Going out to eat, pre-pandemic, meant picking a restaurant and just ... um ... going there.
Deciding might not have been easy, but at least you had a pretty good idea the place would be open when you got there. Might require reservations during season, but that was about the only bump in the road.
Now such decisions are more daunting; indeed, more fraught.
“The worst part?” said Eric Andreas, owner of Port Charlotte’s Visani Italian Steakhouse and Comedy Theater. “People need consistency, consistency, consistency. You never want them to think you aren’t open. And you want them to feel safe.”
When Facebook and Google don’t keep up with recent changes and shutdowns, how will you know if or when your chosen eatery is open?
Here are a few answers, but check this space often for updates.
GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
News of the following permanent shutterings has circulated for a while, but you might still be surprised and saddened to note the passing of Alligator Creek Bar & Grill, Ana’s European Café, Bella’s Bistro, Cicis Port Charlotte, Father & Son Pizzeria, Gaspy’s Cafeteria, Jason’s Deli Port Charlotte (NOT to be confused with the still-going-strong Joseph’s Deli), Johnny’s Bar & Grill, Kumo, Las Margaritas de Camila’s, Mr. Fun Guy Café 23, Smoke’n Pit Bar B Que Port Charlotte (North Fort Myers location remains open), Stacks (in Punta Gorda’s American Legion Post 103) and T.G.I. Friday’s Port Charlotte.
Just don’t call Punta Gorda Diner down for the count yet.
CLOSED FOR DINE-IN, BUT NOT CLOSED
He could have stayed fully open, earning a few more dollars.
Instead, Vito Recchia temporarily closed both his Port Charlotte dining rooms — at Bella Napoli Pizzeria & Restaurant and Taglio Cucina & Pizzeria Romana— and phased back to takeout until he could guarantee everyone’s safety.
"We need to watch out for our employees and families and customers," he said. "I can't put business over lives. And I have a baby at home."
The good news? Both restaurant dining rooms have reopened.
Bella Napoli ($-$$), 941-764-8000, 1938 Kings Highway, is open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 9:30 p.m. Sunday.
Taglio ($-$$), 941-628-7663, 24065 Peachland Boulevard, is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday.
Sam and Renée Petro of Sam’s Subs and Soup in Port Charlotte recently closed their dining room, continuing only carryout, curbside and delivery.
“We’re not ready to throw in the towel,” said Renée. “We’ve always fed everyone, but we don’t want to get ourselves sick.”
Sam’s Subs ($), 941-743-4649, 21320 Gertrude Ave., is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
Zio’s Twelve 21 Pizza Restaurant & Catering in North Port has also closed its dining room, returning to takeout and no-contact delivery. Please wear a face covering when picking up your food.
Zio’s ($-$$), 941-436-9800, 1221 S. Sumter Blvd., is open noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday, and noon to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Without reservations, seasonal diners hadn’t a prayer of a table at Punta Gorda’s Piccolo Italian Restaurant. It had such an intimate dining room that a 50% reopening would have accommodated only a handful of customers.
But now fans can safely indulge in its cheese-stuffed meatballs and home-made fettucine again — via an inherited drive-thru window that owners Roberto and Marcella Caen had never used until now.
Everything’s made fresh to order, so early phone-ins are as helpful as reservations once were.
Piccolo ($$), 941-621-2200, 5354 Duncan Road, is open 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.
BACK IN BUSINESS
A restaurant worker tests positive for COVID-19. No regulations require the restaurant to close.
But that positive test can often set in motion a revolving door of opening at 50%, deciding to close, then opening again.
It’s confusing for customers who hear about coronavirus-related closings. They often don’t hear about all-clear re-openings and just give up on the place.
That's why you should know these restaurants are open again:
Venice’s Fins at Sharky’s remained open and heavily sanitized the first time an employee, who had little exposure at the restaurant, tested positive. When COVID-19 also struck Sharky’s on the Pier, it closed to quarantine and deep-clean, and has just reopened.
Darrell’s Restaurant in Venice also closed briefly after an employee tested positive and all others were tested. It’s now open again.
In Grove City, Paraiso Mexican Grille and Bar, next-door Placida Pearl, and Ricaltini’s Bar & Grille have all survived quarantines and reopened for business, cleaner than ever.
Chick-fil-A in Port Charlotte, which had multiple stricken employees, deep-cleaned and reopened on July 4.
OPEN IN ENGLEWOOD
While Englewood awaits the return of Zeke’s Uptown Bar & Grill, other business has come back to town.
Libee’s Sports Bar & Grill, still proceeding with inside renovations, could contain itself no longer and reopened outside for a Libee’s Burger Day on July 24. Payments were tips only, going directly to Libee’s employees. Libee’s ($-$$), 941-460-8860, is at 1859 Englewood Road.
Scott and Susie Gordon’s Placida Grill ($$-$$$; 941-828-1437) has reopened at 8501 Placida Road, from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, with reservations strongly recommended. They’re also doing curbside pickup.
WHAT? THEY SERVE BREAKFAST?
With the closure of sister restaurants, two local eateries have added their sisters’ breakfasts to their menus, changing hours accordingly.
Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, 1105 Taylor Road in Punta Gorda, is serving the former Stacks breakfast from 8 a.m. until 11 a.m.
Punta Gorda restaurateurs Nick and Sue Randall were already well aware that, to make it through summer, they had to fill every seat in Village Fish Market during season. But what about now, with seating capped at 50%?
The same rationale that worked last year for their now-temporarily-closed sister restaurant, La Fiorentina, could work just as well at Village Fish: Expand your hours for filling seats, by serving breakfast from 8 a.m. to noon.
As of this writing, that’s exactly the plan. Wednesday through Sunday starting Aug. 1, they’ll plate the same morning menu that was such a success at La Fiorentina.
Send restaurant and bar news and recommendations to columnist Sue Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Average price ranges are $ = inexpensive (under $10), $$ = moderate ($11-$30), and $$$ = pricey (over $30), including tip and beverage.