When you become a parent, your dining out experiences change instantly and drastically. Pre-children dinners consisted of quiet, intimate evenings where you relished each and every morsel of multiple courses, from the amuse bouche to the exquisite dessert. Each selection was, of course, paired with a fabulous wine that you carefully swirled, sniffed and sipped.
Post-children dinners look something like this: You’re seated at a booth in the very back corner (or by the kitchen) of whatever restaurant you’ve bravely decided to venture to that evening. Ordering is a real struggle, not because of all the enticing options but because one of the tiny humans you’re with keeps snatching the menu and gnawing on it (gross). After orders are placed, the real panic of preoccupation sets in. One kid begins stabbing the table with a steak knife (where did they even get that?) while the other knocks over a glass of water. Having forgotten your distractors (toys, books, etc.) at home, you hysterically ask the server if they have crayons, which they do, and that buys you exactly 2 minutes and 37 seconds of pleasant conversation with your significant other. Once the food arrives, it’s a choir of complaints ranging from, “I don’t like this” to “I want ice cream” and then the persistent, “I have to go to the bathroom noooowwww.” With a shared look of defeat and a quiet sigh, one parent escorts a child to the restroom while the other asks for to-go containers, each knowing that it will be a long, long time before a restaurant outing is attempted again.
We’re here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way. You can have a relaxing dinner out with your kids. You just have to know where to take them. Here are some suggestions to making meals out fun again.
When Jason and Melissa Blanchette opened Sage Kitchen (located inside Anderson's Home and Garden Showplace) in spring 2016, many aspects of the restaurant made it obvious they had children—three small girls, to be exact—but also that they are probably considered the "cool parents" among their friends. Sage offers a sleek and trendy atmosphere that's also very approachable for families, including outdoor dining options. While the kids work up an appetite on the play set complete with rock wall, slide and swings, take your time perusing the breakfast, lunch or dinner menus with homemade and healthy options using fresh, local ingredients. When the food arrives, lure the little ones back to the table with coloring sheets and kid-friendly options like a cheese quesadilla with bacon or a warm chocolate chip cookie.
Parental Perks: If you want to linger around the outdoor fire pits while sipping your craft cocktail of choice (we recommend the Sage Gimlet with The Botanist gin, house-made sage and pear syrups and lime) and the troops are restless, take turns walking the kiddos around the greenhouse and garden center, where you will find plenty of distractions and seasonal decor to keep them occupied. Moms and dads will also love the live music and open mic nights.
Imagine a restaurant that pleases your kids' picky palates and also provides a really fun learning experience. Food For Thought—the "Eat, Drink, Think" eatery—serves up a hearty helping of history with each meal. Tell your children that the walls here actually do talk, and walk them around to discover the pictures of inventors, scientists and social leaders along with thought-provoking quotes like "Two roads diverged in a wood and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference," by poet Robert Frost. Choose from kid menu entrees that include standards like chicken strips and a cheeseburger as well as a refreshing selection of more diverse picks like The Little Vegetarian, half a grilled portabella and grilled zucchini served on jasmine mushroom rice and topped with sun-dried tomato cream sauce, or the Kid Crabcake. While your pint-sized prodigies wait for their meals, engage them with the discussion cards placed on each table to spur meaningful dinner convos.
Parental Perks: Besides the satisfaction that comes with educating your offspring, adults will also appreciate gluten-free options, quirky T-shirts and prints for sale and a slow-cooked pot roast that stands the test of time.
Pie-O-Neer Pizza Bar
3376 Princess Anne Rd., Virginia Beach
OK, let’s be honest. Kids love pizza and will be happy at most any pizza place. But Pie-O-Neer isn’t just any pizza place. It’s a build-your-own concept where customers choose their favorite crust (white, wheat or gluten-free for a little extra), sauce (tomato, alfredo, barbeque, buffalo, basil pesto, etc.) and unlimited toppings (cheeses, pepperoni, bacon, ham, chicken, veggie burger crumbles, mushrooms, olives, artichoke hearts, pineapple, etc.), then have the pizza baked right in front of them inside a wood-fired oven. Think Subway—but pizza. And if gluten intolerance is a worry with your family, you’ll be happy to see the gluten-free toppings kept separate from the rest. Best of all, kids eat free all day, every day. With each adult entrée purchased, you’ll get one free Young PieONeer pizza, which comes with two toppings and a kids’ drink.
Parental Perk: If you’re looking to go a healthier route, you can build your own salad instead of pizza, with the same selection of fresh toppings. Also, they’ve got beer on tap with stellar happy hour deals.
Pop's Diner Co.
2808 Sabre St., Virginia Beach | 757-340-6085
1432 Greenbrier Pkwy., Chesapeake | 757-502-8220
5720 Northampton Blvd., Virginia Beach (coming soon)
This breakfast and lunch spot boasts the kind of home cooking you would be proud to serve your children in your own kitchen, but because there are plenty of days when you just don't feel like being a parent and a chef, it's Pop's to the rescue. Pop's isn't just family-friendly—it is family-centric. The diner's concept began when two brothers tried to re-create the kind of memorable breakfast feasts their father would cook on Sunday mornings. The menu pleases with traditional breakfast fan favorites like silver dollar pancakes, French toast and home fries. And what kid isn't a fan of breakfast—especially when it's free? Oh yes, you read that correctly—if you spend $7.99 on an adult entree any time or day of the week, don't expect to pay for children 10 and under. We think Pop would be proud of that plus.
Parental Perks: Enjoy adult beverages with your breakfast like a Bloody Mary or Orange Crush, and because Pop's is known for portion sizes, you can pretty much guarantee going home with leftovers, getting you out of cooking one more time.
Rudee’s On the Inlet Restaurant & Cabana Bar
227 Mediterranean Ave., Virginia Beach
You know that family vacation that’s three months away but that you could really use right now? Rudee’s is a terrific spot for pretending you’re far away from home, blissfully basking in the spring warmth and enjoying a meal overlooking the water. Outdoor dining eliminates that cooped up feeling kids get when having to stay still in a booth for too long. Plus, any loud noises they make are carried off by the breeze, preventing those Why did you come here? glares from non-parents. The swinging booths are quite a hit with children (and with adults, too—who are we kidding?), and the children’s menu, which doubles as a coloring page, has all their favorites, from mac and cheese to crustless PB&J.
Parental Perks: Since the kids will want to eat early, you can take advantage of one of Rudee’s happy hour beverages. Sip and swing your cares away as the sun melts over the horizon.