Nearly 250 restaurants across South Carolina have signed on to take part in the state’s annual Restaurant Week celebration – the largest in its history – opening Thursday for an 11-day run.
Charleston, widely acclaimed for its fine cuisine and consistently ranked as one of the world’s top tourist destinations, leads all regions of the Palmetto State in terms of participation with almost 90 restaurants on tap for the event.
Columbia, however, has nearly 50 restaurants that have lined up to participate in this year’s Restaurant Week South Carolina, a 10 percent increase from last year. The event comes at a time when the influx of new restaurants to the city promises a wider selection of menus to sample than at any time since the event’s inception in 2010.
“We’re excited,” said Carmella Roche, Villa Tronco owner, who has participated in each Restaurant Week since it was started. “We’ve had a lot of phone calls, a lot of e-mails about our menu and our price point, so I think the people in Columbia are very excited.”
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Both restaurateurs and the public have come to relish the nearly two-week-long restaurant bonanza, where special prices apply and specifically designed menus create almost the certain need for reservations.
New restaurant choices in Columbia range from breakfast and lunch spot Le Peep in the Vista to Bourbon, a Cajun-Creole restaurant and whiskey bar, on Main Street. New ethnic cuisine choices in the area include Salina Cafe, serving Ethiopian food and also located on Main Street, and Basil Thai in Cross Hill Market on Fort Jackson Boulevard.
Sponsored by the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, Restaurant Week South Carolina is designed to encourage more people to dine out, at a time after the holidays when restaurants normally experience a significant slowdown in customers. The week also highlights the diverse dining destinations available across the state.
Dining choices range from casual cuisine to gourmet, multi-course offerings that span breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“It’s a great way to drive in new customers that have never been to Villa Tronco, so they can sample some of our dishes we are known for,” said Roche.
Each participating restaurant posts menus for Restaurant Week on the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association website ahead of the event, so customers can examine all the offerings and make their choices ahead of time. During Restaurant Week, spaces fill up faster than normal, Roche said, advising reservations.
Villa Tronco’s signature chicken dish, Villa Tronco Chicken, is certain to be on the Restaurant Week menu, Roche said, along with new specials this year. Those include a veal meatloaf over a bed of mashed potatoes; a pork and a polenta dish; lamb; and a grilled fresh seafood plate consisting of salmon and prosciutto.
Other Villa Tronco Restaurant Week special menu items include appetizers, homemade desserts including cheesecake, bread pudding and a new alfredo, Roche said, noting everything at Villa Tronco is made in-house.
“It’s a win-win for both diners and local restaurateurs,” said Katie Montgomery, the state restaurant association communications director. “The first week in January is one of the slower times for restaurants, so it’s an initiative aimed at getting people in their door at a time when it’s usually slower for them.”
The association gets positive feedback each year on the ease of use of its Restaurant Week website, Montgomery said, accessible at www.RestaurantWeekSouthCarolina.com.
In 2010, about 60 restaurants around the state participated in Restaurant Week. Restaurants must be members of the association in order to participate, and there are 1,400 member restaurants in South Carolina, according to the association.
“The response I’ve gotten in the past two days shows people are anxious to know what’s going to be available – so they’re looking at it,” Roche said. “They’re going online and they’re trying to make up their minds where they want to dine at.
“As a restaurant person, we’re definitely looking forward to it.”