by Maggie Shea, Chef Magazine

Summertime is as worthy of celebration as any national holiday, and restaurants are honoring the season known for long, hot days and farm fresh produce and herbs with such creative promotions as outdoor dining specials, puppy-friendly menus, farm visits, dueling sommelier dinners and virtual tastings. Here are some of the summer promotions taking place around the country.

At Courtright's Restaurant in Willow Springs, Ill., executive chef Jerome Bacle creates Friday themed three-course prix fixe menus highlighting seasonal ingredients such as apricot, corn, melon and strawberries. The dinners include an appetizer, entrée and dessert, and the dishes can be paired with complementary wines chosen by wine director Brian Egebrecht for an additional charge. The July 17 melon menu captured the light, fresh flavors of summer with a brochette of cantaloupe, mozzarella and prosciutto with basil mint vinaigrette; grilled chicken breast with breaded roasted tomatoes, grilled zucchini and lime melon chutney; and a Gewürztraminer and honeydew compote for dessert.

In an ode to warm summer breezes, Maryland crab and regional microbrews, the folks at Art and Soul in Washington, D.C., introduced Crab and Beer Wednesdays this summer, which take place on the restaurant's recently opened seasonal patio, complete with a fire pit. Patrons dine on three super jumbo crabs, corn on the cob or seasonal vegetables, hushpuppies and potatoes. To wash it all down, guests can choose from Art and Soul's selection of regional microbrews available on tap. The restaurant recently went local with its on-tap brews, serving only beer from area breweries. Crab and Beer Wednesday takes place from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. until the patio closes for the season.

And Art and Soul hasn't forgotten man's best friend. The restaurant is offering a Puppy Menu on the patio only. The menu includes pet-friendly beverages like Wagtime nonalcoholic brew, treats like Raw Deal frozen raw bones, Hungry Dawg 6-ounce grilled steak and desserts such as Pure Bread homemade granola treats for dogs. The Puppy Menu is available every day while the patio is open.

Fork restaurant,
nestled in Philadelphia's bustling Old City, is offering a series of promotions throughout the summer to emphasize local, seasonal ingredients. Wednesday nights feature a four-course tasting menu from chef Terence Feury that incorporates fresh and local ingredients. Weekly tasting and learning events take place each Thursday at Fork:etc, Fork's gourmet prepared foods store located next door to the bistro. The hour-long sessions include cheese and pasta making class, instruction on canning, and wine and olive oil tastings.
Still to come this summer is a special dinner on Aug. 13 with beer pairings from Chef Feury and Jason Perkins, brewmaster at Portland, Maine-based Allagash Brewing Co. Patrons can also anticipate a tour of Branch Creek Farm in Perkasie, Pa., on Aug. 22, led by owners Mark and Judy Dornstreich, long-time suppliers to Fork.

The competition is heating up at The Heathman Restaurant & Bar in Portland, Ore., where the restaurant will host the third in a series of five Dueling Sommelier dinners on Aug. 8, to be prepared by guest chef Elias Cairo from Castagna in Portland. The five four-course dinners are prepared by The Heathman culinary director Philippe Boulot and chef de cuisine Karl Zenk along with guests chefs from Castagna, Higgins Restaurant and Bar and Wildwood restaurant. Four sommeliers pair a wine with every course, and guests vote for the best food and wine pairings.

Going into the third dinner, Castagna sommelier Jack Hott is leading the competition, sommelier Andy Zalman of Higgins is in second place. The other two sommeliers competing are Jeff Moore, wine director at Wildwood; and Jeff Groh, sommelier of The Heathman. Scores will be collected throughout each of the dinners, and the top two high scorers at the end of the series will meet in a Grand Finale dinner to battle for first place.

To capitalize on the growing presence of social networking, El Gaucho steakhouse in Bellvue, Wash., held its first-ever virtual tasting on June 24 to promote its new lunch menu through the social networking site Twitter. Thirty Seattle area media members who are all on Twitter were invited to El Gaucho between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. to taste its new signature lunch menu items including woodfire flatbreads, salads and sandwiches. The reporters then tweeted their feedback, and their followers responded with questions or forwarded the comments to their own followers. "Taste and Tweet" was organized by El Gaucho and "Social Media for Executives" CEOs Clay Loges and Blaine Millet. According to a spokesperson for El Gaucho, the restaurant gained a huge number of followers from the event and plans to hold similar future events in the coming months.

Tell us about your summertime specials in the comments section.

Gain a fresh perspective in Orlando! Join us to learn creative ways to succeed at the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show, September 11 to 13 at the Orange County Convention Center.

There are many reasons to attend the 2009 Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show, but the most important reason is the value it brings to you and your business.
  • New Products: Comparison shop over 400 leading vendors under one roof.
  • New Learning: Business solutions from more than 20 sessions in the Ferdinand Metz Foodservice Forum--all included with your registration.
  • New Resources: New products and ideas from the New Product Gallery, Ultimate Barista Challenge, ACF Culinary Competitions, PMQ's Orlando Pizza Show, and the Liquid Lounge.