Restaurant News

10 Creative New Menu Items for the Summer of Social Distancing

While the rest of us were baking sourdough, these spots were developing squid-ink-dough pizzas, boozy popsicles, and more.


For most chefs, menus are living documents: They reflect the freshest ingredients that come through the door, creative whims and inspirations, and of course, whatever is happening in the larger world of dining. All that is even more true this summer, as social distancing requirements call for creative, takeout-friendly fare and patio-ready originality. With that in mind, here are 10 unique new menu items that Boston-area restaurants and bars have developed in recent weeks—and, now that dining rooms are back open, are ready to debut.

Loaded hot dogs and empanadas might come in your “grill and go packs” from Buenas this summer. / Photo by Melissa Stefanini

Buenas: Grill & Go Do Stuff Packs

The Latin food brand based at Bow Market does home deliveries on Sundays, and founders Melissa Stefanini and Sebastian Galvez are also adding drop-by hours for their maxi kiosko each week. Check out the delivery and pickup options online each week, and keep an eye out for this summer’s special Grill & Go Do Stuff Packs. Inspired by South American parrilladas—“basically a cookout with friends and fam,” says Stefanini—these pre-ordered packages pair to-go lunches with everything you need for an outside activity. Think: loaded hot dogs or empanadas, plus a handy badminton set to bring to the park.

1 Bow Market Way #14, Somerville, buenas.co.

Enjoy a boozy piña colada popsicle this summer in Bully Boy Distillers’ new Roxbury cocktail garden. / Photo courtesy of Bully Boy Distillers

Bully Boy Distillers: Boozy Popsicles

Roxbury’s top cocktail bar is dark, intimate, and not so conducive to social distancing—but Bully Boy’s outdoor cocktail garden sure is. Located just across Cedric Street from the Newmarket distillery, the new patio has properly spaced out tables and chairs, soaring sails to provide shade, and its own bar, where mixologists are shaking up house favorites to order. Also available? A perfect summer snack: Boozy popsicles du jour, in flavors like piña colada and espresso martini. The cocktail garden is open Saturdays from noon-8 p.m. and reservations are recommended.

35 Cedric St., Boston, 617-442-6000, bullyboydistillers.com.

Summer vegetable carbonara. / Photo courtesy of Mida

Mida: Summer Carbonara

Creamy and rich with eggs and tons of Parmesan cheese, classic carbonara isn’t always a light dinner option. That said, pasta pro Douglass Williams has appropriately dressed this dish for summer with lemon and capers. Crab carbonara—the dish featured in this month’s Food & Wine alongside Williams’ Best New Chef honor—replaces the current lobster version on July 1, while vegetarians can opt for summer vegetables. Mida is open daily from 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. for takeout, delivery, and patio dining.

782 Tremont St., Boston, 617-936-3490, midaboston.com.

Char siu duck tacos from Moonshine 152’s new A-Mei Street Tacos menu.

Moonshine 152: A-Mei Street Tacos

Chef Asia Mei’s Southie neighborhood restaurant is back in business, with its full, fun menu of bar snacks, burgers, and brunch available for takeout and on-site dining. The expanded menu is cheekily broken down into Phase 1 (appetizers), Phase 2 (shareables), Phase 3 (entrees) and Phase 4 (desserts), and among the new entries are A-Mei Street Tacos. Available by the pair or trio, each taco delivers Mei’s way of layering flavor, like slow-roasted char siu duck, grilled corn, cabbage, and wonton crisps. Moonshine is open daily for takeout, app delivery, indoor, and expanded patio dining, from 4-10 p.m. and beginning at 11:30 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

152 Dorchester Ave., South Boston, 617-752-4191, moonshine152.com.

Orfano’s ‘roni calzoni is on the takeout and patio dining menu. / Photo by JM Leach

Orfano: ‘Roni Calzoni

For the takeout and patio dining era, chef Tiffani Faison’s latest Fenway hit—typically an upscale, winking homage to Italian-American restaurants—has rolled out a more casual, throwback menu of pure comfort foods. It’s perhaps best embodied by the “‘roni calzoni,” but you’ll also find shrimp scampi, a gigantic mozzarella stick, and special summertime desserts from Best of Boston pastry chef Dee Steffen Chinn. Orfano is open for takeout and reservation-only patio dining Thursdays and Fridays from 5-9 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 4-9 p.m.

