Story and photos by Kaitlin Hill
Between navigating COVID-19 and dealing with freezing temperatures, local restaurants are getting creative in their outdoor dining options. From Parisian-inspired greenhouses to cozy cabanas, there are some unique and COVID-conscious culinary experiences across Hunt Country waiting to be explored.
In Purcellville, Petite Loulou offers a taste of Paris with its menu of crêpes, croissants, quiches, coffee creations, and more. In January, the crêperie added a new Parisian-inspired experience: private outdoor dining in its enchanting greenhouses.
“Our goal as a business is to provide a transportive experience,” Petite Loulou founder, Dusty Lockhart, says. “With the greenhouses, when I first saw them, it just seemed like they could really evoke that winter Parisian village, you know, the ‘Christmas Market’ vibe. So, when we were looking at how to create a safe and special dining experience, they were the best fit for our goal of being transportive.”
Petite Loulou’s Greenhouses.
The transparent structures with café-style flooring and hanging greenery are more than adorably European. They are kept cozy with guest-controlled heaters and given the highest levels of sanitation for guests to feel safe.
“In terms of the protocols we have in place, we use fine mist sanitizing spray, and we fine mist the entire greenhouse before and after each use,” Lockhart says. “We also use sanitizing wipes to wipe everything down. Everything that has been touched or even breathed on has been thoroughly sanitized. And venting is extremely important, not just for the release of chemicals, but also for air circulation. And our greenhouses are vented.”
For guests wishing to avoid interaction, the team at Petite Loulou has a contactless service. “We do have two options for how you dine in them,” Lockhart says. “If you want to be completely isolated and don’t want to interact with other guests or our team, we have the greenhouse concierge. For every reservation, guests can select whether they want contactless service or standard counter service. For the guests who choose contactless, the concierge calls them, they order their meal and pay through the concierge. Then, when they arrive and check-in to their greenhouse, we’ll bring everything out in a bag and leave it on the table next to the greenhouse.”
Special care is given to the bags too. “When we bring the bags out, everything is done gloved. We sit the bag down and then sanitize the handle,” she says. For Lockhart, the extra effort to ensure customer safety is part of good hospitality. “What hospitality is at its core is making guests feel comfortable,” she says. “That is all it is, we are just able to apply that in this different scenario.”
Beyond the thorough sanitation practices, Lockhart’s vision of hospitality includes a warm welcome and her hope that Petite Loulou newcomers and loyalists will view the greenhouses as an extension of their own homes and workspaces.
“The greenhouses are available for use by the guests any time,” she says. “And, we would love to have more guests that come and use them during the week. Just set up your work and get out of the house a little bit. I think they are a great spot to do that. On the weekends they book up really fast, but come during the week. Bring your laptop and have a change of scenery, we have Wi-Fi.”
If, like many, you miss the opportunity to cozy up in a coffee shop on a chilly day with your laptop or a good book, Petite Loulou’s greenhouses have you sorted. Reserve online and don’t forget to browse the tasty crêpes and tempting drinks to get you excited for your visit.
713 E Main St, Purcellville, Va.
540-441-3135 | lapetiteloulou.com
The Salamander Resort and Spa in Middleburg is synonymous with excellence to guests who come and stay for a while or dine for a night. And the experience of refined service extends to the outdoor dining domes the resort installed this November. They were designed as a creative solution for cold weather dining while adhering to COVID-19 safety measures.
“In November, as the weather started to get colder, we knew we needed more dining options for guests,” resort manager Jose Curci says. The dining domes are perhaps best described as similar to snow globes, but with creature comforts and guest safety in mind.
“Each Dining Dome has a personal heater and feels very private,” he says.“Guests are able to dine under the stars in a temperature-controlled environment.” Though more than just reliable warmth, the dining domes have the ambiance of indoor dining with bistro lights and squashy rugs, and special touches like baskets of blankets and hanging greenery for décor. The domes boast sweeping views of the property to be enjoyed through their transparent walls as well.
Salamander Dining Domes.
Guests who can take their eyes off the stunning grounds and focus on the food are in for a treat. Curci explains the menu offering as, “exclusive four-course prix-fixe menu with an equally exclusive dining experience. The prix fixe dinner menu rotates seasonally, and we also have a unique menu for each holiday.”
Just as important as the menu offerings are the procedures put in place to make sure the dining dome experience isn’t only delicious, it’s safe. “Hand sanitizer is available at the entrance of the dining domes and all the staff wear masks,” Curci says. “Each dining dome is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized after each reservation.”
With exquisite food and attention to guest comfort, two staples of the Salamander Resort and Spa experience, it is no surprise that the dining domes book quickly. “[Our] guests have really enjoyed the dining domes and they are booked every evening,” Curci says. “We suggest making your reservation a few weeks in advance.”
If you do manage to get a reservation, the only thing left to do is make memories, which is the inspiration behind the dining domes. “We are always looking for out-of-the-box ways to create memorable experiences for our guests,” Curci says. “When we found the dining domes, we knew this would be an opportunity to create a unique dining option while maintaining a safe environment.”
500 N Pendleton St, Middleburg, Va. 20117
540-326-4000 | salamanderresort.com
Much loved for its refined food and comfortable atmosphere, Field & Main in Marshall offers the same excellence in its outdoor cabanas. Chef and owner, Neal Wavra, explains that the inspiration for Field & Main’s cabanas resulted from a summer trip to Colorado.
“On the way back from Colorado, my wife and I intentionally stopped at a few restaurants just to see how people were responding to dining out,” he says. “Nobody ate inside. It struck me that we were going to have to find a viable option for people to eat outside.”
For Wavra, outdoor dining presented its fair share of challenges in his pursuit of offering the ideal guest experience. “Outdoor dining is difficult,” he says. “There are too many factors outside of your control that you’re responsible for. If it rains, if it’s cold, if it’s windy, all those things become a problem when you invite people to sit outside. So, I wanted something that was really structurally sound.”
Field & Main’s initial rendition of outdoor dining took the form of tents. “We built platforms and put tents up starting July 22,” Wavra says. “They were wildly successful. People really loved them and thought they worked really well.”
However, a September windstorm required Wavra to rebuild, this time opting for something permanent. “We had a proven concept for dining outside but had one big windstorm in September, and that form of structure, I realized, wasn’t going to do it,” Wavra says. “So, we closed at the end of October and took four weeks to build permanent structures that are very COVID-safe.”
Field & Main Cabanas.
Six of the seven cabanas can seat six guests with one larger model that can accommodate a group of 10. “For people who really want to be socially distant and have a space that is unto themselves, that is what the cabana offers: private dining,” he says. “They are separate.”
But more than just physical distance, Field & Main has implemented stringent sanitization procedures as well. “Our staff wears masks and, of course, we sanitize in between guests,” he says. “In fact, we offer these sanitizing towelettes that expand with a sanitizing solution before we even begin [service]. So, we’ve taken a number of measures to ensure that this environment is as safe as possible, and it is a fun way to dine too. We don’t feel as if you’re settling for a COVID-worthy solution to dining only, but are treated to something special regardless of the circumstances.”
For those interested in the Field & Main cabana experience, reservations can be made online. “They do book up a couple of weeks in advance on the weekends,” he says. But don’t worry, the structures aren’t going anywhere, and Wavra hopes guests will enjoy them for years to come. ML
8369 W Main St, Marshall, Va.
540-364-8166 | fieldandmainrestaurant.com
First published in the March 2021 issue of Middleburg Life.