it's raining we can seat people upstairs," he said. "You can't play the gamble of staffing up or down."
For dinner and a garden show, Gringo Jack's has offered a unique alfresco dining experience since Gilbert renovated the 19th-century brick residence in the mid 1990s, converting it into the popular Mexican cuisine restaurant.
"We have spectacular gardens with five banana trees, lots of chiles in the garden — an exotic color combination," he said.
Indeed, a tropical paradise in Southern Vermont.
"One can have a margarita under an umbrella — very relaxed," Gilbert added.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233
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