Times are relaxing. Restaurant dining rooms are gradually reopening. Seating is limited, and menus may not be the same. But we are getting a chance to visit our favorite places again.
With that in mind, I asked a number of people to give me a list of the restaurants they looked forward to going back to the soonest. Which would come first? No matter the reason. There were no restrictions on the type of restaurant. Locations were limited to Auburn/Opelika, Columbus and Lake Martin. I wanted a usable report for all of us. I did supply a list of types of restaurants to help jog memories.
Request were sent to a varied group of people. A wide range of ages with different size families. People with several children polled the entire clan before answering me. Some people sent me just a restaurant or two while others gave me a group. A few took the time to tell why they made their selections.
It was very interesting — the type of restaurants selected by various people. Obviously, children ruled the roost in certain situations. Geography did too. Neighborhood selections were obvious. Opelika restaurants held a slight edge over other locations. Seems the spread of responders was just right.
Almost 400 votes were cast. My spreadsheet is a big one. The formulas took a little head scratching. The data is in and here’s what it told me.
First, let’s take a look at the most popular go-back-to-first restaurants by type. It was surprising to me the categories that received few if any votes. Steak houses, seafood places and fast food spots were almost vote-less. I expected clubs to be that way.
The most popular barbecue places were Butcher Paper and Byron’s. La Cantina and Laredo led Tex-Mex. Niffer’s was the sandwich choice. Asian top selections were Pho Lee and Sushi Bistro. Fratelli’s and Ma Fia’s held the Italian honors, and the pizza leaders were Mellow Mushroom and Johnny Brusco’s. The American restaurant class was the most popular. Most all the top vote-getters are part of this group.
Here’s the top line up — the restaurants people said they wanted to go back to first as everything opens up for dine-in again. My goal was to select a dozen. With ties, the number turned to be 15. That’s a pretty small number considering we have over 200 places to choose from locally and more close by.
Level five is a big group. It comprises those getting between 2 percent and 3 percent of the votes. Those are The Hound, The Waverly Local, Pho Lee, Ma Fia’s, Mellow Mushroom, Butcher Paper BBQ, Laredo and La Cantina.
Level four is smaller and contains the restaurants receiving 3 percent to 4 percent of the votes. Acre, The Depot, Hamilton’s and Niffer’s hold those places.
Votes between 4 percent and 5 percent has a single winner — Fratelli’s Ristorante Italiano. This popular Italian spot is just three years old now and is the solid leader in its class.
Café 123 has over 5 percent of the votes and is the sole level two winner. Chef Eron Bass has a faithful following at this attractive downtown Opelika location.
The number one restaurant voters said they would like to go to first, when it is open again, is Zazu. Also located in downtown Opelika, Zazu’s appealing interior, extended bar and balcony dining make it a popular choice among restaurants in this area.
The big thing this survey shows me is that people are ready to dine out again and at a wide variety of restaurants. Also, responders say they want curbside take out to continue and have family meals available.
Remember seating is very limited right now. Make a reservation and be on time. Get ready to enjoy the service and ambiance a good restaurant brings along with great food.
Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident; a food, wine and restaurant consultant; and a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News. Contact him on Facebook at In the Kitchen with Chef Jim.