Local chefs are gearing up to give the city a taste of what their restaurant is made of.
In its sixth year, Charleston Restaurant Week will introduce eight new restaurants — and, for the first time, two price points.
Previously, the cost for an appetizer, entree and dessert was set at $30, regardless of the restaurant. However, this year, participants have the option of offering a fixed price, three-course menu for $25 or $35.
“Up until now, we’ve really put a premium on simplicity because we were still just introducing the idea to Charleston, and after five years we thought the market was ready for a change,” said Dickinson Gould, president of Buzz Food Service, which hosts the event.
The lower bracket, $25, is meant to make Restaurant Week not only more affordable but more inclusive.
“It had been out of our reach before,” said Joe Guilfoile, owner of Big Joe’s Bar and Grill on Capitol Street, which is participating for the first time.
“Our average sale with liquor and alcohol is usually about $26 or $27, so getting a $30 price point out of this place is going to be tough. With it changed now to the $25 and $35 price points, we feel like we can do a couple of off-menu things and make it really nice. So, I was happy to participate.”
Big Joe’s is among 10 restaurants participating in the lower price point. Others include Adelphia Sports Bar & Grille, Celsius, Dem 2 Brothers & a Grill, Gonzoburger, Leonoro’s Spaghetti House, Mi Cocina de Amor, Nawab and Tin Box BBQ.
Some items on Big Joe’s prix fixe Restaurant Week menu are regulars. However, the entrees will be specials.
This is a chance to showcase what Big Joe’s is made of, Guilfoile said.
“We run specials from time to time, so these are things that we’ve had for caterings or for lunch specials,” he said. “We host a lot of parties in here as well, so they’re all things that we’ve made.”
One entree he has planned is a five-spice pork tenderloin with risotto and grilled asparagus. For dessert, Guilfoile plans to serve his homemade New York-style cheesecake and a caramel-salted brownie made with J.Q. Dickinson Salt.
While this will be a first for Big Joe’s, other restaurants, like Dem 2 Brothers, appreciate the more affordable price based on their experience with previous Restaurant Week events.
For them, reaching the $30 cost was difficult.
“I think that $25 is a good point to be at,” said owner Adrian “Bay” Wright. “We’ve got a lot of new customers from it. People call in and make reservations, that’s good. We get more reservations called in than just walk-ins.”
Dem 2 Brothers is planning to feature chicken and waffles and prime rib as part of its menu.
Regardless of the price, Wright said, Restaurant Week is a good way to attract new customers.
At the $35 price point, many fine-dining restaurants are hoping to show locals something new.
“The restaurants that are more focused on fine dining, I think they were beginning to feel limited by the $30 price point,” Gould said. “Restaurants were trying to work backwards to that $30 price point but still put their best foot forward and make money during the week.”
Giving them an extra $5 to play with, Gould said, gives the chefs more room for creativity and better, more interesting features.
“Where we are a higher-end restaurant, it allows us to do what we want, and with a more casual dining restaurant — mom-and-pop places — they can do it, too, and still keep their price points lower, which is I think more approachable for everybody,” said Marshall Hilton, chef at Bistro at the Barge, a second-time participant.
The Barge will mostly keep the same menu as last year, he said, with the addition of a new entree and dessert.
“Basically, what we’re trying to do is expose people to things they may not have tried before and give them some unique dishes,” Hilton said. “It’s an opportunity for us to be creative and try new things.”
While $35 might be the more expensive option, it’s low for many of these restaurants.
Despite this, Laury’s Restaurant owner Sadegh Mirzakhani said the quality doesn’t suffer.
“We don’t make any money off of it, it just brings people in, and hopefully, they get a glass of wine or beer,” Mirzakhani said.
The restaurant, which is known for booking up weeks in advance, doesn’t typically offer any specials during restaurant week. Instead, the chef offers options from their usual menu at a lower cost.
“As far as the price range, $30 was a little bit difficult for us to do, to offer the same quality of food that we offer on the regular menu,” he said. “$35 is still kind of low for us because what we are offering actually costs about $55 on the regular menu price, and the offering that we do is basically the same thing that is offered on the menu. We don’t change anything.”
Regardless of the cost, Mirzakhani believes Restaurant Week is a chance to welcome new guests, who he hopes to see again.
Reservations are not required for Restaurant Week but many places fill up fast.
Tickets are not being sold this year. To participate, ask your waiter for the Restaurant Week menu.
Menus will be posted in the Charleston Gazette-Mail once released. Follow along for updates.