Restaurant week gets hyper-local

Now that every nook and cranny has its own restaurant week, a growing number of locations are tweaking the formula to create a second promotional opportunity for local eateries.

The twist is showcasing local ingredients as part of the deal. Not only can foodies try the must-visit places at a discount, but now they can bask in the locavore movement, munching on fresh and artisan products from producers just a morel toss away.

Washington, D.C., jumped on the bandwagon with the inaugural Eat Local First Week, which concluded for participating restaurants at the end of July. It’s not to be confused with the Farm-to-Street Block Party, where local beer and wine makers had the spotlight.

The much bigger and more heavily marketed DC Restaurant Week was in August, a warm-weather follow-up to the Restaurant Week that was held in mid-January.

Not all the new weeks are big-city affairs. Over the summer, Ohio’s Athens County held its 30 Mile Meal, a local-food restaurant festival. Thirty restaurants featured food from farms and producers within a 30-mile radius of Athens, Ohio, the home of Ohio University.

There’s an obvious limitation to the local-foods restaurant fests: For most areas, the promotions have to be held in the summer or early fall, when local produce is in season. Yet summer is typically the busiest seasons for restaurants. They need the boost in winter, when patrons are loath to leave the warmth of their homes and brave icy roads.

It’s not an issue for Sonoma County, California, whose farmers and artisan producers are busy all year, making it possible to focus on local produce during late February.

Other areas are obviously exploring the shoulder seasons, where some produce might be available, but has to be supplemented with foods like cheeses, beers, wines and even seafood.

If you want a sense of how big the promotions can be, head to the Lone Star State for the Go Texan Restaurant Roundup, where places throughout the state feature local foods.

The event not only promotes dining out, but generates funds for local food banks.

The event, funded in part by the state, was started four years ago.



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