Outside, the call is ringing from Lake Norman to Steele Creek, "Let the bikini bod be damned!" Forget your vanity, diets and workout regimens and gather your hungry desires. Charlotte Restaurant Week is coming.
Restaurant Week offers a release for Charlotteans' pent-up cravings and curiosities, as participating restaurants of all types from the city and its suburbs will be offering three-course meals for the bargain price of $30 from July 19-28. At restaurants like Villa Antonio and Upstream, such a price would usually cover the cost of an entrée, but now, with Queen's Fest Charlotte Restaurant Week, diners can try multiple items at those places for that same cost.
"I think it's a good thing ultimately, and it gives people that don't usually get to eat at more expensive places the chance to try them out," said Upstream manager Hiram Ramirez.
The influx gives eateries a viable opportunity to bolster their clientele, as residents tend to cross neighborhoods, on top of pricing limitations, to eat outside of their typical (to-go) box.
"It drives a new dynamic of guests to the restaurant that maybe would not think of coming to SouthPark," said Peter Schrank, the general manager for George's Brasserie."It's just great for business."
Rob Nixon, owner of the Peculiar Rabbit, is a veteran of the Charlotte dining scene (he also owns Jackalope Jacks) well acquainted with the power of Charlotte Restaurant Week. The Rabbit had only been open for a few months when this January's Restaurant Week rolled around. Even as a fledgling participant, the restaurant picked up around a thousand new customers that week, Nixon said. George's, according to Schrank, experienced a similar boost in covers, too.
"Our goal is to take those people that come in for Restaurant Week and then give them another reason to come in," Nixon said. "When they come in twice, they tend to come back."
The Peculiar Rabbit, like other participating restaurants, is trying to make the most of the opportunity. The menu it is offering for Restaurant Week includes favorites like raved-about sweet tea brined chicken wings and fish and chips, but, at the same time, entices foodies with creative dishes like chicken Marbella, a European-style bird roasted with figs and olives.
"They can get their comfort food, but at the same time we're going to push them to try unique things that they wouldn't usually get, that they're not usually used to," said Peculiar Rabbit sous chef Brent Martin.
Nixon believes that winning the hearts of diners, during both Restaurant Week and typical dining occasions, goes beyond cuisine as well. During our interview, he walked me through every part of The Peculiar Rabbit, excitedly pointing out upcoming changes and current features of the kitchen, cellar and patio, all of which he hopes to use to make his restaurant a longstanding favorite with customers. To him, a large part of the establishment's allure that he wants to bring to a head for Restaurant Week is its environment and feel.
"This is the entertainment and ass-kissing business, you don't go in to get bad food and see ugly people and dirty kitchens," Nixon said. "If they only come in once, then I didn't do a good job."
Queen's Feast Charlotte Restaurant Week happens July 19-28. Reservations are encouraged. For a list of restaurants, visit the website.