Plan your Restaurant Week for good food – and a good cause

By Candace Nelson - 1:30 PM

Charleston Restaurant Week - Edgewood

Here's my latest column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Not Christmas – that was last month.

It’s Charleston Restaurant Week: The one week of the year where you can dine out at one of Charleston’s amazing local restaurants and receive an appetizer, entrée and dessert at a prix fixe dinner price of $25 or $35.

The weeklong event will be held Monday, Jan. 27 through Saturday, Feb. 1. and is organized by Buzz Food Service, a locally owned and operated food distributor.

During this time, restaurants may feature one of their most popular dishes to give everyone a chance to try it. Or maybe they’ll go out on a limb and work with a unique flavor not typically found on their menu.

That means you have an opportunity to try a new dish or revisit an old favorite. Maybe enjoy a pricy dinner at a bargain price or take on an adventurous flavor.

But this week is about more than that. You also have an opportunity to support local businesses during an otherwise slow time of year.

Charleston Restaurant Week began in 2014, just three weeks after the Elk River chemical spill, which compromised tap water for the Charleston area. Restaurants were dealt a blow to business with people being wary to drink the water or eat from dishes that were washed with it - even after given the all clear. Charleston Restaurant Week helped the public return to dining out and support the industry.

According to Buzz Food Service, restaurants throughout the years have reported serving more than 10,000 meals during the course of the six-day event. The total economic impact, which includes revenue from meals, bar sales, gratuity, taxes and incidentals, is estimated to exceed $500,000 each year. These numbers continue to grow each year.

So, make those reservations. Plan out your dishes. Enjoy a delicious appetizer, entree and dessert. Try something new. And splurge a little. Your money is going right back into our communities and supporting those who live and work here.

That’s part of what makes Charleston - and by extension, West Virginia - such a special place. We support each other and come together in communities when needed.

For me, there’s no better way to support your community and local businesses than by breaking bread. Enjoying a housemade pasta dish with a savory broth and local mushrooms all while putting money back into the local economy? It’s a win-win in my eyes.

In full disclosure, I volunteer for the committee that organizes Charleston Restaurant Week. It’s one of my favorite events of the year, and I’m honored to be part of the organization.

RECIPE: Ratatouille Stuffed Mushrooms

Chef Paul Smith, Corporate Chef for Buzz Food Service, created this recipe that is featured as part of Capitol Market’s Let’s Get Cooking demonstrations. These are held during the summer months and sponsored by AARP. Chef Paul is instrumental in the organization of Charleston Restaurant Week and will likely be seen out each day that week enjoying the fruits of his labor. Here is one of his classic recipes that is delicious any time of year.

12 cremini mushrooms, stemmed and brushed
2 T olive oil
1/4 sweet onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup eggplant, peeled and diced
1 small zucchini, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 heirloom tomato, diced
1 sprig thyme leaves
1 sprig oregano leaves
5 sprigs fresh basil (10 leaves)
Salt & Pepper to taste

1. Roast mushrooms in the oven until tender.
2. In large sauté pan, add olive oil, onion and garlic until softened.
3. Add eggplant, zucchini, and bell pepper to sauté pan and cook approximately 5 minutes.
4. Add tomatoes and herbs.
5. Stuff the mushrooms and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
6. Bake at 350 for 5 minutes before serving.

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