This summer is unlike any our area has seen before. In most years, summer is when year-round residents “take back” their favorite restaurants. However, due to COVID-19, many locals have held back from dining in restaurants until they were fully vaccinated. Continuing problems with finding and keeping staff have caused several restaurants to shorten their hours and even alter their menus. On the bright side, many restaurants that began taking reservations during COVID will continue to do so. And, even though it’s summer, reservations are always a good idea. Whether you are dining in or taking out, there is no more crucial time to support your favorite local restaurants and to be patient as things slowly get back to “normal.”
Adapting and Changing to a New Normal
Nicola’s Italian Kitchen has been serving diners at its East Englewood location for more than 30 years but had never seen a time like this. “One huge lesson we learned from COVID was how to change and adapt,” said Rina Remmers, manager and a member of the Nicola’s family. Those changes included selling frozen entrees, opening a take-out window, and taking online reservations and orders. Like many other restaurants, Nicola’s also expanded its outdoor dining area, adding tables to the front patio and building a back piazza. “We will be working on a pergola cover and misters this summer, “said Remmers.
Remmers said that they were thinking of making many of these changes before the pandemic but were not sure how or when to do it. “Covid pushed us outside our comfort zone,” she said. Diners can expect many of the changes to stay, including the reservations policy, which Remmers said has been very popular with customers who no longer have to wait for a table.
And just when Remmers thought they had dealt with everything, a fire last month came perilously close to the restaurant, a tree in the employee parking lot caught fire. Thankfully, there was no damage from the fire. Remmers said that throughout the pandemic, “The community and loyal customers have kept us hanging on.”
Nicola’s Italian Kitchen
4343 S. Access Road Englewood, 941-474-6195
(The restaurant will be closed from July 18 to August 18).
Isabella’s Bistro continues to offer curbside take-out and outdoor dining and, like so many other restaurants, is dealing with the staffing storage. New summer hours are 4 to 8 pm, Tuesday through Saturday, and reservations are strongly recommended.
The restaurant posts its weekly specials on its Facebook page.
6800 Placida Road, Englewood 941-698-8889
Looking for Something Special? Zeke’s Uptown Bar & Grill is hoping to overcome a very difficult year with a strong summer. The restaurant struggled with setbacks, including staffing problems and the two-month medical leave of the executive chef. Owner Dale Wetzel is aware that diners experienced issues with service and that they shared their experiences on social media. To entice diners back to the West Dearborn Street spot, Zeke’s is offering dinner for two for $30. The special menu includes Seared Ahi Tuna Salad, Whiskey Barrel Steak, Mediterranean Chicken and many more options. Those who prefer something from the main menu will get a free appetizer, with an order of two entrees. “We are thankful to everyone for their continued support and are praying this will bring life back to Zeke’s,” said Wetzel.
Zeke’s Uptown Bar & Grill
115 W. Dearborn St. Englewood 941-460-9353.
Zarate’s Family Restaurant is bringing in customers with all-you-can-eat specials “The response has been phenomenal,” said Manager Rhonda Lopez. ”We get an amazing turnout.” Lopez hopes that continues throughout the summer. Monday is Broasted Chicken, Tuesday - Ribs, Wednesday - Mussels, and Friday - all-you-can-eat cod. Lopez recommends reservations.
Zarate’s Family Restaurant
3502 Access Road, Englewood
Prefer a lighter option? Culture Coffee has something special for the sipping crowd who can cool off with new iced offerings of Mango Iced Tea, Blueberry Lavender Lemonade and a Berry Breeze Refresher. Owner Dan Klein says he’s also adding music indoors from noon to 2 pm every Sunday.
Culture Coffee also offers Happy Hour from noon to close all summer, with $1 off medium and large drinks and baked goods.
405 W. Dearborn St., Englewood, 941-460-8542
If you like stronger beverages, Ken and Barb’s Grove City Kitchen is offering an all-day Happy Hour on Monday and Tuesday with $3 house wine and beer and $4 well drinks. The restaurant is still closed on Wednesdays, and not due to lack of business. Chef/Owner Alex King says he needs to give his hard-working and short-staffed kitchen a day off. King says that he’s using that time to do some work inside the popular restaurant.
Ken & Barbs Grove City Kitchen
2000 Oyster Creek Drive