Going out to eat used to be easy.
You went to a restaurant and ordered from a menu. A waiter or waitress made sure your needs were met.
These days, we're eating off food trucks and dining in pop-up restaurants. At pop-ups, chefs prepare meals in unusual locations, often for just one night. They're usually only advertised through social media.
Dining clubs are more-formal versions of the pop-up phenomenon. Organizers send out an email blast and start accepting reservations until they're sold out. A portion of the money collected usually goes to charity. Susan Bryant and Doreen Christensen checked out two such clubs.
The DL Supper Club
The DL Supper Club in Fort Lauderdale celebrated its first anniversary in December with 20 guests, wine pairings donated by Premier Beverage and a fundraiser for the Pantry of Broward.
Lee Torain, a personal-fitness trainer and owner of the catering company Chef 4 the Day, launched his monthly dinners with 12 guests after the Food Network inspired him to form the DL, short for "down low."
"I saw this story on underground restaurants/supper clubs, and I was mesmerized. There were these chefs doing these great events in their tiny apartments, garages, basically anywhere they could," Torain says. "They were serving great food to cool and interesting people without the constraints of working in a restaurant. I was hooked."
A $35 donation, plus gratuity, is suggested for the multicourse dinners with seasonal, organic ingredients hosted at Torain's home. November's menu proved to be a hit, with roasted-beet salad with walnut-sherry vinaigrette, coffee-braised beef short ribs and chocolate pear pudding.
"Once you come, you always want to come back. You get nice company and homemade food, so the atmosphere feels so much nicer," said Eli Halali, 32, of Oakland Park, during his fourth dinner.
Torain, 43, piques interest with a 300-member mailing list. The evenings kick off with a welcome drink and an appetizer on his delightful rooftop before moving inside to a long, communal table. Guests usually bring their own wine or beer.
"It's really people of all ages and walks of life. Lots of foodies and people looking for something unconventional to do," Torain says. "Usually, people come the first time, and then they come back bringing all their friends, because they have such a great time."
For more information on The DL Supper Club, email email@example.com.
— Susan Bryant
The Traveling Plate
This past November, the Traveling Plate hosted a dinner at the Historic Stranahan House and Museum in Fort Lauderdale. The featured chef was Lenore Nolan-Ryan, who owns a catering and cooking school in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.
About 50 guests at Broward County's oldest address sipped pomegranate champagne punch before taking a tour of the homestead and dining al fresco along the New River. Creamy red-pepper coconut bisque started things off as a smiling DJ Stephen Pattison, Jr. entertained the crowd, spinning hits from the porch.
The main course was five-spice chicken with Thai orange sauce with Israeli couscous pilaf. Chocolate ganache brownie Grand Marnier sabayon completed the feast.
"I was pleasantly surprised by the combination of the historical setting, the wonderful food and communal seating arrangement," said Zippy Sandler, of Port St. Lucie, who attended with her brother. "I got to meet some wonderful people and was able to support this wonderful cause. It was very inspirational to see the happy faces of the students, who obviously love what they are doing."
What's most interesting and uplifting about these dining adventures is that the service and meals are executed by student chefs from the Sunrise-based ARC Broward Culinary Institute, overseen by the capable hands of executive chef Andres Marin. The Traveling Plate has also held dinners at Parker Playhouse and Marando Farms in Fort Lauderdale.
Started in February 2012 in a partnership with Leadership Broward, the "clandestine dinners" are part of the nonprofit's low-key mission to use "food as a tool to transform lives for adults with disabilities and other life challenges," says Dennis Haas, president and CEO ARC Broward.
"The food, the service at the dinners and even the entertainment is all provided by individuals that have employment barriers, including many with disabilities," Haas says. "The Traveling Plate dinners are an amazing opportunity to showcase their talents and let them get valuable experience."
From soup to sabayon, mission accomplished, deliciously.
Tickets cost $50 to $90 per person per dinner. Call 954-746-9400 or go to TravelingPlateFTL.com to sign up for email alerts when dinners are added.
— Doreen ChristensenCopyright © 2015, South Florida