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Harford County Restaurant Week begins Friday featuring new choices and old standbys

Michelle Osteria, chef and owner of Cafe Michelle on North Parke Street in Aberdeen offers a variety of fresh made sandwiches, soups and fresh made muffins and deserts. Cafe Michelle is one of several local restaurants participating in Harford Restaurant Week January 17-26.
Michelle Osteria, chef and owner of Cafe Michelle on North Parke Street in Aberdeen offers a variety of fresh made sandwiches, soups and fresh made muffins and deserts. Cafe Michelle is one of several local restaurants participating in Harford Restaurant Week January 17-26. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

Harford County residents and visitors can expect good deals and, depending on where they eat, something new during this year’s nine-day restaurant week.

Restaurants across the county will be experimenting with new dishes this week and many will offer discounts to hungry patrons.

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The nonprofit marketing organization Visit Harford took over Restaurant Week’s marketing five years ago, its executive director Greg Pizzuto said, and has since seen the number of restaurants participating increase handily. This year, 38 local eateries are participating.

“The feedback that we have received over the years has been very positive from the restaurant owners,” Pizzuto said. “I think it helps them in a time that might be a slower time in the year for them.”

Formerly, the county used to host two restaurant weeks — one in August and one in January. But as restaurateurs’ interest in the August event petered out, the county discontinued it to focus exclusively on January.

Restaurants sometimes see less business as the weather grows colder, Pizzuto explained, so the week’s meals and deals help draw customers in during a slowdown in business.

“People start reaching out to us in early January to ask, 'Hey, who is participating? Do you have their menu yet?” Pizzuto said. “So there is a strong interest.”

While the event is a celebration of local restaurants, interest in the event extends beyond the county, with the majority of visits to Visit Harford’s websites coming from Washington DC.

“There is an offering for every palate and every wallet,” Pizzuto said.

A variety of flavors and price-points are represented around county eateries, and all are ready to receive curious or familiar diners.

Cafe Michelle, which opened in Aberdeen back in May, will offer up its signature soups and pies throughout the week. Chef and owner Michelle Osteria said she hopes to show residents that the eatery is a hidden gem tucked away in the city.

In Havre de Grace, Vintage Cafe ordered more stock in anticipation of restaurant week and will completely change its menu one dish at a time over the nine-day period. The menu took four months to develop, said manager Dana Rowley, who creates the recipes.

Uncles’ Hawaiian Grindz in Fallston is also planning for a busy week, manager Samantha Wisniewski said. For the nine days, they will offer unique two-course lunch and three-course dinner menus.

Other participating restaurants include:

Alchemy Elements in Bel Air, which offers an ever-changing menu using seasonal ingredients, paired with specialized cocktails.

Inspired by Neapolitan cuisine, but located in the Boulevard at Box Hill Shopping Center in Abingdon, Bacco Italian and Winebar serves authentic Italian food and wine.

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Vagabond Sandwich Company — named for a kindly grandmother who made sandwiches for hobos and travelers in 1950s California — continues to sling locally sourced sandwiches and beer in downtown Bel Air.

MacGregor’s, a Harford County staple for more than 30 years, serves American-style seafood on the waterfront of the Susquehanna River in Havre de Grace.

Two other restaurants that are relatively new to Harford County will also be participating in their first Restaurant Week.

Conrad’s Crabs, which in April at the Boulevard at Box Hill Shopping Center, and is offering a variety of seafood dishes on its lunch and dinner menu during the nine-day event.

Barrett’s on the Pike, located in the Bel Air Town Center, will also open their doors to patrons of restaurant week, offering classic American fare, including soups and salad dressings made in-house, on its special menu.

A more complete list of participating restaurants can be found at harfordcountyrestaurantweek.com.

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