At the Dallas Arboretum’s annual event Autumn at the Arboretum, attendees can pose among the 90,000 pumpkins, gourds and squash. This photo was taken on the path to the pumpkin village, so anyone who wants to avoid the Arboretum’s largest crowds can still find great fall photo opps in other parts of the park.(Sarah Blaskovich/Staff)
When in doubt, have a picnic.
So Grandma’s coming to town. And Great Uncle Jerry. And Aunt Stephanie. (She’s not technically family, but she comes to all the birthday parties.) As Dallas gradually starts to wake up after a long coronavirus slumber, you might need a plan for how to entertain out-of-towners in Dallas if you’ve deemed it safe for family to visit.
The first step is to set some boundaries, based on your level of comfort during the COVID-19 crisis. Plan in advance whether you’re allowing your guests to stay in your home or if you’d prefer they get a hotel. And explain the rules here in Dallas County: Masks are required at indoor establishments, with a few exceptions. Read up on what doctors are saying about hanging out in bars and restaurants and getting your flu shot on time. Public health officials say spending time outdoors is safer than being indoors for long periods of time.
So pray for good weather and repeat after me: It’s picnic season!
Here are 5 ideas — tested by my own family — for how to entertain guests safely during the pandemic in Dallas. I’m the food reporter, so: You’ll be eating or drinking almost every step of the way.
Breakfast on Saturday morning: Drive to Bonton Farms in South Dallas. The mission of the farm is to create jobs and grow food in a challenged part of Dallas, and they’ve succeeded in building a sunny place that’s worth a drive, no matter where you live in North Texas. Start at the stylish coffee shop for a latte, then walk into the farmers market next door for dinner inspiration. Or, eat breakfast on the restaurant’s pretty patio, surrounded by colorful flowers. Take the kids on a tour through the small farm and linger at the goat barn. The friendly animals will walk right up to you for a scratch on the back. Bonton Farms is at 6915 Bexar St., Dallas.
Mid-afternoon stroll on Saturday for margaritas or ranch waters: If you’re a mile or less from your favorite Tex-Mex joint, consider walking there on a pleasant fall day instead of driving. It’ll give your visitors a healthy activity, and in my family, work should come with a reward: drinks for the adults! The frozen skinny marg from Manny’s Uptown Tex-Mex Restaurante in Lakewood is a winner, though your local margarita spot is bound to be great, too. No margs? No problem: Walk the family to the grocery store instead. Mask up and grab a six-pack of ranch waters to show your out-of-town visitors you’re hip with the latest drink trends. Ranch water is a 50-year-old tradition from West Texas of mixing tequila, lime and Topo Chico, but savvy entrepreneurs have started selling ranch water by the can as a sub-group of the hard seltzer trend. Most grocery stores carry several brands of ranch water, and they’re all pretty good.
Saturday evening picnic in the park: Take a survey of the family members: Who’s got a food allergy? Who is trying out a new diet with some, ahem, rules? Who still doesn’t eat raw fish and can’t believe you’re even asking? Feeding a group is tough, but the hundreds of locally-owned restaurants in town have embraced the pandemic and are offering pick-up food to please lots of palates. We opted for the bag o’ veggie burgers at Spiral Diner in Oak Cliff to make the vegans in my family happy. (The cashew cheese on the nachos was a crowd-pleaser, too, even among the queso purists.) We took our dinner to Lake Cliff Park, spread out a big quilt and enjoyed a picnic just before sunset. Pick a different neighborhood and you can still make your picnic happen: Grab dinner at Miriam Cocina Latina, then walk across the street and eat at Klyde Warren Park. Get takeout at Parigi restaurant or Si Lom Thai Asian Fusion, then find a cozy spot on the banks of Turtle Creek. You get the idea.
Sunday-morning coffee with a view: Head to Magnolias Sous Le Pont in the Harwood District in Dallas for a cup of coffee — and plenty of dairy alternatives. Walk to the back of the shop, take the elevator up, and you’ll find a secret garden above street level. There’s giant chess and giant checkers for the kids, benches in a serene wooded area for the adults. Magnolias Sous Le Pont is at 2727 N. Harwood St., Dallas.
Sunday picnic with the pumpkins: The theme is picnics, remember? Finish your weekend at Autumn at the Arboretum, the annual pumpkin festival in East Dallas. It’s one of the few high-traffic events the pandemic didn’t cancel, though you need to reserve a time slot in advance so they can keep numbers lower. (Still: On opening weekend, there were hundreds of people on the grounds. Pick a quieter time, like a weekday morning, if that’s more comfortable for your crew.) The Arboretum allows you to bring your own food and drink, and you should. We made a stop at Eatzi’s on the way, loaded up on build-your-own sandwiches and salads, and enjoyed Sunday afternoon lunch behind the Camp House at the Arboretum, on the grassy hill with gorgeous views of White Rock Lake. The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden is at 8525 Garland Road, Dallas. Autumn at the Arboretum runs Sept. 19 through Nov. 1 and tickets cost $12-$17.