Romance in the time of COVID-19 can be tricky. Is a green-screen background on Zoom dates mandatory? Or just let your date see what your place really looks like? What about masks? Wear one in your Tinder photo so others can recognize you on that socially distant walk in the park? Who gets to choose the first movie to watch with the Google Chrome extension Netflix party? For folks cohabitating: How do you handle date night during self-isolation?
For our dating anniversary, my husband turned our living room into an extra cozy movie theater while I ran to grab takeout. We watched “Elf”—the first movie we ever saw together—and enjoyed our food with some local beers. We’ve also done double dates, including games on our Nintendo Switch and Zoom happy hours.
Luckily, there are businesses in downtown Wilmington taking the work out of date night for locals. Billy Mellon, owner of a trifecta of businesses along Princess Street, including manna (winner of Best Fine Dining 2020 via encore) Bourgie Nights, and Sweets Bakery, collaborated with Carson Jewell to bring a carefully curated menu to the home dining table.
“We wanted to do something that was reflective of manna but also highlighted a desire to make a nice package that translated to a fun time for our guests,” Mellon says. Thus, “Date Night In” was born.
manna releases menus on Tuesdays to include a four-course meal for two for $95. There is also the option to add on a “third wheel” for one ($50), as well as a smattering of other a la carte items, including wine, vermouth, cheese and bitters. Interested parties can order by email or phone either before or after the menu is released. Limited contact pickup is on Friday.
The menus are a team effort, with Mellon handling the wine, Jewell managing savory dishes, and pastry chef Rebeca Alvarado Paredes handling sweets. Mellon is grateful for his team’s willingness to volunteer, while other factors hang in the balance. He looks forward to bringing his employees out of furlough when the restaurant industry begins to wipe the proverbial sleep out of its eyes.
Just as well, manna was one of the recipients of the Re-3 grants that were made available to downtown businesses by Wilmington Downtown Incorporated. “Our plan for the grant money was to help reload the refrigerator with produce,” he says. “So that is what we are doing with it. That was such a beautiful show of support from our community. To be chosen for the grant was humbling.”
Manna utilizes as much locally grown, raised and made products as possible, per the restaurant’s ethos. Mellon also is excited about the addition of the “Breakfast in Bed” $40 add-on, which includes a dozen eggs, sausage, grits, biscuits and coffee, all locally sourced.
Two other downtown business owners have teamed up for a similar project aimed at spicing up locals’ home lives. Andrew Bopes of Mon Âme Chocolate & Wine Bar (MAC) and Catherine Hawksworth of Modern Legend have created “A Night In”: a three-part pairing experience of food, wine and music, all delivered to your door.
Early in the shelter-in-place period, Hawksworth reached out to Bopes about doing a wine and music pairing. As the two batted the idea back and forth, Bopes decided adding a restaurant to the mix would make the experience even richer.
“I wanted to do something fun to get us both some business,” Hawksworth explains. “But, honestly, I also just wanted people to feel involved in a time where everyone feels so disconnected.”
Bopes selects the wine, giving customers a choice between red, white and rosé. Hawksworth picks the vinyl—old school or new. The two decide on the restaurant, which provides all ingredients and recipes, and the total package is $75.
“I try to keep [the records] under the umbrella of what I would listen to with a bottle of wine over dinner, jazz, soul, singer-songwriter, indie, more melodic-type rock, things like that,” Hawksworth says. “I also always try to make the two options different enough. We did Ella and Louis or Sufjan Stevens, and then Dave Brubeck or The Strokes, for example.”
Previous participating restaurants have included The Basics, Second Glass and Rumcow. The next pairing will include Chef Tommy Mills at Little Pond Caterers, creator of ILM’s famous Meatball Tuesday.
Bopes says it is important to keep costs low, while also making sure all three businesses aren’t losing anything on the deal. “Knowing that people are experiencing hardships but still need to be able to ‘get away,’ we set out to fulfill this need at a good price,” he says.
The cutoff for ordering Date Night In is Monday at noon, and deliveries are made on Thursdays. Orders can be placed by calling MAC at 910-399-2731. Both MAC and Modern Legend post details on their Facebook pages.