Restaurant Week approaches with seven stops in Towson

After a few years of participating in Baltimore County Restaurant Week, Michael Velleggia, general manager of Towson Tavern, said he decided to forgo the twice-a-year promotion last year because he thought he could do without it.

Now with a new chef at the helm of the downtown Towson restaurant, Velleggia said Towson Tavern has reconsidered. After a couple of years off the list of restaurants offering prix-fixe menus to diners in Baltimore County, Velleggia said he's happy to get back this year to an event that brings new diners. Velleggia said he also hopes to show off Chef Josh Vecchiolla, who took over the kitchen in September.

"It's really great for Baltimore County," Velleggia said.

The restaurant week menu of locally grown and raised ingredients features three courses off the "globally inspired menu" with full-size portions of regular menu items for $30.17. Choose from steak frites, shrimp and grits, Peruvian cast-iron chicken or summer harvest cavatappi paired with an appetizer and dessert.

The restaurant, at 516 York Road, will offer nightly dinner specials alongside six other participating restaurants in Towson as part of the promotion, which starts Aug. 4.

The 16-day promotion features prix-fixe menus at more than 60 restaurants throughout the county, according to Baltimore County Office of Tourism and Promotion director Marjorie Hampson. Lunch and dinner menus range from $15 to $35.

The office puts on the promotion with the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce.

"It's a definite increase in business," Hampson said, calling the promotion a "win-win-win" for diners, restaurant owners and diners.

The promotion runs this summer from Aug. 4 to 19 and seeks to promote Baltimore County restaurants by offering promotional pricing on lunch and dinner at participating restaurants, Hampson said.

The promotion, which started in New York City, seeks to bring customers into restaurants during traditionally slow periods for business — the lull of late winter and prime time for summer vacation. In Baltimore County, restaurants pay $295 — or $175 for members of a chamber of commerce — to participate.

Hampson said the 56 restaurant owners that completed follow-up surveys following January's promotion reported a 14 percent increase in average sales for lunches and dinners. The survey also found a 27 27.percent increase in new customer traffic.

"Hopefully, many of the new patrons who come in during those 16 days will become regular customers based on their favorable experiences," Hampson said.

At Towson Tavern, Velleggia is looking forward to the increase in business. Restaurant Week, he said, typically draws in an additional 30 percent more customers during a time when many of his customers are on vacation away from Towson. About 70 percent of the people who come in to the restaurant during the promotion, he said, are first-time customers who he said he hopes return.

"It's getting someone in here who might have only come in for a birthday or anniversary and building those relationships," Velleggia said.

New in Towson this season are Charles Village Pub and the Greene Turtle, both offering low-price lunch and dinner options.

At Charles Village Pub, choose from two courses at lunch for $15.17 or a three-course dinner for $25.17 while the Greene Turtle in Towson will offer a $10 two-course lunch and a three-course dinner for $24.

Charles Village Pub manager Lauren Kassakatis said the restaurant has participated in the past but did not participate in the winter while reworking the pub's menu.

The restaurant already attracts a large crowd for lunch, she said, but the dinner promotion draws in new faces.

"It gives them an option to try something new," Kassakatis said. "(The value) is really good for the soft shell crab and crab cake sandwich because it's a discounted price and includes sides and a soup and salad."

The lower price point, she said, allows large families, college students and everyone in between to take advantage of multiple courses at the casual pub and patio.

"We serve high-end pub and bar food but we want to make it accessible to everybody so that people can afford to come out and enjoy it," Kassakatis said. "Our menu is affordable for a family of four or a large group of friends and it's nice that it's not going to strap anybody."

Also participating this year are The Melting Pot, Razorbacks, Café Troia and Cunningham's. The restaurants are all returning this season with multiple-course dinner options.

At the family owned Café Troia, diners can also choose from a three-course Italian lunch for $15.17.

At Cunningham's, diners can choose from regular portions of dinner menu favorites at a discounted price, said Cunningham's assistant general manager Matthew Swanhart. The farm-to-table restaurant sources its pork, lamb and produce from its own farm, Cunningham Farm in Cockeysville and Monkton.

"That's what sets us apart during restaurant week. A lot of the restaurants do cut down on the sizes. We source everything locally from our farms and it's a cool rustic farm to table approach that we have."

For more information on Baltimore County Restaurant Week, visit http://www.baltimorecountyrestaurantweek.com.

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