Better at home: Make takeout great again with a few simple fixes

Amanda Rae
Food Matters
Lunch box with healthy vegan food. Bento box with rice, tofu and vegetables, dark background.
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto


Got to-go? Consider how to enhance a dish’s original attributes with simple tweaks at home—it’s worth it. Ask yourself:

• How does this dish arrive to the restaurant table—is it piping-hot or on a chilled plate?

• What is the ideal texture? Is it flaky and crunchy or soft and gooey?

• Regarding flavor, does it need a dash of sea salt, acid (lemon juice, vinegar), or spice to make it sing?

I get by with a little help from my friends.

Chances are many of us connect to that Beatles lyric during this strange time of social separation in the digital age. And certainly the words ring true for local restaurants stuck in limbo, awaiting word on what dining in Aspen will look like this summer. Eateries offering takeout, some for the first time, aren’t doing it to draw buzz. They’re doing it to stay afloat, throwing a Hail Mary pass toward long-term survival after the coronavirus pandemic subsides. Just as these businesses need our support now more than ever, the food we order might do well with a little TLC once at home.

Case in point: Last week I ordered a meal to celebrate a personal milestone. Perhaps fried ravioli isn’t the smartest choice from downvalley delivery to the Brush Creek Park & Ride, but I was determined to fulfill a specific craving. At home I opened the container to find four triangular pillows so large and picture-perfect golden brown that they looked like pastry turnovers. I dipped one corner into the portion cup of smoked almond and sundried-tomato pesto, and took a bite big enough to include some spinach-Boursin stuffing. My enthusiasm deflated immediately. The handmade dough was tough and chewy, the filling stone-cold.

Really, who would be their perky, irresistible self if trapped in a steamy cardboard box during an hourlong-plus journey? So I fired up my toaster oven, and blasted those babies under high heat until the oil sizzled fiercely again. In just minutes, the fried finger food was reinvigorated to its former glory.

Later I had a conversation about this dilemma with Cache Cache executive chef Chris Lanter. He’s also an operating partner of Home Team BBQ, which recently began curbside pickup at the Inn at Aspen. Home Team BBQ has launched a limited menu, including bestselling nachos and pork carnitas tacos deconstructed into “kits” made for easy assembly at home

“The main reason we don’t do to-go (at Cache Cache): it’s not the same,” says Lanter, noting that the “integrity” of takeaway French fine-dining fare is no match for South Carolina barbecue. “If you leave a rack of ribs out for an hour, it’s still gonna be f-ing delicious. A filet? Not so much.”

Bosq, known for summertime Mexican lunch with handmade Oaxacan blue-corn tortillas, launched a build-your-own taco spread in time for Cinco de Mayo earlier this week. Now a rotating menu of daily specials features halved roasted chicken, herb-marinated pork loin, and cauliflower “steak,” plus traditional Peking duck, with an important note: “All meals will need to be heated in an oven.” Words to heed.

As I nearly singed my tongue on that toaster-renewed fried ravioli, I couldn’t help but think of all the customers who might dismiss the appetizer as a flop upon first bite. What a waste of food! Here’s a plea to consider a few questions (see sidebar) before digging in.

Got flabby, undercooked, or too-cool pizza? Blitz it in a scorching-hot oven—bonus if you use a preheated pan or pizza stone. Wan, wilted salad? Throw on a crunchy topping: a handful of toasted nuts or seeds or crushed pita chips. I reheated Annette’s chocolate-chip cookie for a few minutes, and felt transported back to her balmy namesake bakeshop on Hyman Avenue. (Fino is making hearty lasagna, meatballs, pizza and other Italian favorites, too, at the couple’s ongoing Saturday pop-up inside Scarlett’s.)

Finally, consider elevating the at-home encounter by ditching the packaging. While the prospect of one (or four) fewer dishes to clean after dinner may be tempting, the fastest way to replicate a restaurant experience is to serve the meal as such, on dinnerware, and eat it with flatware. Life’s too short for mediocre out-of-the-box takeout. And you’re paying top dollar, anyway.