Eighteenth & 21st co-owner Steve Wecker has a tip for those who dine in the lounge at the new downtown Columbia restaurant: look up.
The ceiling, an art deco take on the Chicago skyline, is one of his favorite features in the restaurant, a prohibition-themed restaurant that takes its name from the two Constitutional amendments that ushered in, and out, the country’s ban on alcohol. When construction finished on the ceiling after more than 100 hours of design and installation, Wecker said he popped a bottle of champagne.
The cocktail lounge, attached to the more casual Cured restaurant also owned by Wecker and his partner Vince Culotta, opened June 9. The restaurants are two of the newest additions to the upcoming Howard County summer restaurant week, July 23 to Aug. 6.
Now in its 10th year, the event held in the winter and summer is a celebration of the county’s food scene and helps to promote businesses in the area, said Howard County Tourism Interim Director Amanda Hof.
While this isn’t the event’s largest offering in its history, Hof said this year features the highest number of new restaurants ever.
“It’s really our most popular promotion that we do. Everyone gets excited about it. And we really have a nice diversity of restaurants,” Hof said. “You can do everything from a two course meal for $14 all the way up to fine dining at linen-covered tables.”
Since the promotion’s inception, Hof said the tourism office has seen a steady rise in the number of participating restaurants. In 2008, there were eight restaurants, in both restaurant weeks this year there have been more than 30. The addition of OpenTable to make online reservations has also helped reservations more than double, she said.
This season’s restaurant week features 34 restaurants, including 10 additions. Restaurants in the promotion will offer fixed menu, specially priced meals for patrons, ranging from $15 to $45 per person. New spots this season include Ananda, BOLDER food/drink, Food Plenty, Hudson Coastal, Jailbreak Brewing Company, Lib's Grill, Longhorn Steakhouse, Lupa Roman Trattoria, Manor Hill Tavern and The Walrus Oyster and Ale House.
To commemorate the 10th anniversary, the tourism office is giving away more than a dozen gift cards to participating restaurants. Diners can enter by posting a photo of their restaurant week meal on social media with the hashtag #HoCoRestaurantWeeks
At Cured, diners can receive a three-course dinner for $34.99, with entree options including the Cured burger, mushroom cavatelli or lentil curry. Culotta said he’s most excited about the burger at Cured and the pork chops at 18th & 21st, a feature on its restaurant week menu.
“You can’t not do [restaurant week],” Culotta said of why they’re participating in the event. “You have to do it to stay relevant. During restaurant week people go to restaurants they wouldn’t normally go to.”
Another new participant is Clarksville comfort food restaurant Food Plenty, the third restaurant opened by Victoria Restaurant Group, which also owns Manor Hill Tavern and Victoria Gastro Pub.
Food Plenty is offering a two-meal dinner for $25 or three for $30, with entree options bouillabaisse, spare ribs and garden vegetable ragout. Marketing officer Corey Mull however said he’s most excited about one of the appetizers on the menu, the fried green tomatoes, featuring tomatoes grown in his mother-in-law and restaurant co-owner Mary Marriner’s garden.
Mull said he’s hoping restaurant week will allow more people to discover the restaurant, which opened just over eight months ago and features a menu filled with local items when possible.
“I think farm to table has become almost cliche and so we don’t want to say farm to table and set an expectation that think everything on our menu comes from a local farm,” Mull said. “When possible that’s what we hope sets us apart, that we make the farms that provide the food stand out, that there’s a responsible way to use local food and making sure that you’re taking care of the community around you,” Mull said.