As patios pop up across the region, restaurants are trying to maneuver their way through the provincial government’s regulations as Ontario opens up for business.
For at least this week, provincial regulations are allowing restaurants in the Niagara Region to serve patrons in outdoor areas only, while waiting for the word to move into Stage 3.
Many local restaurants and wineries have been erecting pop-up patios to serve clientele who want to enjoy the wine and cuisine that Niagara-on-the-Lake has to offer.
The plan to add a patio area at Pillitteri Estates Winery was already in the works when the thought of a global pandemic was still just a concerning idea to health experts and science fiction writers. According to Michael Zappitelli, business development manager and expert pizza dough spinner, the idea of a permanent restaurant at Pillitteri Estates Winery had been in development for the last year.
In the past, the winery has hosted catered events, and it was time to have a permanent fixture to serve the public. The concept began with an idea to design a space that would serve wood oven pizza, fresh garden salads paired with their VQA premium wines, and icewine-infused cocktails.
Zappitelli, who is the spouse of Julia Friesen of the Pillitteri clan, explains that they had certain goals in mind. First of all, they wanted to work to their strengths by highlighting what Pillitteri Estates Winery is known for. As one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of icewine, it was only natural they would want to feature icewine at the restaurant. “We want to show that icewine can be innovative,” says Zappitelli, and not strictly a dessert wine but can be incorporated into other drinks and cocktails. They have experimented with icewine to create new cocktails and to play with new flavours by adding it to time-honoured cocktails such as the old-fashioned or martini.
One such icewine-infused cocktail that was featured last Sunday afternoon was the Blueberry Mojito, which has become so popular that Zappitelli says he is having a difficult time sourcing the blueberries to keep up with the demand. Refreshing and flavourful, the cocktail features Reserve Vidal icewine, spiced rum, muddled blueberries, fresh mint leaves, and a dash of freshly-squeezed lemon and lime juice, served over ice in a highball glass.
Because they export their wines to over 39 countries, the Pillitteri family wanted to do something that would cater to the locals, to those who have supported them all the way back to Gary’s Fruit Market. “The intent is to do something to give back to the locals who helped us get our start, which helped us to get into the international market in the first place,” says Zappitelli. In essence, “to bring us back to our roots.”
Their plans for opening the patio were pushed back due to COVID-19. Originally, they had hoped to open in May, which was delayed until July 3, “but we are rockin’ now,” says Zappitelli.
Staff are minimizing any contact with patrons and aim to make your experience as safe as possible. Host Allie Friesen, who also married into the Pillitteri family, explains the restaurant is working to ensure provincial guidelines are being followed. Plexiglass has been installed at the front counter where patrons order their food and drinks. She encourages patrons to take a number card to a table and sit “wherever you feel comfortable.” Seating includes individual tables under a large tent, or at picnic tables with large umbrellas. All seating is spaced to accommodate physical distancing and provincial regulations. Proper signage and sanitization stations are provided for guests needing to wash up and use the facilities. Serving staff wear masks during close interactions with clientele.
Zappitelli and Friesen agree that they feel they have coped well under the restrictions.
The folks at BarrelHead hope to add live music to their venue. At this point, the Niagara Region is remaining in Stage 2 until further notice according to Premier Doug Ford’s announcement Monday. However, this will not prevent BarrelHead patrons from enjoying live music as they sip a cocktail and enjoy the crispy crust of wood fire oven pizza.
“As for our music programming,” says Friesen, “we have done research into having live music and have found that we are able to do it with the appropriate physical distancing as per the Ontario government website. We’re excited about this information as we have a large space to utilize and can easily keep the live music at the appropriate physical distancing measures. We are in the works with building something for the musicians to play on and can’t wait to get in contact with many local musicians to hopefully come play on our patio.”
As a thank you to Niagara residents, the Pillitteri family is offering a 15 per cent discount for residents of the Niagara Region at the restaurant.
However, for those who feel more comfortable staying home, but want to enjoy the fruits of BarrelHead’s new venture, they are offering a takeout special. Patrons can order any two of their wood oven pizzas and a bottle of either Team Canada Red or White for $45.
Call 905-468-3147 x333 to order takeout or walk in to pick up.
Further information on the menu or hours can be found on the Pilliterri Estates Winery website at pilliterri.com.