The seventh annual Charleston Restaurant Week is still 10 days away, but menus were officially released this week and restaurants are starting to fill up.
Some customers are so eager to try a specific location that they made blind reservations as soon as the dates are announced — without even knowing what’s on the menu.
“We’re completely booked already,” said a staff member who answered the phone at Laury’s Restaurant several days ago. It was the same story at Chop House, and others around town reported they were “filling up quickly.”
“This has become part of the annual calendar for a lot of people in Charleston and at the first hint of the dates or any sort of announcement the excitement really starts to build,” said Dickinson Gould, president of Buzz Food Service which has organized the celebration of local foods since it began in 2014.
Launched in the aftermath of the water crisis — in part as a way to help staffers and struggling restaurants that were forced to temporarily close their doors — it has morphed into a way to boost business during the winter lull.
“Most restaurants see a slowdown right after New Year’s Eve, and then we don’t have really anything special until Valentine’s Day,” said Keeley Steele. Two of her restaurants, Bluegrass Kitchen and Starlings Provisions, will both participate this year.
“Restaurant Week happens in the middle of that dead five or six weeks, so yeah, it’s super helpful,” she said.
For the soon-to-be owners of the iconic Soho’s at Capitol Market, it’s a chance to let the public know that they are open during a transitional period.
“We’re not closed. We want people to know we’re not going to be closed. We’re going to have a seamless transition from the present owner to our ownership group,” said Tracy Abdalla, who will be an owner/operator and general manager under the new ownership.
Also, he added, “We have a great offering for Restaurant Week. We’re excited about it.”
There are 25 participating restaurants this year, six of them new to Restaurant Week. Each prepares at least two, three-course options at a set price for diners, not including soft drinks, alcohol, taxes or gratuity.
“We are once again offering two price points, so restaurants decide which price point they want to participate at,” Gould said.
“We have seven restaurants that are doing three courses for $25 and the other 18 participating restaurants will do the three courses for $35.”
The lower price point, he said, was meant to make the week more accessible to budget-conscious diners, and open the doors to more casual restaurants that had a hard time justifying the higher price point.
The $35 range gives fine dining establishments more breathing room to stretch the limits and use higher end ingredients, Gould added.
Heath Ax, executive chef at Berry Hills Country Club, said he’s looking forward to showcasing some outside-the-box new dishes for public diners who don’t always get to see what his staff can do.
“I came up with something really unique with the Moroccan-Spiced Chickpea and Israel Couscous Bowl. We’ve got roasted tomatoes and avocados, fried pita and goat cheese croutons, a lot of things we’re putting into this dish and really trying to make it stand out,” said Ax.
“Our tuna dish is phenomenal, packs a lot of flavors into a single dish, lots of complexity,” he added.
His dessert is an infused root beer mousse drizzled with caramelized sauce and homemade vanilla bean whipped cream, and garnished with candied cherries.
“We got really creative,” he said.
Restaurant Week runs Jan. 27 through Feb. 1. Reservations are strongly recommended.