Produce in a GrayBarns pantry box

Restaurant operators are endlessly creative. You only have to look at the vast diversity of style, menu, and price point to see that no two eateries are alike. Not surprisingly, they’re bringing that same creative energy to the current industry-wide calamity. 

Unable to serve as usual, many have offered their menus for take out. Curbside pickup came next.  Now I see modified menus and reduced prices. Fine dining menu choices didn’t always travel well and were priced to include memorable ambiance and service.  Some restaurants have applied their considerable cooking skills to more everyday, family-friendly cuisine and price points. 

While a few have closed completely, others have expanded their off-site services.  None of them are doing anywhere near the business they used to, but they’re hoping to keep alive, keep their name out there, and keep at least some of their staff engaged.

At Bruxelles Brasserie in SoNo Chef Roland Olah has rejiggered his menus to include Family Meals designed for groups of four to share and Date Night menus to serve two.  There’s also the à la carte and kids menus if everybody wants to order their own thing.  The broader scope adapts to the current stay-at-home lifestyle. Both delivery or curbside pickup are available

At the Tavern at GrayBarns in Norwalk, Connecticut Magazine “Best Up-and-Coming Chef” Ben Freemole has pivoted away from sophisticated American cuisine to a family-meal program. Full menus ( designed to feed a family of four (with enough for some leftovers I suspect) are offered Tuesday through Friday.  Main courses like Rigatoni & Beef Bolognese, Braised Wagyu Beef Tacos, Chicken Cordon Bleu, and Whole Roasted Chicken were recently on the menu.  With sides, salad, and dessert at $100 per day, it’s a complete meal for $25 a person — a bargain for cooking at this level. 

On Saturday, GrayBarns puts together a pantry box of entree, vegetables, and staples for home cooking.  Our recent box included a free-range chicken to roast, seasonal ramps, lions mane mushrooms, and a bunch of great-looking asparagus.  Under all that was a bag of cranberry beans to stew up along with produce, fruit, milk, butter and free-range hand-picked eggs (in shades of white and blue, tan and brown) to stock the larder. The box comes with some insider cooking tips from Chef Freemole. A couple days of good eating for $100.

America’s food distribution channels are confused right now. Grocery store produce departments suffer from hit or miss deliveries while produce destined for food service is going begging. Heartbreaking media footage of milk being dumped and lettuce being plowed under document the problem.

Chef Ben Freemole’s cooking tips

Restaurants like GrayBarns Tavern, with access to foodservice wholesalers, are tapping into that network for their customers. Size and quantity, however, are stumbling blocks. Households don’t often want a 50 pound box of potatoes, a case of eggs, or a flat of blackberries.  But the restaurants can take those quantities and break them down into smaller household-size units.

Little Pub restaurants, with four locations across Fairfield County, have jumped into the grocery game. In addition to their take-out menus at, you can order produce, meat, seafood, and staples from their Little Pub Market menu.  Sometimes they even have toilet paper and face masks. 

Little Pub owner Doug Grabe told me he never expected to be in the grocery business. “Our goal is to keep our people employed and serve the community,” he shared. Their restaurant wholesalers have been “great partners” with supplies.  “We started with hard-to-find paper goods,” Grabe said, “and expanded from there.” 

At Marley’s in Wilton the daily specials include family dinners for two, four, or six in addition to their full takeout menu. During the day (11:00 to 4:00) pre-ordered groceries can be picked up.  Cleaning supplies, produce, dry goods, and dairy are all on the Marley’s Marketplace menu.  

If you want to order in bulk, Baldor Specialty Foods, a wholesale distributor to fine restaurants, will deliver to you too. A minimum order of $250 might include restaurant fare like seasonal ramps, prime steaks, and imported cheese or perhaps a prosaic bag of sugar. On their easy-to-understand website next day delivery is a snap to arrange. 

The Chef’s Warehouse is another restaurant supplier offering free home delivery for orders of $250 or more in Fairfield County.  Their complete line includes meat, fish, produce, and household supplies. 

Pay close attention when ordering from the big boys. Do you really want a four pound jar of jam or one pound of paprika? Be aware that the delivery might come in a very big truck.

Creative operators are expanding the definition of a restaurant. I don’t know where this is headed, but I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next. 

Frank Whitman can be reached at