Birmingham Restaurant Week's 20 Choices Include 3 Newcomers
Barrio, Luxe and Townhouse join the annual eatery event, as does charity partner Forgotten Harvest.
If value-priced stuffed squash, salmon magnolia risotto or bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with gorgonzola sound tasty for lunch, you're in luck.
And if dinner choices of vegetable curry, pasta Bolognese or glazed salmon have appeal, Birmingham also is the place to go.
Those selections are on Birmingham Restaurant Week menus at six of the 20 sites with $15 lunches and $30 dinners from Jan. 30-Feb. 3 and Feb. 6-10. Each meal includes an appetizer and dessert, such as blueberry parfait at Luxe or crème brulee at Café Via, Elie's and South.
It's year seven of the event that allows chefs to introduce new items, lets patrons try different spots and helps owners fill tables during a winter lull between New Year's Day and Valentine's Day.
"There are always slow nights, and initiatives such as Birmingham Restaurant Week help to offset that," said Tracy Wilson, general manager of The Dali Group, which operates two participating sites: Barrio and Chen Chow.
Here is what's fresh for 2012:
- Three newcomers: Barrio, Luxe and Townhouse
- Charity partner: Forgotten Harvest, the Oak Park-based food bank, is the first nonprofit beneficiary.
- Redesigned website: Menus, event information and a slide show of restaurant photos can now be at birminghamrestaurantweek.org.
"It's a good opportunity to get creative," said Jeffrey Sasson, owner of 5-month-old Townhouse. "We're not focusing on our best-sellers like the signature burger. We'd rather show different things we can do." One of those will be a wild mushroom roll appetizer.
His cozy Pierce Street bistro's 58 seats are filled on a first-come basis, so the 27-year-old owner suggests flexibility and off-peak visits — particularly on a Thursday or Friday. "Come early or come late," he said, which translates into by 6 p.m. or after 9 p.m.
A similar situation applies at Luxe Bar & Grill on North Woodward, which has 42 seats and also doesn't take reservations. "We serve until midnight and you can call ahead to get on the wait list," co-owner Kara Bongiovanni advised.
Luxe opened in September 2010 and the family owners were uneasy about diving into Restaurant Week four months later. "We were too new. We understand our business better now," Bongiovanni explained. The bistro's special menus include a fried pickle appetizer at lunch and three Greek-style lamb chops during the evening.
Barrio Tacos & Tequila, the third destination making its Restaurant Week debut, does so with an understudy overseeing the cuisine. Executive Chef Hammond Lawton left at the end of December because of a "difference of visions for Barrio," as he put it.
His assistant, sous chef Ryan Porter, runs the kitchen "while we are presently in the process of conducting a national search for Chef Hammond’s replacement," said Wilson of The Dali Group.
- Chen Chow and Zazios are the only participants not open for lunch.
- Four spots stand out from the pack with rotating menus: different lunch and dinner selections each weekday at Elie's, and each week at Big Rock, Café Via and Mitchell's Fish Market.
- Big Rock adds a 20-percent gratuity if ordering from the special menus.
When Birmingham brought the Restaurant Week idea to Michigan in 2006, Detroit, Ann Arbor and Troy hadn't yet launched their versions. Birmingham's promotion expanded to two weeks in 2010.
"Bistros are an important part of Restaurant Week and Birmingham's restaurant scene," said John Heiney, executive director of the Principal Shopping District, an economic development agency. "We are pleased to see so many participating."
Meanwhile, adding a charity partner is a chance for restaurants "to give something back" as they benefit from increased patronage, according to Heiney. As reliance on food assistance in Metro Detroit "has grown significantly in the past few years, it just felt like the right time to get involved," he added.
Donation canisters are at each site, with a suggested $5 minimum gift. The goal is to raise $10,000, which Forgotten Harvest says would provide 50,000 meals for families in need.