Outdoor dining is not the exclusive domain of restaurants. How about a good, old-fashioned (but socially distant) picnic? This week, we show you how to do it. Also this week, we look at the sagging Center City lunch trade, a classic cookbook with Philly roots, and the very future of restaurants — at least in the short term.

Be aware that Philadelphia’s suburbs on the Pennsylvania side head into the “green” phase on Friday, June 26, and the city heads into a modified green phase as early as July 3, which means that indoor dining rooms may open at 50% occupancy. Although indoor dining and casinos return to New Jersey on July 2, Gov. Phil Murphy is urging extra caution as the states where mask-wearing is recommended but not required have seen a dramatic uptick in coronavirus cases.

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Our picks for picnics

Individual portions like these cheesecake tartlets will help you avoid cutting multiple servings and sharing utensils with guests.
Jamila Robinson
Individual portions like these cheesecake tartlets will help you avoid cutting multiple servings and sharing utensils with guests.

Socially distanced gatherings are allowed, yet restaurant options remain limited, with a scattering of spots just beginning to open outdoor seating. And in a survey of nearly 2,000 people by Philadelphia’s Center City District, only 35% of said they’re ready to eat out within the next month, anyway.

What does that mean? Summer 2020 is bound to be the summer of socially distanced picnics. Inquirer food editor Jamila Robinson shares a few simple dishes that are easily portioned into separate servings while still offering the camaraderie of a dinner party, while staff writer Grace Dickinson has put together tips for planning a pandemic picnic, with recipes to help you eat more plants. “At a time where meatpacking plants are facing issues, and everyone’s stress levels are soaring, plants make sense, and they’re perfect for picnics,” Grace writes.

The future of restaurants

Darrell Shoaff, who works in facilities for Starr Restaurant Organization, installs clear acrylic dividers at Morimoto in Center City.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
Darrell Shoaff, who works in facilities for Starr Restaurant Organization, installs clear acrylic dividers at Morimoto in Center City.

Philadelphia’s restaurant comeback has officially begun. The big question: Will its dining scene be recognizable in six months? Inquirer critic Craig LaBan digs into the question. Part of the answer sounds like a famous line from the movie The Graduate: “One word: Plastics.”

What will become of the Center City lunch trade?

Momin Mohiby works at one of his food trucks, at 17th and Arch Streets.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
Momin Mohiby works at one of his food trucks, at 17th and Arch Streets.

With Center City offices largely empty, so are the lunch restaurants and food carts. For these businesses, it’s either pivot or perish, writes Inquirer staff writer Christian Hetrick.

Looking back at ‘Vibration Cooking,' a cookbook ahead of its time

Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, author of the celebrated cookbook "Vibration Cooking," was raised in Philadelphia.
Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl: The Lifestory of Vertamae-Smart Grosvenor.
Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, author of the celebrated cookbook "Vibration Cooking," was raised in Philadelphia.

Inquirer staff writer Cassie Owens tells the story of self-described “culinary griot” Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, whose family was among the Gullah-Geechee people from the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia who migrated north. The West African culture informed her South Carolina Lowcountry cooking and formed the basis of the cookbook Vibration Cooking: Or, The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl, which marks its 50th anniversary this year. Kali Grosvenor, her daughter, has been revisiting Vibration Cooking as she researches details on her family’s life in Philadelphia, and Julie Dash, director of the classic 1991 film Daughters of the Dust, is studying her life for a forthcoming documentary.

Bibou is reopening, but as a sidewalk cafe

Chef Pierre Calmels with daughters outside Bibou.
COURTESY CHARLOTTE CALMELS
Chef Pierre Calmels with daughters outside Bibou.

Pierre and Charlotte Calmels of Bibou have set up tables outside their South Philadelphia French BYOB for light snacks two nights a week. L’Apero is short for l’apéritif.

Take your order — after taking your temperature

Cafe Aldo Lamberti manager Rosita Lamberti and Chris Genzano review a menu. The thermal camera is on a shelf above Lamberti's right shoulder.
MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Cafe Aldo Lamberti manager Rosita Lamberti and Chris Genzano review a menu. The thermal camera is on a shelf above Lamberti's right shoulder.

Want to eat or work at Cherry Hill landmark Caffe Aldo Lamberti? You must be temperature-screened at the front door. Takes a second and you won’t feel a thing. The restaurant bought a $20,000 thermal camera in the interest of safety, because a fever is one possible symptom of a COVID-19 infection.

There’s a lot of competition in the booze biz

Convenience stores are putting stock in alcohol, particularly beer.
FILE PHOTOGRAPH
Convenience stores are putting stock in alcohol, particularly beer.

Convenience store chains — notably Wawa and Sheetz — are beginning to add alcohol sales to their stores as newcomers like goPuff threaten to upend the status quo, writes Inquirer staff writer Katie Park. To which I’ll add 7-Eleven, which has been working on a new location with a liquor license on Penrose Avenue in South Philadelphia. Boozy Slurpees?



Why we falafel: Mama’s has closed

Mama's Vegetarian opened in 2005 at 18 S. 20th St.
MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Mama's Vegetarian opened in 2005 at 18 S. 20th St.

Two closings were announced this week, and neither is particularly related to the coronavirus. Mama’s Vegetarian, a critical and popular fave for its falafel, confirmed that it had pulled the plug after 15 years on 20th Street south of Market. Building issues. Also, the Applebee’s on 15th Street near Locust wrapped up a 15-year lease in what we old-timers will remember as Bookbinders Seafood House.