Winter restaurant weeks offer chance to savor global flavor

With Valentine's Day approaching and the holiday season just a memory, 22 independently owned restaurants in Howard County are looking to get through this traditionally slow part of the winter season by participating in Howard County Tourism's Winter Restaurant Weeks.

According to event coordinator Amanda Hof, the goal of the two-week promotion, which starts Monday, Jan. 14, is to encourage residents to come out and try local restaurants during the January lull.

"We want to promote Howard County's independent restaurants and give folks a reason to taste great local food," said Hof. "I think the restaurants appreciate the uptick between the two busier holidays."

This winter, participating restaurants were asked to infuse some international flair into their multi-course fixed menu to go along with the overall theme of "Save and Savor Global Flavor."

For the promotion, restaurants will create a fixed menu of two to four courses ranging from $10.13 to $40.13.

Venegas Prime Filet in Fulton, which has only participated in the summer version of the promotion, is preparing a three-course meal that features a main course option of a 6 ounce French filet, an Argentine rib eye, and a Japanese pan-seared salmon.

Venegas' manager Erin Ludwig hopes participating in restaurant week will prompt diners who have never experienced Venegas to give it a chance.

"One thing about our restaurant, our location is off the map, so unless you live in the area you probably don't know where we are located," said Ludwig. "This is a good way for people to come out if they've never heard of us before."

While Venegas, located on Maple Lawn Blvd., may be new to winter restaurant week, no participating restaurant is newer than The Ale House Columbia on Dobbin Road, which opened last month.

"Being new, we wanted to become involved in as many things in the community as possible, so of course we were immediately on board," said Ale House spokeswoman Alyssa Hayes. "We want people to come in, see the space and taste the amazing food and beers we have."

The Ale House Columbia is offering both a lunch menu, fixed at $16.13, which features spinach artichoke dip and The Ale House chop salad, as well as a dinner menu, fixed at $30.13, which features a buffalo shrimp appetizer and three main course options, including braised short ribs.

"It's a huge value, not only are you getting full portions, but you are getting a three-course meal," said Chef Juan Valdez. "The flavors in our courses are what make us different."

While some restaurants are new to restaurant week, there are some, like the Elkridge Furnace Inn, 5745 Furnace Avenue, that have participated in the promotion since it started in 2008.

Executive Chef and owner Dan Wecker said his white tablecloth restaurant, which features spices and vegetables grown in the restaurant's greenhouse, features French-inspired cuisine as well as classic American dishes.

For this season's promotion, Wecker is preparing "winter comfort foods" like a hand-rolled butternut squash ravioli made of squash picked fresh from the inn's greenhouse, as well as a German-style bratwurst and beer braised pork belly, which is topped off with Wecker's homemade sauerkraut.

"I enjoy participating with the other independent restaurants. I've been doing this a long time, so I know how hard it is to run an independent restaurant," Wecker said. "I appreciate all the effort put into all these promotions."

In addition to restaurant weeks, Howard County tourism is launching a second promotion called "download for date nights," which gives participants a chance to win one free "date night" per month in Howard County for an entire year.

In order to be eligible for the promotion, which also begins Jan. 14, persons must visit the Howard County Welcome Center, 8267 Main Street in historic Ellicott City, and show proof that they've downloaded the new smart phone Parker App for the downtown district, which displays available parking spaces throughout downtown Ellicott City.

A drawing to determine the winner of the contest will be held Feb. 14.

For a full list of participating restaurants and for available menus please visit Howard County Tourism's homepage by clicking here.

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