By Maggie Shea, Chef Magazine

The imminent return of warmer weather brings the promise of the end of the Lenten fast, the coming of tender spring produce and the lighter, unadulterated flavors of spring and summer. Restaurants and cafés across the country are using creative promotions to entice diners to hang up their winter coats and celebrate the new season.

On April 4, Big Jones in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood is celebrating Easter all day with an enhanced brunch menu and a family-style dinner to end the evening. The brunch menu will include such items such as soft-shell crawfish, Carolina golden eggs, chicken 'n' biscuits and Big Jones' take on Easter ham. Dinner, which is priced at $40 per person, includes a progression of family-style appetizers, individual entrées and family-style desserts. Guests will taste Southern coastal favorites such as pimiento cheese, deviled eggs, pickled okra, salt-baked halibut and calas, a deep-fried rice cake confection hailing from Louisiana.

The dining room at Big Jones

Through the end of March, 1789 Restaurant, Washington, D.C., will offer a three-course, prix-fixe menu highlighting ingredients from the Slow Food Presidia program in conjunction with the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity. Slow Food Presidia works to improve the infrastructure of artisan food production in the United States. Executive chef Daniel Giusti's $40 menu will feature products such as artisanal American raw milk cheeses, Anishinaabeg Manoomin wild Rice and pistachio di Bronte, which will be incorporated into the appetizer, entrée and dessert courses. Additionally, 1789's monthly cooking classes in March will focus on traditional Easter brunch favorites to inspire guests for the coming holiday. Guests will learn to prepare fresh ham, leg of lamb and a selection of egg dishes. Pastry chef Travis Olson will also be on hand to demonstrate techniques for making hot cross buns and homemade biscuits.

This spring, Greek Easter will fall on the same day as Western Easter, which only occurs every four years. At Molyvos in New York City, chef Jim Botsacos (pictured, right) has created a traditional five-course menu that will be available April 3 and 4 for $65 in honor of Easter, the most sacred Greek holiday. From glykadakia (sautéed sweetbreads) and magiritsa (Easter lamb soup) to arnaki sto fourno (roasted baby lamb and fava beans) and tsoureki (Greek Easter dessert bread), guests will sample the most celebratory flavors of Greece with a few modern touches from Botsacos.

FireLake Restaurant, Minneapolis, is welcoming spring with a nod to a locally raised favorite: pork. All month, chef Paul Lynch (pictured, left) will be creating dishes featuring Minnesota-raised heirloom Duroc pork from Compart Farms--prepared smoked, cured, candied, confited and everything in between--and paired with St. Paul-based Summit Brewing Co. beers, all of which are $1 off. The 3rd Annual Summit Beer Dinner takes place March 31, with chef Lynch and Summit founder Mark Stutrud collaborating on a five-course dinner paired with Summit beer for $55. And in April, FireLake will offer an Easter Dinner starring spring lamb. In addition, all month Fire Lake will offer a special April Showers bring Happy Hours promotion, in which the restaurant will offer half off wine and beer on days that it rains before 4 p.m.

At pastry shop Pix Pâtisserie in Portland, Ore., pastry chef/owner Cheryl Wakerhauser is hosting a formal--yet fun--Easter Tea service on April 4. The $28 all-inclusive menu includes a pot of tea from Townshend's Alberta Tea House and a selection of 16 sweet and savory bite-size treats, including French macarons, soft-boiled quail eggs wrapped in prosciutto and chocolat chaud. That same day, Pix will offer an Easter egg hunt for all ages at both of its locations with 50 hidden eggs, each filled with a Pix golden ticket worth up to $50 in Pix delights.

The Pix pastry chefs outside Pix Patisserie

Is your restaurant or café offering an interesting springtime promotion that you'd like to share? Tell us about it in the comments section!
Last fall, 42 The Restaurant (pictured, below), White Plains, N.Y., launched a Chef's Tasting Menu promotion, making a $10 donation to Blythedale Children's Hospital in Valhalla, N.Y., for each tasting menu served. So far, the restaurant has raised nearly $3,500 and plans to continue the promotion indefinitely. The money raised by the promotion is being used to purchase televisions and DVD players for patient rooms as well as a Parent Lounge at Blythedale.

"We are so grateful to [chef] Anthony [Goncalves] and everyone at 42 for making Blythedale the beneficiary of this exciting promotion," said Betsy Bowman, chief development officer for Blythedale Children's Hospital, in a press statement. "Thanks to these donations, hospital stays at Blythedale--which average 50 days--will be more comfortable for our patients and their families."

Enter the Grade Me Recipe Contest for foodservice professionals, sponsored by Bush Brothers! Contestants have until May 14 to submit to an original side dish that incorporates at least one Bush's Best product. Anyone who visits the Grade Me Recipe Contest Web site can vote on the entries using an A to F scale. Contestants will have the chance to win $5,000 or an XL Big Green Egg grill in addition to being showcased as a Bush Brothers featured chef. Voting ends May 31, and the winners will be notified by June 11. For more information, visit