Pandemic Life: The pandemic has created too many challenges for area restaurants. At Provino’s, the crew adjusted to deliver the same quality and service with just a few bumps.

Pandemic Life: The pandemic has created too many challenges for area restaurants. At Provino’s, the crew adjusted to deliver the same quality and service with just a few bumps.

Angel Hair Dalvina, those rolls and salad. A perfect choice at Provino’s in Rome.

 

We returned to an old friend on Friday evening, a place where we’ve celebrated a few birthdays, church milestones, Blood Assurance board meetings, Rome radio alum lunches, expert catering for auctions and school events, and more. Even before take-out was a big thing, this trusted restaurant was a great stop on a Friday evening with a spaghetti dinner for four headed out the door with that special salad, Rome’s favorite dinner rolls and maybe six meatballs in tow. It became a lifeline during the pandemic as well.

That friend is Provino’s, at 288 Shorter Ave. in the Midtown Crossing Shopping Center. At just about every visit, for nearly 20 years, general manager Bill Adams has stopped by for a brief chat. The topics usually were families, restaurant gossip, ski trips — always comfortable and a welcome part of the Provino’s dining experience.

Except for last Friday night. A very crowded Provino’s — perhaps the most people we’d ever seen there — meant we had to wait for a table. The lobby was full but there were open seats at the restaurant’s small bar. We asked to sit there, again because of a full lobby and we wanted a glass of wine. It caught the host off guard; apparently few had asked to do so (we learned the trick from a friend who frequents Friday night to-go orders).

As we nurtured chilled glasses of Riesling, we also had a great view of both the kitchen and the dish washing stations, one to the left, then a wall, the other to the far right. The pace was deliberate — meals prepared and trayed, readied for a trip to waiting guests. There was no shouting of orders, just precision in motion from ovens and stoves to prep tables for final garnishings to the “out” door.

That’s where we spotted Bill. There would be no tableside chat this Friday. In the middle of it all — with a very white apron covering his normal dress pants, shirt and tie — Bill was cooking, prepping and cooking again. His hair a little whiter and a new (to us) beard, the general manager was a cook, if not the chief cook, this Friday night.

It is no secret that Bill and his counterpart at other Midtown Crossing restaurants and those across the region are scrambling for employees. Normally open seven days a week, Provino’s is now closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The reason, as listed in the restaurant’s Facebook post, is to give the incumbent staff a time to rest. Basically, a lifeline from burnout from the demands of today’s dining. It isn’t just about the restaurant’s ample seating; to-go has blossomed into a force of its own, even with dedicated parking spots facing Shorter Avenue that have signs resembling the curbside grocery delivery at Kroger or Publix.

We were seated within 15 minutes, half the wait time we originally were given. We sat on the Truett’s Chick-fil-A side for a change, in the room where we attended dozens of Blood Assurance meetings. It was the first time there as a family as we’d mostly sat on the “Floyd” side of the building.  Not by choice but at the whim of the host.

Service was slower although courteous, even as we spillled a glass of wine while being seated. The room was readied for a large party, a multigeneration group likely celebrating a birthday. The “windows” into the next room revealed more filled seats as we tried to wave to a Rome banker and retailer as they dined with friends.

It took a few more minutes than “normal” to get our salads (the best in town) and garlic rolls (ditto). But again, professional and attentive care from the server.

Dinner arrived around five minutes later — pasta lovers special and an Angel Hair Dalvina — and both were great as always. But with a difference. The demand of the evening had created something of a plate shortage. The pasta was served in a longer, whiter dish; the Dalvina actually came in two smaller bowls rather than one. It did nothing to stop us from enjoying the meal.

As always, paying was a breeze, complete with a to-go box for that Dalvina. There must have been some extra delivered in those two bowls. Plus we grabbed a couple of the abundant garlic rolls for lunch the next day. As for our waitress, who was perfect even as she teamed with two others to service the large family gathering, we left a bigger-than-normal tip. She probably deserved combat pay.

The whole experience was likely 90 minutes among one of the largest restaurant crowds we’ve seen in Rome in more than 18 months. We masked on the way in and during part of the wait as a few others did as well.

We were glad to see the volume of business, even if we had to wait a bit longer. We were impressed to see Bill even busier than normal if that is possible. But more important was this: An old friend, Provino’s, had survived the first round of COVID as well as ever-increasing competition and labor shortages — and done so without sacrificing what made it a Rome go-to in the first place.

We were glad the restaurant that usually celebrates your birthday with a free meal likewise celebrated another year of its own.

As we face some possible uneasy weeks ahead with the Delta variant, we’re glad to know one of our favorite go-tos is still there — even if we might be shifting to to-go yet again.

Provino’s is on Facebook (click here).

  • Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday; 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
  • Phone: 706-378-9009
  • Menu: Click here
  • Reviews: 357 in all, five stars on Facebook.

 

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