9 Great Non-Dinner Dates Tired of the usual eating-out options?
Try one of these fun new ways to nosh and get to know someone.
1. Pick your own produce: No matter where you live, chances are there's a local farm with fruit that's ripe for the picking, whether that means Washington state apples or New Jersey tomatoes. An afternoon at a "pick your own" farm is a memorable way to spend time together outdoors-and depending on how much you gather, you'll be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor long after the date's over. For an ultra romantic twist, pack a blanket, a bottle of wine, some cheese and crackers and turn your harvest into a happy hour. To find a farm near you that offers this option, log on to www.pickyourown.org for nationwide listings.
2. Farmers Markets: Treat your senses to a stroll through an outdoor market, in some parts of the country called 'greenmarkets.' Not only are they fun places to people-watch, you and your date can fill up on free samples of farm-fresh produce, locally made cheese, and fresh baked goods. And if you're still not full after making the rounds, there's no better spot to pick up a delectable picnic spread to share together. The USDA's agricultural marketing service has national listings for greenmarkets. Log on to www.ams.usda.gov and click on "Farmers Markets."
3. Dessert bars: Why waste time with dinner when you can skip straight to dessert? Instead of hitting up a bakery with little to no seating (and even less ambiance), enjoy a romantic meal of shared sweets at an all-dessert restaurant. From the cozy Chocolate Room in Brooklyn (thechocolateroombrooklyn.com) to Chicago's scene-y Sugar: A Dessert Bar to Philadelphia's romantic café Dessert (www.dessertphilly.com), these spots are popping up all over the country, offering an entire menu of mouthwatering creations, candlelit tables, and often "dessert flights" with wine or liquor pairings. To find one in your area, log on to www.openlist.com and search for "dessert" under your city for listings. And if the trend hasn't spread to your town, head to any top-notch restaurant towards the end of dinner time, skip the main course, and dig into something sweet!
4. Wine flights/beer tastings: Toast your relationship and try something new by indulging a wine flight (samples of a variety of wines versus ordering a whole bottle). Not only can you sample wines by the region, many wine bars are also offering flights based on season (hint-think rosés this summer). If beer's more your thing, there are all
kinds of varieties to sample, from pilsners to lagers, at a local brewery or beer festival. Search www.localwineevents.com for wine and spirits lists; www.beerfestivals.org has a calendar of events and www.beertown.org has a searchable directory of breweries.
5. Food festivals: There's no better way to show your civic pride than stuffing yourself with weird and wonderful regional specialties. From Plant City, Florida's annual strawberry festival, to Memphis' world-renowned BBQ Fest, to the Rattlesnake Roundup in Sweetwater, Texas, there's a festival for every imaginable taste. If you're new to your area, it's a great way to get familiar with local culture; if you're both natives, you'll have a great time daring each other to try garlic ice cream or fried pickles. Search for a food festival near you at www.foodreference.com.
6. Amusement parks: Who doesn't love hot dogs and cotton candy? Aside from the roller coasters and carnival games, you and your date will feel like kids again by indulging in fair food. Log on to www.nightcoaster.com for park listings by state. Just make sure you go on the Tilt-o-whirl before you pig out on funnel cake.
7. Tea shops: Forget coffee; tea houses are the newest way to get your caffeine fix. Whether you like it brewed hot with a side of finger sandwiches, served over ice with citrus slices, or studded with slippery tapioca pearls (called boba, or Taiwanese bubble tea), a teashop is an inexpensive date and a refreshing alternative to the traditional coffeehouse (added bonus: No coffee breath). For a comprehensive listing of teahouses nationwide, go to www.teaguide.net.
8. Tapas: Don't want a long, formal meal with someone new? Then try tapas, appetizers that offer a few morsels you and your date can share-a surefire conversation starter for first dates. Traditional tapas draw from Spanish flavors, but this popular way of dining has spread to Cuban, French, and even Japanese cuisine. Log on to www.openlist.com and search for "tapas" under your city for listings, or just stick to the appetizer menu at your favorite restaurant.
9. Food tours: Put on your walking shoes and get ready to discover a side of your neighborhood that you've never seen before. Culinary tours are a fun way to explore different areas of a city through their restaurants and food shops. Dig into gumbo on a
walking tour through New Orleans' French Quarter, sample authentic grits in Charleston, or taste Chinatown's rich culinary history on a cook's tour of San Francisco. To see if culinary tours are available in your area, contact your state's tourism board.
Lisa Cericola is a freelance writer in the New York C