Restaurant Week Introduces Locals, Visitors to Many Tastes
“Eat to live, don’t live to eat” is a practical motto for dieting, but not much fun. For the sake of balance, when the chance to explore food’s social-sensory-soulful-indulgent aspects comes along, grab a fork and get to it. Frederick Restaurant Week is an occasion to do just that. The countywide annual event, held March 5-11 this year, challenges restauranteurs to channel their creativity and passion into special multi-course menus, offered at competitive prices. Think of it as a moveable feast that can last for days, brightening the late-winter doldrums.
It’s a win-win on both sides of the kitchen door, according to Becky Bickerton, director of sales and marketing for the Tourism Council of Frederick County. Chefs get to shine and diners get a taste of Frederick’s well-deserved foodie vibe. Bickerton’s office works in tandem with the Downtown Frederick Partnership to spearhead the event and participating restaurants must be members of either organization to participate. “If there’s a new restaurant opening, it’s a great way for them to showcase what they offer, since so many people like to try new places during Frederick Restaurant Week,” says Bickerton. For other diners, it’s an excuse to return to a personal favorite.
“We get a lot of out-of-county visitors because this is a great time to build out a larger daytrip or weekend getaway,” says Leeann Dickerson, marketing and promotion manager for the Downtown Frederick Partnership. There are nearby wineries and distilleries to check out, as well as shows and events. Maryland Ensemble Theatre’s The Pillowman plays through March 11 and Cunningham Falls State Park’s annual Maple Syrup Festival takes place March 10, 11, 17 and 18.
But Restaurant Week has built a following among local residents, especially among those who happily ditch their brown bag lunches in favor of supporting the event. “Locals love it because they can take advantage of the lunch menus. It’s really easy for people who work nearby to step out for a really nice lunch.”
Dickerson recalls a particularly tasty beet salad at The Wine Kitchen on the Creek last year. It’s a classic on their menu, elevating humble beet greens and “curd” with chocolate cardamom “soil” and creamy goat cheese mousse, finished with almonds and sherry vinaigrette. The restaurant is a modern chophouse that features local, high-quality meat and seasonal produce alongside seafood and vegetarian options, plus a dynamic wine/spirits list.
Co-owner Jason Miller says The Wine Kitchen participates every year. “Rather than creating a special menu, with just a few items, we offer our entire menu as part of Restaurant Week.” The wide selection and three-course deal draws many first-time visitors. “We see a lot of guests trying new and different dishes from what they might usually order, which creates new experiences for them and allows us to offer some fun and exciting dishes.”
Bickerton took her children to Mayta’s Peruvian Cuisine in Westview Village Shopping Center for Restaurant Week last year. “I think it’s a great time to bring [youngsters] out and expose them to new restaurants and cuisine.” She enjoyed Mayta’s ceviche, Peru’s national dish of citrus-marinated raw fish. “It was delicious!” Mayta’s owner, Jorge Velasquez beams at such feedback. He grew up eating the dish at his family’s cevicherias (specialty restaurants) in Chimbote, Peru, and takes pride in upholding the tradition. Visit on Wednesday nights for authentic Peruvian folk music performances.
Jaime Ellis-Ade is for Ayşe Meze Lounge, another locale serving up international flavor based on family favorites. “We participate in Restaurant Week every year at Ayşe Meze. It’s a great way for the local restaurants to come together as a community for one great event.” He offers a popular word of advice for diners: “Make a reservation. This can be a very busy week, even at lunch. Plan ahead… call the restaurant or [go to] opentable.com.” Ayşe Meze blends traditional Greek, Turkish and Lebanese fare with modern touches. Guests can sample their popular bruksel lahanasi dish as a starter on the three-course $20.18 lunch menu. It’s crispy brussels sprouts with walnuts, capers, currants and wildflower honey. Dinner is four courses ($30). Both sittings include dessert.
Event info is available at www.visitfrederick.org or www.frederickrestaurantweek.com, including participating restaurants, maps and directions, links, and menus, as well as ideas for overnight accommodations. The hashtag #FredRestWk lets revelers follow the action on social media. It is important to note that some locations have select hours or offer only lunch or dinner, but not both. Frederick Community College’s 200 Monroe can’t accept walk-ins or cash, only credit cards, but it was booked solid for its 2017 Frederick Restaurant Week debut. The student-run, 48-seat eatery is part of a scheduled class, so it is only open Thursday evenings, March 1-May 10 this year. Snag a seat via opentable.com.
According to Elizabeth DeRose, manager of FCC’s Hospitality, Culinary and Tourism Institute, 200 Monroe is a unique situation and a “capstone experience” in the program. “It is the last class before [students] complete their associate’s degree in either culinary arts or hospitality management.” The restaurant’s $30 prix fixe menu includes three courses, tip and soft drink.
DeRose shares tantalizing details. Appetizer choices are Maryland crab soup or chopped salad with roasted vegetables. Main course options are butter-seared New York strip steak with pommes frites (French fries) and half of a roasted chicken with potato gratin or seafood/shrimp risotto. The vegetarian entrée is Portobello mushroom steak with Israeli couscous and vegetables ragout. Chocolate cake with ganache and creme Anglaise, vanilla pot du creme, or caramelized tarte tatin cap the meal. “We hope there’s something on the menu to please everyone.” DeRose offers a tip: “Whenever there’s a group, I encourage people to order something different and share, so that they can taste more of the menu.”
For those in the know, Frederick Restaurant Week is a celebration of food, beyond sustenance, seasoned with the spirit of community and the joy of novelty. Simple sack lunches and microwave meals will have to wait until the following week.