1391 Boylston St., Boston, 617-916-9600, orfanoboston.com.

The squid ink pizza at Pagu. / Photo by Tracy Chang

Pagu: Pizzas

Pagu chef-owner Tracy Chang is clearly an innovator. In recent months, her restaurant helped launch the organization Off Their Plate, which provides meals to frontline healthcare workers while keeping hospitality staff employed; started offering retail grocery sales; and reopened for outdoor patio. In the kitchen, meanwhile, Chang is now using squid ink, a slightly briny, deeply pigmented ingredient she uses for her menu-staple fried oyster bao, to create a pizza dough. The takeout-friendly Pagu pies, all made with house-made doughs, come in flavors like shiitake a la plantxa with ricotta and romesco sauce; as well as the one pictured, topped with fried calamari and Basque piparrak peppers. Pagu is open daily for takeout and delivery, and Thursday through Saturday evenings for patio dining.

310 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-9290, gopagu.com.

Photo courtesy of Trina’s Starlite Lounge

Starlite Snack Shack: Nikki’s Affogato

Since this summer is pretty much devoid of sports and bars, beloved sports bar Parlor Sports is on the bench. In the meanwhile, sister restaurant (and neighbor) Trina’s Starlite Lounge has temporarily substituted the bar with the Starlite Snack Shack, a summery walk-up window. Alongside griddled burgers, dogs, and soft-serve ice cream, there is a fresh new nitro draft line for cold-brew coffee. Parlor bartenders are having fun with this new normal, too: Try Nikki’s Affogato, which tops Hood vanilla soft serve with a creamy, nitro-poured Colombian dark roast from Java Road Coffee. The Starlite Snack Shack is open daily from 3-10 p.m. (Trina’s offers regular-menu takeout Thursday through Sunday, too.)

3 Beacon St., Somerville, 617-576-0006, trinastarlitelounge.com.

Taberna de Haro has to make do without the use of its traditional Spanish plancha this summer—so that means cool salads, like this one with fava beans and olives. / Photo courtesy of Taberna de Haro

Taberna de Haro: Esqueixada de Habas

In order to ensure the cooks at this Brookline tapas bar are able to stay distanced in the kitchen, Taberna de Haro has had to turn off la plancha (the metal-plate griddle) for the summer—which gives chef-owner Deborah Hansen a great excuse to experiment using beloved ingredients in new ways. To wit: esqueixada de habas, or a composed salad of fava beans with raw salt cod, grated tomato, arbequina olives, Spanish extra virgin olive oil, and red wine vinagreta. Taberna de Haro is open Monday through Saturday nights for takeout and reservation-only patio dining.

999 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-277-8272, tabernaboston.com.

James Beard Award-winning chef Tony Messina is packing up his famous ramen—to go. / Photo courtesy of Uni Boston

Uni: Make-Your-Own Ramen Kits

When Uni was just a small sliver of a sushi bar in the basement of the Eliot Hotel, chef Tony Messina’s late-night-only bowls of ramen were the stuff of legend. Since then, Uni has expanded to include a patio with seating on Massachusetts Avenue—and offer this always-available takeout version of the James Beard Award-winning chef’s ramen. Each kit includes tonkotsu broth, sliced pork shoulder, an onsen egg, and a pack of fresh Sun Noodles, custom-made for Messina by the acclaimed Hawaiian noodle company. The ramen kits are only available to go, but you can still find ramen on the patio-dining menu in the Italian-influenced form of cacio e pepe ramen. Uni is open nightly from 5-9 p.m.

370A Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-536-7200, uni-boston.com.

Photo courtesy of Vincent’s Corner Grocery

Vincent’s Corner Grocery: Vinnie’s Meatball Sub

An intimate bistro like Café du Pays is not the scene the summer of social distancing calls for—so the Big Dipper Hospitality Group, which runs CDP as well as State Park and Mamaleh’s, debuted Vincent’s Corner Grocery in the CDP space this past spring. Named for and inspired by a grocery store that inhabited the corner space from 1916 until about 1950, Vincent’s is stocked with provisions, bottles of wines du jour, and takeaway fare like this Italian-style sandwich. Vinnie’s meatballs are a blend of ground pork and beef with traditional spices and a slow-cooked tomato sauce, piled into a crusty A&J King baguette. Vincent’s Corner Grocery is currently open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.for takeout, delivery, and patio dining, with dinner hours coming soon.

233 Cardinal Medeiros Ave., Cambridge, 617-314-7297, cafedupays.com.