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A Feast Al Fresco | By Rebekah Sanderlin

It hasn’t always been easy to find somewhere in Fayetteville to enjoy great food and drinks in the open air. In the past, only a few restaurants have offered outdoor dining. “Whenever my wife and I wanted to go out to dinner there was nowhere to go to eat outside,” said Nick Parrous, one of the owners of Luigi’s. “It was always a challenge to find a restaurant with a nice patio and good food.” Not anymore. Restaurants downtown and along the Skibo, McPherson Church, Raeford and Ramsey corridors are opening decks and patios for dining almost as fast as their wait lists fill with names. And, oddly enough, it’s not our region’s balmy weather that we have to thank for the boon in outdoor dining; it’s our new smoking law. When the state banned indoor smoking in bars and restaurants in January, establishments that already had outdoor areas saw their business spike and others scrambled to accommodate smokers with outdoor options. With new and expanded patios all over town, that development is good for everyone who likes to eat under the stars. There are almost too many mention: Morgan’s Chophouse, Carolina Ale House, Blue Moon Cafe and so many more, but here’s a quick sampler:

Pierro’s Italian Bistro www.pierrositalianbistro.com 678.8885 217 Hay St. Open seven days a week. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. until 10 p.m.; Sundays noon until 9 p.m. May be open later during busy weekends and special downtown events and festivals. People often tell Michael Laurenceau and Daniel Fair, the owners of Pierro’s, that their restaurant is reminiscent of a European café that makes them feel very far away from Fayetteville while, paradoxically, being right in the middle of it all. The owners say that much of this charm is due to the large sidewalk dining area. “The patio adds amazing curb appeal,” Laurenceau said. “People enjoy sitting outside, eating great food and seeing the pretty planter boxes. You can sit outside and enjoy a great meal with friends and family and take in a relaxing downtown view.” The patio seats about 40 to 50 people but books up fast on pretty days. The owners recommend calling for reservations though it’s first come, first served during downtown’s busiest events, namely 4th Fridays, the Dogwood Festival and the International Folk Festival. As the restaurant’s name suggests, the menu is heavily focused on Italian offerings. The owners say they strive to maintain a family-run, full-service vibe with a focus on fresh ingredients and high-quality preparation. What to eat & drink: For cocktails on the patio with friends this summer, the owners say you can’t go wrong with half-priced bottles of wine offered on Wednesdays, the perfect complement to Pierro’s fresh Atlantic salmon served grilled, blackened or pan-seared with fettuccine alfredo and a choice of broccoli or spinach. For lighter appetites or lunch, perhaps, Fair said the timeless Pizza Margharita, with tomato sauce, fresh basil and homemade mozzarella cheese would be a perfect choice for the perfect outdoor feast. Even better, dress up your pizza pie with artichoke hearts or other veggies.

Huske Hardware House www.huskehardware.com 437.9905 405 Hay St. Open seven days a week. Sunday, 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.; Monday & Tuesday, 11 a.m. until 10 p.m.; Wednesday & Thursday, 11 a.m. until 1 a.m.; Friday & Saturday 11 a.m. until 2 a.m. Tell out-of-towners that you want to eat at Huske Hardware and watch the confusion spread over their faces. After all, with a name like Huske Hardware House, you can’t blame the unfamiliar for expecting nails and bolts instead of entrees and brews. But Huske has been serving up its own award-winning beer and an array of dishes since the restaurant opened in 1996, and all of these things have been served to grateful patio diners since the restaurant’s beginning. Manager Donna Stephens said she hasn’t noticed a big change in the patio’s popularity since the new anti-smoking law went into effect because smoking has always been prohibited inside the restaurant. Still, just like every year, the patio’s popularity has continued to rise with the mercury. So, too, has Huske’s popularity since Budweiser began distributing Huske beers and other restaurants around the state began carrying it. A lively nighttime bar scene doesn’t hurt either. “On weekend nights, when it’s like Club Huske here, we have a portable bar outside, and it’s standing room only, inside and out,” Stephens said. What to eat & drink: But if you’re there earlier in the day or in the evening before the crowd gets thick, and you want to kick back on the patio, take in the sights and sounds of downtown or the whistle of a passing train, Stephens recommends sipping a Triple H, a three-layer beer cocktail named in the restaurant’s honor. As for food, Stephens said the restaurant has a new salad on the menu that is perfect for a summer meal outside. The Raspberry Salad features mixed greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, dried cranberries and almond slivers, all doused in raspberry vinaigrette. For lunch, the Roma Sandwich with Roma tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and balsamic vinaigrette on Cuban bread, will strike a perfect note even on a hot day.

Luigi’s www.luigisnc.com 864.1810 528 N. McPherson Church Rd. Open Monday through Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. until 9:30 p.m.; Thursday & Friday, 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. until 10 p.m.; Saturday, noon until 10 p.m.; Sunday, noon until 9 p.m.

Outdoor dining is nothing new at Luigi’s, which has had a popular patio for more than 10 years. However, longtime patrons might take a wrong turn when headed for an al fresco meal now. The restaurant recently moved its patio to the other side of the restaurant and converted the old patio area into an expanded lounge. The new patio is slightly bigger than the old one, but it has a lot more amenities. Parrous said guests will notice that there is much more flexibility now in how the patio tables can be configured. They’ll also notice the large outdoor fireplace, the patio heaters and fans and the plasma television, all of which give the area four-season appeal. Parrous believes that all the new patios at restaurants around town will only serve to make outdoor dining more popular. “When you have experienced something you’ve enjoyed, like outdoor dining, you are likely to seek out that experience again,” Parrous said.

What to eat & drink: Parrous also said that Luigi’s has kept outdoor dining in mind even in planning their food and drink menus. The menu also features an entree created specifically with patio guests in mind: Chicken Basilica. Parrous said the dish features grilled chicken, fresh basil and fresh tomatoes. “It’s ideal for outside dining, maybe with a light red wine,” Parrous said. “The intention of that dish was for al fresco dining.” The popular patio tends to book up on weekend nights, so Parrous recommends calling ahead for reservations and requesting an outside table. But even waiting promises to be entertaining thanks to live jazz available in the lounge on Friday nights.

Chris’s Steak House www.chrissteakhousenc.com 485.2948 2620 Raeford Rd. Open seven nights, 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; until 11 p.m. Friday & Saturday.

Chris’s Open Hearth Steak House has been a favorite dining spot in Fayetteville since the restaurant opened in 1963. People eat at Chris’s again and again because of the reliably delicious steaks and other entrees, the elegant atmosphere and the restaurant’s cozy, family-style approach to fine dining. But in the past people did not go to Chris’s for a fantastic open air meal because, until a few months ago, that would have meant sitting in the parking lot. The statewide prohibition against smoking indoors in restaurants caused Chris’s owners to add a patio for the first time in the restaurant’s history in order to accommodate customers who smoke, some of whom have been dining there for years, said Luke Poulos, one of the owners and son of the restaurant’s founder, Chris Poulos.

What to eat & drink: What else at Chris’s? Steak of course. Specialties include the Chateaubriand for Two, grilled over charcoal, just right for eating outdoors and perfect with a glass of wine.