Outdoor meals are a glamorous notion—An elegant dinner with a great view. A sidewalk cafe in Paris. Maybe even noshing on high class food aboard a luxury yacht or a cruise ship. With a glass of your favorite beverage in one hand and a plateful of sustenance in front of you, the best meal of your life is waiting for you somewhere outside.
Eating outdoors appears to be something we should do more frequently, but there are a lot of ifs.
If one is being honest, outdoor meals are among the most conditional of all dining endeavors. The weather must cooperate, a lack of insidious insects is ideal, a burst of wind can wreak havoc, nearby smokers can ruin the palate, and too much street noise can all contribute to a less idyllic experience than described above.
Hypothesizing that these “conditions” were me being overly finicky, I conducted a highly unscientific poll on Twitter. It turns out that an overwhelming 84% of respondents enjoyed eating outdoor meals at restaurants. “It IS just me,” I thought for a moment. However, the poll also asked for comments. This is where a bigger picture became clear, along with welcomed personal vindication about my own fussiness.
Other People’s Opinions
Here are some of the comments from the Twitter poll:
“I like sitting outside if it’s warm and there aren’t loads of insects.”
“I love it but my husband and son always think it’s too hot/humid/sunny/buggy… you get the idea.”
“As much as I love the idea, we’ve found in Europe there are just too many smokers eating outside or walking by. And here in TN, it tends to be too hot and buggy.”
“Many times when we are somewhere we can eat outside it’s either too hot or it’s too noisy.”
“Not unless it’s very warm – I get cold v easily and it makes me grumpy 🙂 also I don’t like insects about when I’m eating.”
My Top Five Outdoor Meals
The success or failure of eating al fresco truly depends on the variables above and more. Good food is important, but people, situations, and conversations are what make the most memorable outdoor meals. [Also see my “Sharing Meals” post here]
Here is a list of my favorite outdoor meals (in no particular order):
1. Kentucky Fried Chicken At Home, North Syracuse, New York (1970’s): You read that correctly! Good old KFC. Growing up, my grandparents (Nimmy and Papa) would occasionally stop over with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken [Read more about Nimmy and Papa here]. The reason these meals were so memorable was the simplicity. My sister and I just sat there, chicken in hand, on the front porch with our grandparents. We were content.
2. Whole Animal Meal at MP Taverna, Astoria, Queens, NYC (2016): Suckling pig was our selection and our friend Amy took the lead putting everything together. She outdid herself! A large group of us sat outside on the front patio of MP Taverna. I knew many of the people at the table, and others were friends of friends. The amount of food was incredible. Each part of the animal was described to us before it was prepared for serving. Accompanied by a slight breeze and intermittent sunshine, the entire spectacle was impressive. Other people from the neighborhood ambled up and joined us. That meal is memorable not only because of the extraordinary food, but the way Amy made sure everyone was cared for, regardless of their financial situation.
3. Lunch At The Beachside Bistro, ‘Sconset, Nantucket, Massachusetts (2001): Nils was the best man in my wedding. Me, Nils, and his family have been friends for nearly thirty years. In addition to being amazing people, Nils’ family also has a home in a part of Nantucket called ‘Sconset. A few blocks from their house, just off of the beach, is a small, high-class resort called The Summer House. It has a pool bar overlooking the ocean that is now named The Beachside Bistro. Nils, myself, and another friend named Joe headed there for lunch before a performance. The weather was perfect, the view was ideal, the food was delicious, and we spent a couple memorable hours laughing non-stop at whatever ridiculous goofiness came out of our mouths.
4. Meals At A Rented Villa In St. Rémy de Provence, France (2012): In 2012, our family shared a villa with friends from London for two weeks in St. Rémy de Provence. Because it was so lovely, the meals during that stay could take over the entire top five list. There was an outdoor table where we ate practically every meal (see photo above.) The food was a mix of fresh baguettes, grilled meats, baguettes, various cheeses, and baguettes….oh, and more baguettes. The four of us adults had a wonderful time at each meal solving the world’s problems through conversation alone. Our one and a half year old children sat in high chairs and watched bemusedly. The weather was fantastic and the company was even better….and there were fresh baguettes.
5. Barbecue At Our Home, New York (2019): I have moved numerous times, lived in many unexpected places, and never owned a home…until last summer. The backyard of our house is not particularly large, but it is very private and we like it. Just last week, we invited friends and another family over for a barbecue. Knowing that it would be a steamy day, my wife bought a large blow-up pool for the cutest children you will ever see (in my completely unbiased opinion.) Truth be told, I stayed inside the entire time talking with whichever friend ambled into the kitchen to grab food. I occasionally glanced out the window and watched my wife chatting with her friend and our young children sitting at the picnic table like tiny adults. It filled me with indescribable joy.
I spent decades living in rented apartments and houses and never truly felt settled. That day, while watching everyone smiling, laughing, and enjoying a meal outdoors in the backyard, I realized that our recently purchased house was finally a home.
In My Unexpected Life, I share stories, thoughts, and simple ideas to entertain and possibly inspire others to become more connected with each other in conversation, food, travel, and more…no matter how big or small those experiences may be.