The tables are set, the special menus are planned and the service staff at dozens of restaurants are eager for culinary enthusiasts to dine out, sampling some of the best tastes in town.
Why? The inaugural Naperville Restaurant Week kicks off February 16 to showcase Naperville’s hospitality industry with special menus to help put the Naperville fine dining scene on the map.
“We have been talking about doing a restaurant week in Naperville for the last few years,” said Ray Kinney, chairman of Dine Naperville and the Naperville Restaurant Week committee.[intense_hr type=”dotted” color=”primary” /]
“Tell me what you eat, I’ll tell you what you are.”
French Gourmand and food writer
[intense_hr type=”dotted” color=”primary” /]“Many cities do it as a way to entice people to dine in restaurants they have not tried yet, at a time in the season when restaurants experience fewer diners. In Naperville we have over 260 restaurants and all have been encouraged to participate. We have about 25 so far—Meson Sabika, Heaven on Seven,CityGate Grille, Morton’s, Sullivan’s, Bella Familia, for starters— and expect to see many more as we get closer,” he said.
Sure to whet every appetite, participating restaurants will offer choices from a prix-fixe menu to special appetizers and desserts. Bars, pubs and taverns also will be participating.
For instance, Quigley’s Irish Pub, known for its exceptional menu of “bar food,” will be offering its famous Reuben Rolls as an appetizer.
“Come and get your Irish on,” said Andy Nosek, general manager of Quigley’s. “It’s a good prelude into St. Patrick’s Day.
“Since Naperville has a wide range of restaurants, we decided to have two ways for a restaurant to participate,” explained Kinney. “The first is a pre-fixe meal—each restaurant can pre determine a menu for a fixed price. For example, Catch 35 is offering a 3-course dinner for $27 and there are six choices of your main entree in addition to a soup or salad and any dessert.”
Other restaurants will offer a straight discount or special offer. For instance, with the purchase of an entrée, BD Mongolian is offering a complimentary Thai Shrimp Appetizer or Fried Oreo Dessert.
“We are thrilled that the restaurants are getting creative.You’ll need to keep up to date by visiting www.dinenaperville.com,” said Kinney.
“Catch 35 emphasis is fresh, quality consistent seafood and steaks providing a great value to our customers,” said Sam Berngard of Catch 35. “The menus at Catch 35 are always changing and there are always new and exciting menus items.”
Berngard suggests trying the Maine Lobster Rolls, Point Judith Calamari, Georges Bank Haddock, Florida Red Grouper or the Reserve New York Strip Steak.
“We are always trying to raise the bar at Catch 35,” said Berngard.
“Naperville’s dining scene is rich with variety,” added Kinney. “We have dining destinations such as Freedom Commons, CityGate Centre and Naperville Crossing, all in addition to the choices in downtown. Each location comes with its own characteristics and dining options—and all with free parking, of course!”
From Your Neighbors Bar and Grill and Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House, to Kiku and SugarToad, to El Hogar Mexican Restaurant and Sharko’s BBQ, Naperville offers many dining options and ethnic flavors throughout the city.
“I get hungry just thinking about it!” Kinney said.
With delectable Spanish tapas, delicious sangria and Flamenco performances, Meson Sabika has developed a tradition of great food and service within the walls of an historic mansion.
“Tapas-style dining evokes conversation and the sharing of both food and company,” said Hossein Jamali, owner of Meson Sabika. “Whether you’re out for a night on the town with friends, Sunday brunch with your family or one of those special occasions, we hope that Meson Sabika is an unforgettable place for you to celebrate your most memorable moments with your loved ones.”
Craft beer rising
The craft beer scene has exploded in recent years. A series of local ale fests let thirsty connoisseurs sample beer from breweries from around the country. The Naperville Winter Ale Fest is Sat., Feb. 22 at Frontier Park.
“We’re an upscale gastropub and it’s about the wine list, craft beer, good bourbon and great food,” said Jim Bergeron of The Wise Boxer Pour House. The gastropub will be offering $1 soup or salad and $2 desserts with the purchase of an entrée during restaurant week.
Heaven on Seven has monthly beer dinners pairing seven courses with craft beer. Last month, they hosted 3 Floyds Brewery of Munster, Ind. and featured Cask Conditioned Zombie Dust – one of the most sought after beers in the country. Next up, Heaven on Seven will host a Mardi Gras Beer Dinner with Abita Brewing of New Orleans on Tues., Feb. 11.
Wise Boxer Pour House also will be tapping into the beer pairing scene. They’ll present a dinner with Goose Island Brewery of Chicago Wed., Feb. 12.
