The second annual Urbana Restaurant Week is this week, March 3rd through March 9th. The Urbana Business Association, organizers of Urbana Restaurant Week, has established a three-tier prix fixe system for restaurant participation: restaurants can offer meals at $10, $20, and $30. There are thirteen participating restaurants located across town. Café Zojo and Milo’s are participating, and they’re both located at Philo and Windsor Roads. Attie’s Bar and Grill is located at Stone Creek Golf Course, and it will have a $10 lunch deal. There are a few places that aren’t participating — most notably, Black Dog and Pizza M. I think it would have been nice for a place like Huaraches Moroleon to participate, if only because I’d like any excuse to go and eat there.
Five weeks ago, I wrote about Champaign’s Restaurant Week, and raised some questions about the general purpose and beneficiaries of restaurant week, generally. I don’t intend to rehash that conversation, so instead I’ll take this opportunity to pose a few questions and suggestions for the future successes of these events in C-U.
What if Champaign Center Partnership, organizers of Champaign Restaurant Week, and the Urbana Business Association, organizers of Urbana Restaurant Week, worked together to create a C-U Restaurant Week? Instead having two separate events, why not hyphenate them into one?
A hyphen is used to join Champaign-Urbana/Urbana-Champaign and micro-urban, and while we all savor the individualities of each town, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate the hyphenated community. Picture this: C-U Restaurant Week, a seven-day celebration of area eateries and food culture. I’m inclined to believe that such an event would be more fun for diners and restaurateurs. Similarly, if restaurant week was offered at a time when people are more likely to venture out of the house — April, or in the summer, for instance — I’m certain there would be a better turnout for restaurants. January through March is difficult because it’s so cold and miserable. With questionable weather, people are less willing to venture out, especially for dinner. The roads are a mess. It’s dark. Have the event after the first day of spring.
I didn’t want to compare Champaign and Urbana Restaurant Weeks — they’re different, and have different types of participating restaurants — but I’m going to do so for a moment. I think that Urbana Restaurant Week has an advantage because of the prix fixe structure, in that restaurants have to put together a specific menu for each price point, and are thus slightly more accountable and engaged in the process. I also think that because most of the participating restaurants don’t normally offer prix fixe lunches or dinner, there isn’t much room to compare ‘normal’ deals to these specials. Finally, the Urbana Business Association has framed Restaurant Week in such a way that there are few expectations — it’s not marketed as an opportunity to sample special dishes by the best in the town, as for Champaign Restaurant Week, which was a let-down in that sense. It has been marketed as an opportunity to “give diners a chance to try dishes they’ve never had before and enjoy old favorites for a great value.” Since the stakes are set pretty low, it’s a little easier to be impressed.
Of the participating restaurants, many have options at least two price points, and many have options for sharing meals. There are, inevitably, a few places that are offering up lame deals. There are a few restaurants, though, that I feel deserve a special shout-out. Milo’s is offering a $20 dinner (per person), and one of the options is a glass of wine or dessert. There are some people who often bypass drinking their calories for sweets, but I’m quite sure there are more who would choose a glass of wine over a dessert. So props to Milo’s for offering wine as an option—no one else is doing that, and I applaud their thinking outside the box (of wine). Silvercreek is another restaurant that had an impressive menu in that the diner is truly saving several dollars by choosing the prix fixe menu. However, there aren't any vegetarian options on their dinner menus. If you’ve been waiting for the right time to share a nice dinner with a loved one or close friend, here’s your opportunity. Call the babysitter now.
So what can we learn from these two Restaurant Week experiences? First, people hate winter. Let’s not have weeklong events in the cold. Secondly, let’s get Champaign and Urbana to work together on this and have C-U Restaurant Week. As sister cities, surely the good people of both sides can work together to organize a killer food event that could potentially draw people in from out of town.
Attie’s Bar and Grill at Stone Creek: $10; Signature burger served with fries and a cup of soup. That’s quite a bit of food, but who wants a cup of soup with their burger? I’d rather have a beer.
Black Rock Pizza Company: $10, $20, and $30 options. Feeding four people? Get the $30 package, which includes a 16-inch pizza (specialty or 4-toppings), four side salads or two specialty salads, and garlic cheese bread or breadsticks.
The Bread Company: $30 dinner for two. Two salads, a shared entrée (fondue or raclette skillet), and a shared dessert. This is not a dinner for those who are lactose-intolerant, hate sharing, or are particularly hungry.
Café Zojo: $10 breakfast, $10 lunch, and $10 coffee and dessert. Best option: breakfast, since it’s hot and made to order. The lunch is a grab and go option — premade sandwiches and wraps from the fridge. If you’re meeting a friend for an afternoon coffee and chat, get the $10 coffee and dessert option.
Crane Alley: Menu not available as of Sunday.
The Courier Café: $10 pick-three breakfast [save at least $2], $20 lunch for two [savings a little unclear]. Best deal: $30 dinner for two [save at least $6], includes two soups or salads, two entrées, two sides, two drinks, two desserts.
The Great Impasta: $10 dinner is lasagna with or without meat; $30 dinner for two includes appetizer, salad, and choice of two entrées.
Milo’s: $20 dinner includes choice of starter, choice of entrée, choice of dessert, or a glass of wine.
Piato Café: $10 gets a decent lunch, although you’re only saving about a dollar.
Po’ Boys Restaurant: $10 for either an individual one-topping pizza or a pork, beef, or polish sandwich with a side, and a soft drink and dessert. You’re not really saving any money on either option.
Siam Terrace: $10, $20 meal for two, and $30 meal for two. The $20 and $30 options are better deals, but note that the entrée options only include tofu, vegetable, or chicken (no beef, pork, or seafood).
Silvercreek: $10 lunch, $20 dinner, and $30 dinner. Lunch gets you a soup or salad and entrée; any of the options will save you money, but if you’re looking for the best deal, order the salad and the shrimp tacos. For dinner, it doesn’t matter which price point you order, you’re getting a great deal regardless. If you’re extra hungry, get the $30 option, which includes dessert.
Sitara: $10, $20, and $30 options. You get mixed vegetable pakoras with one, two, or three entrees (at the $30 price point, you get two appetizers). There are veggie, lamb, chicken, seafood, and tandoori entrée options, but they are pretty limited. I suggest that you go with a group of four and order the $30 option.
All photos from Facebook.