By Dustin Luca
---- — They call it Restaurant Row. Just cruise through Elm Square and gander at the Musgrove building and its neighbors and you can start to see why.
And now that row is about to become even more visible.
Brasserie 28 this month became the first of three downtown restaurants along that stretch to take their dinner and drinks menu outdoors with the addition of eight tables on the public sidewalk running along Main Street.
Soon, neighbors Yella Mediterranean Grille and One Thong Chai Thai Cuisine a couple dozen feet down the private Post Office Avenue will follow Brasserie 28’s lead. And still more restaurants are expected to embrace the trend in the weeks ahead.
The arrival of outdoor seating to Elm Square marks the culmination of more than two years of work involving dozens of business owners, town officials and others that included modifying town regulations and addressing concerns over alcohol being served on town streets.
But those who pushed for the approval say the additional outdoor options have the opportunity to make Andover a dining destination.
“It’s a really good thing for us,” Brasserie 28 co-owner Matthew Morello said, “but we hope it’s a good thing for the community.”
After launching with 32 seats last week, Brasserie 28 expects to add 28 more seats around the corner on Post Office Avenue in the future.
Meanwhile, Yella and One Thong Chai Thai Cuisine are not far from trading parking spaces for private seating.
Yella co-owner Danielle Berdahn said her restaurant is working on plans to convert two parking spaces into seating for 24 at six tables.
“We’re beyond excited — we’re thrilled,” Berdahn said. “We’ve been so looking forward to this and it has been a long time coming.”
Apple Tomamichel, owner of One Thong Chai Thai Cuisine, said her restaurant got approval for its seats from the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission last week. She’s currently working with property management to hammer out the details for about 15 seats in an area now reserved for parking, she said.
When all three restaurants on the Elm Square and Post Office Avenue corner are up and running outdoors, they will eventually combine for a total of 99 seats.
“You’ll have this great atmosphere with a European style, where you can walk and enjoy the beautiful weather,” Berdahn said.
The expansion of outdoor dining doesn’t come without some regulations. Restaurants are required to take measures so their outdoor tables are either monitored by staff or entirely closed off from public access.
Brasserie’s solution involved creating a private entrance into the outdoor dining area from inside the restaurant. The outdoor patio is also surrounded by metal gates and benches designed to match the appearance of downtown Andover, according to Morello.
“We wanted to make sure we had a very great place that was functional, beautiful and safe,” he said. “Being on town property, there’s a responsibility to that. We want to make sure that no one ever doubts their decision that they made by allowing us to do this.”
Diners looking to enjoy a meal under the stars can expect some competition for the available seats.
Jared Hossman, managing partner of Bertucci’s on Main Street, which has been operating five outdoor tables with up to 25 seats on its private property for years, said the spots fill up fast.
“Last year, it was unbelievable. When the weather cooperates, it’s a big driving force for us,” Hossman said.
The same is true at Palmer’s on Elm Street, which has been offering outdoor seating on its private deck as well.
Last Friday night, a group of customers giving Brasserie 28’s patio a try were enthusiastic about the latest player in the al fresco market.
Nine employees from Black Diamond Networks downtown gathered after work around three tables to enjoy some food and wine.
Bita Naghibi said the group usually heads elsewhere to celebrate the end of the work week, but with temperatures in the 70s and clear skies above, their plans quickly changed. They just couldn’t spend the evening indoors, she said.
“It’s really exciting to enjoy the outside in Andover and stay in town instead of going somewhere else,” fellow employee Valerie Berlinghieri said.
Jamie Cammarata, a Realtor with Prudential Howe and Doherty on Bartlet Street, said the Main Street project a few years ago “put a lot of good money in to bring old-school Andover into new-school traditions.”
“It’s great that (the community) is supporting the businesses in this market,” Cammarata said.
Count Tom Walsh among the fans of outdoor dining. He called Brasserie 28’s expansion “a great use for the space.”
“Outdoor dining is pleasant and something that my family enjoys, and we’re happy to have something that is driving distance, walking distance, for some families,” he said.
Bertucci’s, 90 Main St.
Ultimate Perk, 96 Main St.
Fisichelli’s Pastry Shop, 46 Main St.
Brasserie 28, 2 Elm Square
Palmer’s Restaurant & Tavern, 18 Elm St.
Andolini’s Restaurant, 19 Essex St.
Dylan’s Bar & Grill, 18 Park St.
Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, 28 Park St.
POST OFFICE AVENUE
One Thong Chai Thai Cuisine, 12 Post Office Ave.
Yella Grille, 16 Post Office Ave.