The small dining room of Catalpa that once hosted patrons packed shoulder to shoulder dining on one of the most extravagant, thoughtfully prepared prix fixe menus anywhere in the state is now filled with milkshake machines, snow cone machines, and ice cream freezers.

When COVID-19 hit, Chef Liz Huff thought it was the end. It wasn’t possible for people to continue to pack into a small dining room and splurge on the cozy, leisurely dining experience.

“I cried and I crawled in my little hole and was just completely despondent,” Liz says. “Then I woke up one day and I thought, ‘You know what? You can do this. Just because fi ne dining is dead right now doesn’t mean food is dead. It doesn’t mean the customers won’t be supportive, and it doesn’t mean you won’t have people that love you and want you to succeed.’ ”

So on June 1, Catalpa, where a check average used to be $75 per person, became a burger and frozen cocktail joint with nothing on the menu exceeding $12. Customers have loved it.

Liz Huff

In addition to traditional burgers, there are turkey burgers, vegetarian Impossible burgers, and chicken and ahi tuna steak sandwiches. You can get everything “Your Way,” where you choose your own toppings, or you can go with the “Catalpa Way” where you pick from five combinations of delicious toppings to add to your sandwich or burger. If you’re of age, the boozy milkshakes and frozen cocktails will quench your thirst. Or go for an iced espresso or snow cone, if you’re looking for something without alcohol.

There is no seating inside, but there are now twelve tables in the front yard that seat up to forty people, plus the patio. You can also order a to-go meal at the patio door, and the reservations that previously needed to be made months ahead of time are now nonexistent. Instead, you can come and go as you please. Live music plays every Saturday night.

“If you’re not willing in this environment to make a complete 180 with your business, then you’re not going to make it,” Liz says.

For the customers who still crave the fine-dining Catalpa once offered, Liz plans to begin her in-home cooking classes December through February. Next year, the transformation will continue at the ever-evolving Catalpa. There will be a full bar with five or six tables inside, the current patio will be covered and expanded, and a wraparound patio will be added. Misters, fans, and heaters will also be installed so the seating will be accessible during most types of weather.

“I call that pandemifying my life,” Liz says. “Whatever is thrown at me, I’m still going to be able to do business with this new model, and that’s what matters.”

510 High Street, Arrow Rock Open Thursdays through Sundays 11 AM–3 PM and 5–8 PM, with extended hours until 10 PM on Fridays and Saturdays for ice cream and cocktails.

Photos // Travis Ewart