During a Crazy Year, Restaurants Pivot to Survive
It’s been more than a year since the Independent last published a Restaurant News Bites column—and to say a lot has happened in the interim is probably the understatement of the decade.
COVID-19 has made restaurant owners pivot in ways that nobody could have imagined. It’s worth recapping what local restaurants have been through since the first stay-at-home order was issued last March: They shut down for everything but takeout and delivery; opened up for outdoor seating; were allowed to have limited-capacity indoor seating; had to close down indoor seating after a few brief weeks; were forced to close all in-person seating and return to just takeout/delivery for about six weeks; and opened up outdoor seating again, which is where we stand as of this writing. It appears that indoor dining, at 25 percent capacity, will be allowed again as early as next week.
While the Coachella Valley restaurant industry has so far somehow avoided the massive numbers of permanent closures some cities have seen, we have lost some favorites—including Evzin, Murph’s Gaslight and Lord Fletcher’s, to name just a few. Meanwhile, restaurateurs, chefs and wait staff have shown incredible flexibility by reinventing themselves to meet the challenges of our ever-changing economy.
In an effort to help, the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with various organizations and businesses, is running a fantastic promotion: You can sign up for a $10 coupon for takeout at more than three dozen Palm Springs eateries. Visit pschamber.org to register and find that list of participating restaurants. The same code can be used as many times as you want—until the funding runs out—on pickup orders of $30 or more (with orders via third-party apps excluded). The promotion costs the restaurants nothing, as they’re reimbursed for every coupon used.
Another innovation: pop-ups and special menus!
If you ever visited PS Underground pre-pandemic, you know how wonderful their theatrical experiences centered around food are. While PS Underground has resumed intermittent events at their space at 1700 S. Camino Real, in Palm Springs, the good people there have also been wowing eaters with an occasional Death by Cheese pickup menu, which elevates the simple grilled cheese sandwich into an occasion. They are even baking their own sourdough—a skill I assume was perfected in the early days of the pandemic—pieces of which are then smothered with a blend of cheeses and a variety of other treats, like artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives, red onion, tomatoes and sweet hot peppers ($12.95); or crab, bacon, tomatoes and garlic sauce ($19.95). Each sandwich comes with slaw and a pickle. You can also order soup, salads and tots as well as to-go cocktails. The next Death by Cheese night is slated for March 16.
A newcomer to the scene is Biscuit and Counter. Chef Lance Velasquez was named one of the best new chefs in America by Food and Wine magazine in 1996 and spent most of his career working in restaurants like The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco and Chateau Souverain in Geyserville, but a year-long stint at Marietta, Ga.’s 1848 House gave rise to his love affair with biscuit-making.
Chef Lance and his partner, Marlo, ran a successful pop-up in the Bay Area before moving to Palm Springs in September. Although they acknowledge this is a crazy time to be opening a new business, they have found the Coachella Valley to be supportive. When they couldn’t find a commissary kitchen to rent, Grand Central Palm Springs opened theirs to the pair and began including the biscuits on the menu. Initially, people could order biscuit boxes through the Biscuit and Counter Instagram page, and I was lucky enough to snag a mixed baker’s dozen of plain and chocolate drop biscuits in those early days.
They are now dishing up biscuits at the Cole Hotel, at 2323 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Biscuit and Counter is open for weekend brunch as well as the Wednesday Biscuit Counter Shop. The brunch on Saturdays and Sundays features an assortment of biscuit sandwiches, individual biscuits, salads and other breakfast offerings, plus cocktails from the Cole’s poolside bar. Wednesday’s shop features a rotating biscuit sandwich, coffee and spreads, plus boxes of a half-dozen biscuits for pickup. With flavors like charred white corn and chili, you can’t go wrong.
Coming soon to Desert Hot Springs: The Spa City Park, a collection of food trucks and other independent businesses, at 66169 Pierson Blvd.; visit spacitypark.com to learn more. One new spot already open there: The Spread Sandwiches and Salads. … Beloved Palm Springs Indian joint Monsoon Indian Restaurant has opened a second location in Palm Desert, at 72221 Highway 111, No. A109. Order the garlic cauliflower appetizer (trust me); 760-341-2705 is the phone number. … Also new to Palm Desert: Ding Tea, at 74990 Country Club Drive, meeting all your bubble tea and Taiwanese coffee needs; call 760-834-8558 to learn more. … If you are craving ramen and are in La Quinta, consider newish spot Torakichi Ramen, at 79775 Highway 111, No. 104. The menu has seven different ramens on offer, including tonkatsu black garlic and vegetarian, in addition to a variety of small plates; call 760-775-3737 for info. … If you haven’t tried it yet, I highly recommend Mambo’s Tacos, operating in conjunction with Bit of Country, 418 S. Indian Canyon Drive. The $1 street tacos are amazingly delicious. My favorites include the birria, chile relleno and the al pastor—but for the price, you really can’t make a mistake; 760-325-5154.
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