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Want to save your favorite restaurant? Order takeout. Dr. Fauci calls it a ‘neighborly obligation.’ | COMMENTARY

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman on Thursday ordered restaurants in the county to cease indoor and outdoor service for four weeks in an effort to slow community spread of the coronavirus.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman on Thursday ordered restaurants in the county to cease indoor and outdoor service for four weeks in an effort to slow community spread of the coronavirus. (Brian Krista/Capital Gazette)

If I see roasted chicken on a menu, I order it. People wonder why I do this. Why order something in a restaurant I can easily have at home? Wouldn’t I prefer the crab cake platter?

It’s not because I lack daring, not because of the low price, but because I savor expertly roasted chicken — crispy skin, the meat succulent, not greasy, the seasoning just right. Linda DeLibero, who wrote reviews for Baltimore magazine, considered roasted chicken a measure of a restaurant’s quality. Julia Child famously said that the test of a good chef was “a perfectly roasted chicken.”

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So I’ve been thinking about the half roasted chicken from Marie Louise Bistro on Charles Street in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon, a comforting place that does a lot of things well, among them the best roasted chicken ever placed before me; it comes sizzling from the kitchen. The bistro has a pleasant atmosphere and, in my experience, consistently good service and food. I miss it. The horrible pandemic has taken the Marie Louise experience — and that of other favorite restaurants — out of my life.

And I bet everyone reading this has a favorite dining experience and a particular dish they miss because of the coronavirus.

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We all want to get back to normal and visit those places again — restaurants, diners, bistros, coffee shops, sushi bars and brew pubs. We want them to be there after the vaccines have been distributed and the virus is under control.

The one sure way to get there is to keep supporting them. That means, if you have the means, ordering lunch or dinner for takeout or delivery when you can, and being generous with tips.

“My hope is that our community rallies to support the restaurants that they don’t want to lose, because many have been lost already and many more will not make it in these next six months,” Tony Foreman of Johnny’s, Cinghiale and other Baltimore restaurants wrote to his customers last month.

There’s a lot of talk about restaurants again because Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, his first full day on the job, ordered those in the city to cease indoor and outdoor dining as of Friday at 5 p.m. The city health commissioner, Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, backed him up. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, advises taking out rather than eating in; he says he considers support of restaurants in this tough time “a neighborly obligation.” A federal study published in September said adults who tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to have reported dining recently at a restaurant than were those with negative results.

Pardon my invoking Fauci and a study. It’s a habit of mine to defer to people in lab coats with advanced degrees and decades of experience studying pathogens and their effects on humans.

We should listen to them. Our political leaders should listen to them. Had President Donald Trump listened to them, we might have been in a better place going into the holidays.

The country is in a terrible state right now, with a rate of infection and death that seems almost beyond comprehension.

In Maryland we’re seeing more cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths.

“Our state is in a dangerous place,” says Tom Inglesby, the director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Inglesby took part in a virtual press conference on Wednesday with six county executives and Scott. Each of the elected officials described the actions they’ve taken to protect their citizens. One of them, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, cited Hopkins projections that we could soon see 2,000 more Marylanders needing hospital treatment than our hospitals can accommodate.

That’s why more restrictions are needed, and why Pittman on Thursday ordered restaurants in Arundel to stop serving meals indoors and outdoors for the next four weeks.

I hear a lot of people complaining that the consequences of these restrictions will be devastating, especially because Congress still hasn’t approved another relief package for businesses and the unemployed. They have a point, but miss the larger picture.

If you’re still employed, still getting paid, working at home and living in relative safety, the pandemic can seem remote, even abstract, despite all the grim news reports. If you can’t see what’s happening at the front lines, in hospitals, then your view can skew toward economic concerns, and the restrictions look like an overreaction.

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But I doubt most Marylanders think our political leaders are being irrational. To the contrary, most of us know they’re doing the best they can, making tough choices under extreme circumstances.

So to all the amateur experts, I say hit the pause button. If you’re concerned about restaurants and their employees, then keep them busy: Order online, order for pickup or delivery. Do it for the community. Do it because you want to see your favorite place survive.

And to the restaurants that invested thousands of dollars to accommodate outdoor dining, I say keep your tents, heaters and vents, new tables and umbrellas. When this is over, please continue to serve meals outdoors. Let’s get the city and the counties to allow more sidewalk or curbside seating on a permanent basis. Streetscapes can be reconfigured to accommodate meals en plein-air. I look forward to having the Marie Louise roast chicken come sizzling from the kitchen to my table on Charles Street one fine evening in 2021.

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