Pittsburgh Restaurant Week spotlights local restaurants and celebrates the New Year

After finishing a bowl of pasta bolognese at The Schenley Porch this week, you might find that your total is an unusually specific amount — $20.22.

The price of $20.22 represents the new year, 2022. As part of Pittsburgh Restaurant Weekit’s an annual tradition for restaurants to reflect the new year in their prices, according to Pittsburgh Restaurant Week founder and director Brian McCollum.

“The menu price this season is between $20.22 and $40.22,” McCollum said. “The 22 cents come from the year of the event, so it goes up by a penny every year, which isn’t bad considering inflation.”

Pittsburgh Restaurant Week is a semi-annual event that takes place in January and August. This winter week runs from January 10 to 16, with some restaurants extending it to January 23.

Restaurant Week is not limited to restaurants in Pittsburgh itself, so restaurants located both in the city and surrounding areas are all invited to participate. Participating restaurants include The Schenley Porch, the commoner, Fujiya ramen and Condado Tacos.

According to McCollum, enjoying Restaurant Week at these locations is as easy as going to a restaurant and trying something on their featured menu.

“Restaurant Week is not a ticketed event,” McCollum said. “There is nothing to subscribe or buy other than to make a reservation and go participate.”

According to McCollum, instead of designing Restaurant Week as a discount event, it’s a week for restaurants to create special menus that wouldn’t otherwise be featured during the year. These winter menus follow the theme of “new dishes for the new year”.

“Restaurant Week is not a discount program, it’s simply an opportunity for restaurants to create limited-time menus,” McCollum said. “It’s a great opportunity to try new dishes to the public or introduce something you can’t reliably produce all year round.”

Some restaurants, like At Garbarino’s, offer a special with several courses for a fixed price. Others highlight a specific meal. According to Courtney Caprara – head of direct marketing for The Porch’s parent company, Eat’n Park Hospitality Group – The Porch will only be offering one special.

“For our menu, we are again offering our Pasta Bolognese for this upcoming Restaurant Week,” Caprara said. “This recipe is actually adapted from the recipe we served for Restaurant Week last summer.”

Although pasta bolognese is the same summer dish, Caprara said they changed the recipe for a winter variation.

“We changed it up a bit for the winter, where we replaced the feta with ricotta cheese, which makes it cooler,” Caprara said. “And it’s just the perfect comfort food for winter.”

Other participating restaurants, such as Plates and pints of Carmella, have not yet chosen their official menu. But according to Carmella Salem, the restaurant’s co-owner, the menu will likely feature vegetarian options to accommodate the restaurant’s large number of vegetarian customers.

Although Salem has yet to choose the featured restaurant’s menu, she said the menu is still experimenting with new dishes to gauge customer opinions.

“We always try to lean towards the plates that we’re looking to put on the menu,” Salem said. “So we’re going to try it during restaurant week, because it gives us a good indication of how customers like it or not.”

This year’s Winter Restaurant Week will mark the 10th anniversary of the event. A former food blogger, McCollum founded Pittsburgh Restaurant Week in 2012 with the help of his connections in the food industry.

“I have a passion for food, Pittsburgh didn’t have a restaurant week, and I had a background in project management, so I decided to create Pittsburgh’s first restaurant week,” McCollum said. “The restaurants were very happy, it was very busy.

After the initial success, McCollum said he listened to restaurant requests and expanded the event to take place twice a year. According to McCollum, Restaurant Week brings restaurants the slowest business of the year, along with other benefits.

“Restaurants are really seeing an increase in business because it avoids the traditional dips in revenue during the month that they would otherwise struggle with,” McCollum said. “It also exposes them to new diners who may or may not think of them regularly.”

McCollum said the toughest months for restaurants are January, July and August. Salem agreed with that sentiment when it came to his own business.

“At New Years you slow down a bit, but then you have this great pop in mid-January for a whole week, and the same in August,” Salem said. “It’s a lot of travel and vacation time that people take, so it stimulates a slow time of year and it certainly brings in a lot of new clientele.”

According to Caprara, Restaurant Week also gives The Porch the opportunity to showcase its best dishes while welcoming new customers.

“It really gives us a chance to showcase the best of our menu alongside so many of Pittsburgh’s other great restaurants,” Caprara said. “It’s really just a great way to get our name out there and welcome those who have or haven’t heard of us, and we’re always happy to have them.”

Gladys T. Hensley