People munched their way through the buffet-style lines at the crowded 2016 Incredible Breakfast Cook-off at Sea Dog Brewing Company in South Portland. The event has been cancelled this year, but Maine Restaurant Week will go on. Photo by Gabe Souza

At last, a soupçon of normalcy. Maine Restaurant Week will go on this year March 1-12, although what’s on the menu will be a little different than usual and two popular events have been canceled.

Instead of offering the traditional Restaurant Week three-course menus, Maine restaurants – many of which are struggling financially – have simply been asked to come up with something creative to offer diners. And in another nod to the pandemic, Restaurant Week specials will be available for curbside takeout as well as indoor and outdoor dining.

Most importantly for the restaurants, the $495 participation fee has been waived this year, with help from sponsors L.L. Bean Mastercard, Bangor Savings Bank, IDEXX, Norway Savings Bank and Coffee By Design.

“Waiving the fee is a pretty big step,” said Gillian Britt of gBrittPR, the organizer of the event. “We know they’re struggling, and we just want this to benefit them and be as hugely helpful as possible.”

Britt said that at a time when most restaurants are just getting by with smaller staffs and reduced hours, she didn’t know if any would want to participate this year in an event that is supposed to be a celebration of the state’s restaurant community.

“Before we decided to move ahead, I called a couple of places to just see if they thought they could handle it and if they thought it was a good idea, and they were totally enthusiastic,” she said. “We really didn’t want to make it hard for them. That was really a priority, and why we dropped that three-course requirement.”

So far seven restaurants in Portland, Scarborough and Camden have signed up on mainerestaurantweek.com, and two have already posted menus. Timber Steakhouse & Rotisserie at 106 Exchange St. in Portland is maintaining tradition by serving a three-course meal for $25 per person: butternut squash soup, prime steak tips over mashed potatoes and beef gravy, and a flourless chocolate cake.

Solo Italiano at 100 Commercial St. in Portland plans to serve a nightly five-course meal, featuring dishes from its a la carte menu, for $45 per person. The Restaurant Week menu will be posted daily on the restaurant’s website after 3 p.m.

In a normal year, diners searching for a meal on the Restaurant Week website filter choices by price. This year, the filters will focus on where they eat – curbside, outdoor or indoor – as well as categories such as brunch, lunch and dessert.

The popular Incredible Breakfast Cook-Off will not be held this year, nor Spirit Quest, a cocktail-themed event; both events normally draw crowds. Coffee By Design’s Crave event will go forward, but is being reimagined and to avoid crowds will not, according to Britt, be held at a single destination.

Last year, Restaurant Week squeaked by in the nick of time; it came to a close just before the first case of COVID-19 was detected in Maine. Restaurants interested in participating this year should email Britt at [email protected]


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