Takeout goes upscale

Chefs at fine restaurants

Posted: June 07, 2007

AH, A GORGEOUS summer evening, perfect for dining out under the stars.

Only instead, you're jammed into a high-top table for two at a crowded bar with sub-zero air conditioning churning down your back.

Summer food fun? We think not.

This season, forget about stuffy white-linen service, crowded bars and pesky reservations.

It's time to take your grub outside.

And now, it's easier than ever to get your favorite food to go.

For the first time at many local restaurants, takeout is taking on a whole new meaning as chefs cook, serve and pack their gourmet fare especially for outdoor addicts.

Recognizing that many diners want to enjoy their favorite foods without crowds, waits, and the hassle of tips and limited wine picks, chefs are offering their indoor menus to those who want to kick back in the park, by the water, or anywhere else alfresco.

The idea is win-win for everyone. Chefs serve more customers without having to seat everyone, and diners tend to order from their favorite places more often when they don't have to make a production out of it.

So if you're planning a family picnic, romantic dinner or other meal to celebrate the outdoors, or if you just want to dine on your patio in peace, check out some of these new to-go packages, ranging from affordable to crazy-fun.

_ Make packing Shore coolers and soggy sandwiches a thing of the past with Rae's new "takeout coolers to order." Throughout the summer, rising chef Daniel Stern's Cira Centre eatery will custom-pack coolers for customers. Simply drop off your favorite cooler or coolers on a Wednesday and place your order, then pick them up Friday for your trip to the Shore. They'll be filled with Stern's specialties, like lobster salad, shrimp cocktail, barbecued items and his gazpacho. Single items start around $6 and complete meal packages with meats, seafood or other entrees are approximately $50 a person. 2929 Arch St. 215-922-3839 or www.raerestaurant.com.

_ Getting away for the weekend with the whole family? Fork: etc, the food market adjacent to Ellen Yin's Fork restaurant in Old City, now does entire meals to go, from appetizers to desserts. With a focus on salads, grilled entrees and barbecue, it's like ordering a family reunion feast. The restaurant's special Weekend Getaway Package for six people includes breakfast, lunch and dinner with choices of sandwiches, sides and desserts ($300). 308 Market St. 215-625-9425 or www.fork

restaurant.com.

_ If you want to mix and match gourmet goodies for as few as two to as many as 50 people dining alfresco, Feastivities Events is the way to go. The Manayunk event company will create one-of-a-kind packages, from romantic engagement meals to neighborhood get-togethers, and coordinate the picnic decor to create fun themes with flowers, ethnic foods and cocktails. Ask for a summer favorite, the Latin-inspired picnic for 10, featuring chips and salsas, salads, flautas and mini churros with caramel dipping sauce. The picnic, which is packed in a large basket, comes with linens and floral arrangements, all for $20 a person. 440 Domino Lane, 215-475-3338 or www.feastivities

catering.com.

_ Dine outside the Art Museum, from atop the gazebo overlooking the Water Works or in Fairmount Park, with food from the romantic new Water Works Restaurant To Go! summer menu. The sensual a la carte choices range from French baguette sandwiches to pasta salads for two to fresh pastries, such as creme brulee or vanilla hazelnut Napoleon. Sandwiches range from a reasonable $5 to $7, and desserts and fruits are $1 to $4. 640 Water Works Drive, 215-236-9000 or www.thewaterworksrestaurant.com.

_ And, not to be overlooked, Picnic in University City has a lock on cooking up the perfect picnic. The idea here is to choose a basket, then fill 'er up with items from the extensive breakfast, lunch or dinner menus. Baskets range from $18-$40, and food works out to about $10 to $30 a person, depending on what style picnic you choose. Our favorite dishes include the tarragon Dijon chicken salad and the three-cheese macaroni and cheese. There are also daily gourmet made-to-go sandwich selections (like grilled portabello with provolone and spinach, or smoked turkey with Swiss and horseradish) as well as made-to-order salads. 3132 Walnut St., 215-222-1608. *

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