Not to be outdone by the annual NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament—better known as March Madness—the 10th annual Berkeley Restaurant Week tips off on March 18 with March Munch Madness, featuring the best of the East Bay city’s culinary fare. More than 45 participating restaurants are getting in the zone for two weeks of “Nothing but nosh.”
Dining options for this year’s Restaurant Week includes fare in four tiered options organized around price: the “Layup” ($10–$20), the “Jump Shot” ($20–$30), the “Three Pointer” ($30–$40) and the “Full Court Press” ($40 and up). For a no-sweat halftime pick-me-up, Gold Leaf Café’s Latte Layup includes two lattes and two treats for $15. The splashy Jump Shot special at Cali Alley features any entrée—from buttermilk fried chicken with coconut black beans to grilled tofu bao buns—with cheesecake and sangria for $20. And at Creekwood Restaurant, the celebratory Full Court Press offering—a three-course prix fixe dinner of charred chicory Caesar salad, grilled lamb loin with turnips and artichokes, plus olive oil cake for $40—is a surefire winner.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have needed something to look forward to— that has always been our mission for Berkeley Restaurant Week,” says Visit Berkeley’s Jeffrey Church. The National Restaurant Association reported that in 2020, approximately 100,000 restaurants closed across U.S., and that the industry lost upwards of $240 billion in revenue as a result of COVID-19. In Berkeley, job losses in the food-and-beverage sector tripled last year, and more than 40 restaurants closed for good.
Despite so much somber news, there is plenty of optimism this spring both for the restaurant community and for basketball fans. Restaurant restrictions are expected to loosen as the vaccine takes hold, creating more dining opportunities for residents and visitors. And March Madness is expected to proceed as planned in 2021 (last year’s tournament was wiped out just days before it was set to begin).
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of Berkeley Restaurant Week is the idea of teamwork. Some businesses are double-teaming, so to speak, to create more robust offerings. For example, local natural wine company, Hammerling Wines, has partnered with Abstract Table, a fine-dining pop-up, for a four-course dinner on Cafenated Coffee Company’s lush and leafy patio. Diners can look forward to a pork belly salad with smoked pineapple paired with Hammerling’s Ask The Dust sparkling Rosé and a smoked short rib with pickled fennel course that’s matched with a Cabernet called The Wild One.
“The nature of restaurants to ‘compete’ with each other has been sidelined,” says Church. “We’re excited to cheer on their teamwork during March Munch Madness.”