From savory to sweet
Chef Terrell Cole recently moved from savory to sweet. After being the chef for Sullivan’s Steakhouse for nine years, he has started a business called Dark Horse Pastries.
“I started my own company when I realized there was no bakeries in town. I went to culinary school for pastries and saw this as an opportunity. Naperville supports its small businesses very well. You do still have to make sure the product is solid, but people out here seem to want their neighbors to succeed. Especially if there’s chocolate involved,” said Cole.
Cole utilizes restaurant kitchens throughout Naperville during off-peak hours to make his desserts. Many of his desserts are featured at Naperville restaurants, including the Wise Boxer Pour House.
“The food is just part of it, Naperville has all the makings for the total package of a fantastic experience. Friendly people, nice family owned shops, original boutiques and some of the best food in the western suburbs,” said Cole.
In July 2004, the Naperville City Council passed an ordinance establishing a one percent food and beverage tax for food and beverages consumed on premise city-wide. Since the first grants in 2005, the tax has funded Special Events and Cultural Amenities, known as the SECA Fund.
In October 2008, the Council passed an additional 1.5 percent food and beverage tax for downtown area establishments. Which, in addition to the one percent tax, is a total of 2.5 percent. The City allows establishments to keep two percent of the tax revenue for administrative costs.
“What could be easier than to eat and drink out locally?” asks Becky Anderson, Chairman of the Advisory Cultural Commission, the city board that assists, informs and advises the City Council regarding applications for SECA grants.
“By supporting our local restaurants we are supporting dozens of great events; both cultural and special—from Ribfest to the DuPage Symphony, from NCTV that covers all that is Naperville to Kidz Kabaret, from Riverwalk maintenance to Simply Vedic and their Indian cultural events.”
Anderson added, “By eating and drinking out Naperville style you support the 1 percent SECA tax that helps to keep this city rich with incredible events both cultural and unique. By encouraging SECA grant recipients to shop locally in Naperville, we keep dollars recycling in our community, and this benefits us all. So eat, drink and be merry Naperville style; it’s our city. It’s where we live, it’s where our hearts are.”
A meeting of the Advisory Cultural Commission was held on Jan. 25 to make recommendations for $2 million to fund 91 requests for SECA grants. Going forward, a Public Hearing will be held beginning at 9AM on Sat., Feb. 22, in the City Council Chambers of the Municipal Center, 400 S. Eagle St. During the Public Hearing, applicants will have the opportunity to address the Commission. After the final speaker, the Commission will determine final recommendations for the 2014-2015 SECA Grant Fund allocations and forward their decisions to City Council for approval in April.
Let’s put Naperville in the conversation
America’s food scene is still in its infancy compared to Old World counterparts. The French will argue about chefs and the best restaurant in much the same way Americans argue about football and who will win the Super Bowl.
New York, Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans and Charleston are internationally recognized for their restaurants. Worldly gourmets flock to these destinations to eat and experience regional specialties.
Due to size and population, Naperville will never be able to compete on the world scene, but this city can continue to build an intimate food culture.
Boulder, Colo.; Portland, Maine; and Traverse City, Mich. are all small towns consistently recognized for their local food scenes and vibrant restaurants.
With farmers’ markets, engaged diners, food-driven festivals, crafty brewers and artisans alike, initiatives such as Naperville Restaurant Week will help create a great food destination.
Restaurant Week sound bites
Why is it important to dine locally?
Margins are thin in lots of businesses—and restaurants certainly fall in that category. Shopping and dining locally is critically important to the local economy. From the hostess who seats you to the server, bartender and bus boy, each one relies on your support (and your tips!) of their business so they can earn a living as well.
Employees in the hospitality industry also shop in stores, and spend money in the local economy. Plus, locally-owned businesses tend to spend more of their dollars locally. And let’s not forget the sales tax and real estate taxes businesses pay help local units of government. The local restaurant industry contributes greatly to the quality of life in our community.
Anything else we should know?
Naperville Restaurant Week is actually 2 weeks long, and that will give individuals ample time to try a few new restaurants in addition to their longtime favorites.
Use this time well and always remember to tip your bartenders and servers.
Notable Naperville food related festivals and events
From January through December, many local festivals and fundraising events are enhanced by the generosity of the local hospitality industry while general managers also tend to the operation of their restaurants and catering businesses.
The “Naperville Events Calendar” and the “Festivals & Traditions” are chocked full of local opportunities to taste the fruits of local culture.[intense_hr type=”dotted” color=”primary” /]
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