Maine Restaurant Week was first launched in 2009, with the goal of boosting restaurant business during their slowest time of the year. No one at the time would have imagined how a pandemic could make restaurants’ winter woes worse.
Now in its 14th year, and its second since COVID hit the state, Maine Restaurant Week, which runs Tuesday through March 12, offers many area restaurants a timely chance to boost their bottom line. .
“We have menus (for the event) that we are really excited about. And we’re optimistic that people are ready to get out and eat good food,” said restaurateur David Turin, whose David’s Restaurant in Portland and David’s 388 in South Portland are participating.
Turin has participated in Maine Restaurant Week since the beginning. Still, he admits that when he first heard of the plans for the original event, he was “skeptical”.
“When people first talked about it, I thought, ‘Oh, it’s just a discount thing,'” Turin said. “But that wasn’t it at all. It was more of a celebration of the talent and enthusiasm displayed in Maine restaurants. Rather, it is to highlight the multitude of options available to us.
As for reviving business, “Restaurant Week has always been a busy time for us,” Turin said. “We have the experience of many years where it was as huge for us as a week in the summer.”
Lyle Aker, owner of Broken Arrow in Portland, said he wasn’t sure if last year’s restaurant week increased business for his restaurant, as it had just opened in October 2020. “But it certainly felt like it was due to COVID. It’s been such a weird year and a half,” he said.
Broken Arrow will be offering a special three-course menu for $35 for this year’s event, Aker said.
More than 50 restaurants signed up to participate last week, and more may have been added to the lineup early this week, event organizer Gillian Britt said. She said she hasn’t seen a drop in the number of participating restaurants compared to the same time last year. “In fact, restaurants have been quicker to sign up this year,” Britt said.
“It’s nice to see the geography of the event expand a bit,” Britt continued, noting that restaurants in Leeds, Rockport and Arundel have joined the event this year. Other notable starters include Portland’s Cheese Louise, The Maker’s Galley and Luke’s Lobster Portland Pier, as well as Judy Gibson’s restaurant in South Portland, Britt said.
“Being new is a great opportunity to get your name out there,” said Rachel Sagiroglu, owner of The Maker’s Galley, which opened in November at 5 Commercial St. “Plus, it makes you part of the community. .”
Restaurants in Maine have struggled to stay open during the pandemic. Many have had to reduce their opening hours and downsize to make their numbers work. So, as was the case last year, the event setup is more flexible than usual to make it easier for restaurants to participate.
Restaurants will not be required to stick to the event’s typical three-course offering and may simply offer a special dish or two. “We want them to show what they do best, and we want to make sure it benefits them as much as possible,” Britt said.
She added that people should check the Maine Restaurant Week website before visiting to find out what each establishment is offering for Restaurant Week this year.
In another pandemic-related format adjustment, the Maine Restaurant Week website shows which restaurants offer curbside or outdoor service. Restaurants may also choose to do curbside service only for the event. So far, only Portland’s Solo Italiano has chosen this option and will be offering a five-course take-out menu.
“The event is a little less structured again,” Turin said, thanking Britt for helping restaurants participate despite difficult circumstances. “She’s trying to allow restaurants to do it their way.”
WANT TO EAT
Sur Lie in Portland has been participating in Restaurant Week for eight years, according to owner Krista Cole, who added that it has always helped business during the notoriously slow March. “We definitely thought it was a boost,” Cole said. “After surviving January and February, this is very welcome additional income. Restaurant week has been one of the busiest weeks of the year for us.
The COVID surge of the Omicron variant earlier this winter hurt business at Sur Lie and other restaurants. “The start of this year has been very difficult,” Cole said.
Josh Hixson, owner of Italian restaurant 40 Paper in Camden, said December and January were two of the worst months his restaurant had endured. “But we’ve seen a lot of business over the past two weeks,” he said, noting like several other Maine restaurateurs that Valentine’s Day week sent a lot of customers his way. “It would be nice to continue this momentum.”
This year’s Restaurant Week comes at a potentially auspicious time, as local pandemic restrictions are lifted and public fear appears to be diminishing.
“People are really looking forward to going out and spending time with other people in public,” Sagiroglu said. “They are eager to get back to normal.”
“We’re all feeling a shift right now,” said Cole, who also recently became the owner of Gather in Yarmouth, which takes part in Restaurant Week. “People seem ready to go out and eat indoors again.”
Cole said that for the event, Sur Lie will serve a four-course tapas meal designed for sharing. “It’s meant to be a fun and social dining experience.”
“We get a lot of questions about what menus restaurants will be offering, so we know people are excited,” Britt said.
SPIRIT QUEST RETURNS
An extremely popular event within Maine Restaurant Week is Spirit Quest, which organizers canceled last year due to the pandemic. Now scheduled for Sunday, Spirit Quest is a self-guided tour of 10 bars and restaurants in Portland’s Old Harbor and Congress Street Arts District, where ticket holders enjoy a craft cocktail and a small bite at each stop, voting at the end for their favourites. .
Spirit Quest has already sold out, as it usually does, Britt said, noting attendance was capped at 300 people, 100 people less than usual, due to pandemic concerns. Proof of full vaccination is required for the visit.
“People love Spirit Quest and the ability to walk around these places that many of them have never seen before and talk with the owners and chefs,” Britt said.
Crave, another annual Restaurant Week sub-event, invites chefs, bakers, baristas and chocolatiers to create sweet and savory dishes infused with coffees provided by Coffee By Design. No ticket is required for Crave. Britt said a dozen companies are participating, including Atlantic Baking Co. in Rockland, which will offer a coffee custard eclair with coffee ganache, Little Dog Coffee in Brunswick, serving Bavarian cream tiramisu, and Monte’s Fine Foods in Portland, which is whipping up a caramel macchiato tartlet.
Britt said $1 from every sale of Spirit Quest and Crave will benefit Portland’s social services group, Preble Street.
Bar Guide: For cocktails in a tropical setting, just go to Saco