Restaurant Week kicks off with Beer Sunday

Mike Morris, co-founder and brewer of Raleigh’s Crank Arm Brewery, leads a tour during the Vs. Cancer Foundation event Sunday.
Mike Morris, co-founder and brewer of Raleigh’s Crank Arm Brewery, leads a tour during the Vs. Cancer Foundation event Sunday. jhknight@newsobserver.com

Triangle Restaurant Week kicked off its week-long celebration of the culinary arts with an event Sunday afternoon at Crank Arm Brewery – a venue that doesn’t even serve food.

Unless, that is, you have an ultra-liberal definition of food.

“Well, we serve the best food of all,” said Adam Eckhardt, co-founder and co-owner of Crank Arm. “We serve beer.”

Okay, then.

Just for the record, however, the organizers of Triangle Restaurant Week have a different take on why they approached Crank Arm about hosting the kick-off event, dubbed Beer Sunday.

Samantha Rice, program manager for Restaurant Week, views it as potentially “a teaser of what’s to come” in future events.

“We are hoping that this summer we can actually partner with a majority of the breweries in the Triangle to do some kind of partnership with Restaurant Week,” she said.

Triangle Restaurant Week, billed as the biggest foodie event in the Southeast, started in 2008 and is now held twice yearly – a summer edition and a winter edition.

This week, more than 80 Triangle eateries are offering special prix fixe lunches and dinners as part of the Restaurant Week meal-a-rama, a far cry from the seven restaurants that participated in the inaugural edition.

“It’s an awesome way for people to try out restaurants that are new to the area or...(to) sample a menu at a place where you might not think to eat at normally,” Rice said.

Margo Knight Metzger, executive director of the N.C. Craft Brewers Guild, confirmed that the brewers are having discussions with the folks behind Restaurant Week about teaming up together. Details about what shape that partnership would take are still being worked out.

“We are hopeful that the addition of breweries into the mix will help introduce folks that are interested in food and beverage to some of the craft breweries they may not have discovered yet,” she said.

It’s not easy to keep up with all the Triangle’s breweries given that, according to Metzger, their ranks have more than doubled since 2010.

Today, “there are more than 20 breweries in Wake County along and, when you start looking at the Triangle as a whole, there are 45-to-50 breweries,” she said.

Craft brewers are a national phenomenon, with an average of 1.5 new breweries opening daily, according to the Brewers Association.

While the sales of mass-market beers have been declining in recent years, the association reports that craft brewers nationwide enjoyed an 18 percent hike in volume in the first half of 2014.

Those who purchased $10 tickets received a tour of Crank Arm’s brewery and a 9-ounce brew of their choice. Proceeds went to the Vs. Cancer Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the battle against childhood cancer.

“I don’t actually make the beer,” Crank Arm brewmaster and co-owner Mike Morris told those who attended the first tour. “The yeast makes the beer. I make sugary, hoppy liquid.”

Metzger, of the N.C. Craft Brewers, said that if the brewers do forge a partnership with Restaurant Week, the combination will go together like pizza and beer.

“I think you will find a lot of people who are curious about new dining establishments – people who love food – also are usually interested in finding new, locally crafted beverages,” she said.

And, she noted, some Triangle breweries also serve food.