By SHELBY MERTENS
Daily News-Record 3/2/19
HARRISONBURG — While the students are away on spring break, downtown Harrisonburg chefs have a chance to experiment with new menu items.
Taste of Downtown, the city’s restaurant week, will run Monday through March 10 with 22 participating restaurants.
“There’s a wide range of offerings,” said Kim Kirk, chief marketing officer for Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance. “We have restaurants that are rolling out their new spring menus, for example, Bella Gelato and Clementine. We have restaurants offering daily lunch deals or specials, and we have restaurants introducing new menu items they don’t normally have at other times of the year.”
Previous restaurant weeks included areas of the city outside of downtown, but this year’s event reverts back to focusing on the city’s culinary district.
Aaron Ludwig, owner of Billy Jack’s Wing and Draft Shack and Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint, has seen the city’s restaurant week grow since its inception in 2008.
“It used to be more of a discount, where now it’s more evolved into restaurants showcasing different dishes,” Ludwig said. “We’ve done everything from collaborating with other restaurants or just letting the chefs go wild. It’s fun for the restaurants.”
Billy Jack’s is rolling out four new burgers during Taste of Downtown that will be permanent fixtures on the menu. Another four will be introduced afterward. The restaurant is moving away from pick-your-own toppings.
With a half-pound angus patty, the new burgers include Home Wrecker, complete with chili, smoked bacon, sour cream, pickled jalapenos and tortilla strips, as well as B- Real, which features monterey jack, avocado, smoked bacon, tomato, shredded romaine with Sriracha mayo. The Bed Head burger comes with farm fresh eggs, smoked bacon and cheese, and the Rexquando includes lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion and your choice of cheese. Prices range from $8 to $13, including fries.
Jack Brown’s is reinventing the nostalgia of the McDonald’s Happy Meal with its new Happy Box, introducing Jack Brown’s Royale cheeseburger, a quarter- pound wagyu patty.
“It has two slices of cheese, diced sauteed onions, pickles, royale sauce, and it comes with fries and a deep-fried Oreo, and just like a Happy Meal, we’re giving out a prize in each box,” Ludwig said.
The prizes range from bottle openers, pint glass koozies, keychains, sunglasses and stickers. The Happy Box is $10 with a soft drink or $12 with a PBR. Ludwig said the royale sauce is a secret recipe the chef concocted.
“We just thought it would be a fun thing to do,” he said. “We’re always trying to come up with something unique and different.”
For now, the Happy Box will be available only during restaurant week, but Ludwig said it may be brought back as a happy
hour special depending on its success.
Each year, Billy Jack’s and Jack Brown’s have used the weeklong event to test out new dishes.
“We always look at our burger sales during Taste of Downtown,” Ludwig said. “Each year we have changed our menu based around the Taste of Downtown burger preferences. It’s a great time to experiment and try new things.”
The Joshua Wilton House, Local Chop & Grill House and Food. Bar. Food are offering three- course dinners for $35 per person. Rocktown Kitchen is also serving a three- course meal for $39 per person.
Cuban Burger is introducing Ropa Vieja, a Cuban national dish that features shredded flank steak simmered in a tomato and vegetable stew with rice and sweet plantains. El Paisano Bakery will make several new Mexican sweets, including tamales with pumpkin atole.
Taj of India is rolling out a new chicken seekh kabab, and Indian & American Cafe will give free Indian chai and rice pudding.
“We take pride in the fact that our chefs get creative during Taste of Downtown,” Kirk said. “They’re trying new recipes to see how they go. Sometimes, they add the items to menu because of Taste of Downtown.”
Kirk hopes restaurant week encourages diners to try new restaurants downtown. A Rocktown Bites Food Tour will be take place on March 9 from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. The three hour tour includes six stops.
“It’s a great way to be able to sample several dishes from the restaurants that are participating,” she said. Tickets are $49 per person. For more information, visit www.rocktownbites.com.
For the full list of Taste of Downtown specials, visit www.downtownharrisonburg.org/taste-of-downtown/.