The fixe is in: Two March restaurant weeks showcase Northeast Ohio eateries

It’s that time of year again: Time to shake off the winter blues, get out of that cabin and hit some of Cleveland’s best restaurants for lunch and dinner specials that tempt nearly every palate and suit any budget.

Downtown Cleveland Restaurant Week, sponsored by the Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA), kicked off its annual 10-day event on Friday, March 1 and runs through Sunday, March 10. Cleveland IndependentsCleveland Restaurant Week gets underway in just a couple of weeks, running Monday, March 18 through Saturday, March 30.


Both events offer prix fixe menus—With 48 downtown restaurants offering special menus that range from $15 to $50; and 40 Cleveland Independents restaurants offering three-course dinners for $33.


Here’s a look at both Downtown Cleveland Restaurant Week and Cleveland Restaurant Week, and the participating restaurants offering a wide assortment of dining options.

Downtown Cleveland Restaurant Week

Now in its 12th year, Downtown Cleveland Restaurant Week was created by the DCA as a way for both locals and visitors alike to explore and taste all the culinary choices offered in the heart of the city. With more than 5,000 hotel rooms now available downtown, and a growing population of 17,000 residents, DCA president Joe Marinucci says there’s a lot to discover downtown.


“Downtown Restaurant Week is an opportunity to celebrate, in particular, [visit] all the great restaurants downtown” he says. “It’s a good event and people seem to enjoy it.”


Fourteen new downtown restaurants opened in 2018, including Restaurant Week participants Stella’s Music Club, Murano, and Cello’s Grill. Other restaurants new this year to Restaurant Week include Seven Chefs Buffet at the JACK Casino, Southern Tier Brewing Co., Sausalito on 9th, Puente Viejo, and Balance Pan-Asian Grille.


While in previous years, participating restaurants each approved set prix fixe menus, Marinucci says this year restaurants can set their own Restaurant Week menus—for lunch and dinner—at prices ranging from $15 to $50. “We want to give people high quality options,” says Marinucci. “[The pricing] gives the restaurants flexibility and it gives folks value and an opportunity to try new things.”


Marinucci explains there are both locally-owned and national chain establishments included in the selection to give everyone, especially out-of-town guests, the choice of trying something new or going to a more familiar spot. He adds that the range in pricing allows for more dining options.


At the Restaurant kickoff event last Thursday, Feb. 28 at the Hyatt Regency Cleveland at the Arcade, 27 participating restaurants showcased some of their dishes. Celebrity judges included Cleveland ward 3 councilman Kerry McCormack; Downtown Cleveland Residents Association president Jonathan Whigham; First National Bank’s Maurus Kosco; and Joshua Tillinger. The group selected Ghost Light Grille at the Crowne Plaza Playhouse Square as the Judge’s Choice award.


Now it’s the diners’ time to select their favorites in the Best New Restaurant, Restaurant of the Year, and—new this year—Service Superstar (to a restaurant staff member who goes above and beyond) categories. Click here or go to #DTCLERW19 to vote.


Cleveland Independents’ Cleveland Restaurant Week

Starting Monday, March 18, diners can turn their attention to restaurants spanning the entire North Coast—west to Sandusky, east to Painesville, south to Akron, and everything in between during Cleveland Independents’ Cleveland Restaurant Week.


Cleveland Independents represents 85 Northeast Ohio independent restauranteurs, and for two weeks each year allows diners to feast on their offerings for a $33 three-course meal (prices may vary, so check the menus before going).


The price allows diners to try multiple menu items for the same cost as it would usually be for just one menu item, says Cleveland Independents acting executive director Myra Orenstein.


“It’s really an incredible opportunity for people to get tastings of what restaurants want to showcase,” she says. “Diners can get a taste of what the appetizers are like or what the pastry chef is doing, because it’s a three-course price. Because of the food cost the portions are not full portions, so it allows you to eat the three courses without thinking. You’re able to try many things instead of just one.”


Orenstein says the format remains the same as in previous years, but this year the organization has come up with a new logo. Artist and former Cleveland Institute of Art illustration department chair Dominic Scibilia has designed The Guardian of Food and Drink, which plays on the Guardians of Transportation statues along the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge.


“It’s a pretty amazing illustration,” says Orenstein. “He’s so talented. We were looking for something iconic that both East siders and West siders would recognize.”


Orenstein boasts that Cleveland Independents is the largest of its kind in the country. “Our goal is to hit over 100 [members],” she declares. “It was predicted for a while that there was an oversaturation of restaurants and a shortage of staff, but we still have enthusiasm and no shortage of diners.”


In fact, Orenstein reports that Cleveland Independents has seen “pockets of activity” in different neighborhoods—particularly along Madison Avenue in Lakewood and in downtown Willoughby. “We’re excited that there are new places everywhere, and hopefully it will continue,” she says.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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