Rory Philipson didn’t know what to expect when Paul Anzano first told her there would be a Hopewell Valley Restaurant Week two years ago, but she believed it was something worth getting involved in.
“We were like, ‘Sure, Mayor Anzano, we’ll do it,” says Philipson, who runs the Blue Bottle Café in Hopewell Borough with her husband, Aaron. “Since then, we’ve seen the effect it has, what it means to people. It’s something that’s become really special.”
Traditionally held in big cities or famous food-and-wine destinations like the Napa Valley, restaurant weeks are becoming more common throughout the U.S. as a way of promoting local dining scenes. There are no special events or themes to Hopewell Valley Restaurant Week — just good food and hospitality. Participating restaurants create their own specials and special deals to entice and satisfy diners.
2015’s inaugural version was a true one-week affair, held that year from Feb. 22–28. Last year, Restaurant Week ran for nine days in early March. This year, a week is 11 days long—things are set to get started on Sunday, March 5, not wrapping up until Wednesday, March 15.
Philipson and Ellen Abernathy of Boro Bean took over the responsibility of coordinating the celebration of Valley cuisine this year. “It’s a good way to showcase how many restaurants we have in Hopewell Valley, how many independent restaurants there are,” Abernathy says. “We really are very fortunate to have so much great food, so many special places to visit.” Seventeen restaurants throughout the Hopewell Valley had agreed to participate as of late February. Pennington Quality Market is also taking part. The highest concentration of participating restaurants is in Hopewell Borough, where Blue Bottle Café is.
Philipson said she doesn’t think any of the independently owned restaurants in the borough — including Restaurant Week participants Antimo’s Italian Kitchen, Da’s Kitchen, Nomad Pizza, The Brothers Moon, Hopewell Valley Bistro, The Peasant Grill and Boro Bean — see the others as the competition. “For a small restaurant owner the competition is Seasons 52, places like that, in the big malls that can charge ridiculously low prices for what they serve,” she said. “We should be coming together as community and helping promote one another. There will never be an Applebee’s — let’s hope — on the corner of 518 and 31.”
Other restaurants taking part include Brick Farm Tavern, Osteria Procaccini, Camillo’s Ristorante Italiano, Sumo Sushi, Wildflowers, Baron Dillon Grill at the Hopewell Valley Golf Club, Diamond’s, Piccolo Trattoria and Subway in Pennington. More could be added between now and March 5. The latest news can be found online at restaurantweekhv.com.
Hopewell Valley Restaurant Week is also for a good cause. All of the participants pledge to donate some of the proceeds from Restaurant Week to FISH, or Friends in Service Here of Hopewell Valley, a nonprofit, all-volunteer program that has been providing meals for the homebound population of Hopewell Valley since the 1970’s. (For more information about FISH, call 609-737-9123.)
While none of the restaurants has formally revealed its planned menus or special offers for restaurant week by press time, the last two years have seen a number of fine-dining participants offering three-course tasting menus at lower-than-usual prices.
“I think each restaurant tries to do something a little different to what they do normally,” Abernathy says. “Maybe have a really approachable price point so somebody who would normally be a little intimidated (by unfamiliar menu items or prices) will come to a restaurant like Blue Bottle or Brick Farm Tavern and try something new.”
At Boro Bean, Abernathy has in the past featured her soups and sandwiches, which like most of her food is made in house (see sidebar, next page). Last year she served special fish tacos, which are not usually on the menu, as a way of connecting to the FISH charity.
‘We don’t want to take a side seat on Princeton Restaurant Week. We want to have one of our own.’
Philipson sees early March as the perfect time for a dining-themed event.
“At this time of year, end of winter, beginning of spring, we’re giving chefs an opportunity to try out new things, show off their talents using ingredients they haven’t been able to work with in a while,” Philipson says. “It’s really about putting Hopewell on the culinary map again after the winter. Why not visit beautiful Hopewell Valley on the week we have our arms wide open saying, ‘Come to Hopewell, see what we’re all about’?”
Philipson said she opened Blue Bottle Café 11 years ago because the borough was an affordable community that had a city feel — and plenty of free parking. She also saw good dining scenes nearby in Princeton and Lambertville/New Hope, not to mention places like The Brothers Moon proving that the Hopewell community would support restaurants that made seasonal food with locally sourced ingredients.
When people from Princeton approached her a few years ago to see if she wanted to be a part of a Princeton restaurant week, she declined. “We don’t want to take a side seat on Princeton Restaurant Week,” she says. “We want to have one of our own.”
OpenTable, the online restaurant reservation company that tracks restaurant weeks throughout the country, says that a large percentage of people who book reservations during restaurant weeks are visiting restaurants for the first time. That means for a lot of the participants, it’s a chance to make a good first impression — and earn long-term customers.
“We want to do what we best, but at the same time we want to be very welcoming of the potentially new people eating with us,” Philipson said. “When you run promotions like this you feel like you’re maybe a little bit more on stage, like you’d better knock this out of the park because you have no idea who you’re feeding this week.”
More information about Hopewell Valley Restaurant Week can be found on Facebook at facebook.com/eatinhopewell.