Downtown Lawrence Restaurant Week, January 18-26, is one of the most anticipated times for Lawrence foodies. It’s a time when local chefs put together creative and original dishes not found on their regular menus. We’ve interviewed three local dining enthusiasts to get the inside scoop on how best to experience this fifth annual feast of creativity.
Let’s meet the experts…
DeBarre Johnson: DeBarre with a capital B. Favorite toast: Good eats, good drinks & good people! LFK representer. Raising a future world changer. Trying to be a Jackie of all trades and live out ALL of my dreams!
Jeff Burkhead: Lawrence townie and KU alum. Photographer, writer and social media manager at Bert Nash Mental Health Center and Backstory Photography. Most of all, proud dad. And, in 2018 I’m getting married to the woman of my dreams!
Meryl Carver-Allmond: A proud Lawrence transplant, Meryl lives with her sweet husband, two darling kiddos, one gecko, and an ever-rotating flock of poultry. By day, she’s a public defender. By night, she writes, takes photos, knits, and cooks up a storm. She chronicles her adventures on her personal blog, My Bit of Earth.
Have you attended Downtown Lawrence Restaurant Week in the past? How many times?
Debarre: Of Course! I attended Downtown Lawrence Restaurant Week in 2016, 2017 & 2018, BUT I visited at least 3 different restaurants during each week.
Jeff: Oh, yeah! Every year, I think.
Meryl: I tried to go for both of the first two years, but the universe kept interfering. 2015 was particularly heartbreaking. Merchant's menu looked amazing that year, but we had to cancel our reservations at the last minute when our kiddo got sick. Third time's a charm, though--last year we made it to two or three different places over the course of the week.
What are your favorite things about Downtown Lawrence Restaurant Week?
Debarre: My favorite things are 1) It’s a food-related event!! 2) It’s in town! Although KC is great, it’s awesome to be able to eat well while supporting local restaurants 3) It’s going on for several days giving me the opportunity to back over and over and over!
Jeff: I love Downtown Lawrence and I love the Lawrence food scene. So Restaurant Week is perfect.
Meryl: We're lucky here in Lawrence to have several truly talented chefs. Restaurant Week gives them a chance to up their creative game, and even be a little playful. It's fun to watch, and that's before you even get to start eating!
What are you most looking forward to for this year?
Debarre: I am looking forward to seeing what is on some of the prix fixe menus. On the website for Downtown Lawrence Restaurant Week, you click on the participating restaurant and their menu is normally available. The menu helps me determine what I have a taste for.
Jeff: I also love the Warehouse Arts District and places like Leeway Franks, so I'm really happy that Restaurant Week has been expanded.
Meryl: I love the day when everyone has released their menus and specials, and I can compare them to plan where I want to go. It's only a week, and--as with most of us, I suspect--I don't have an unlimited budget. For me, that makes the process of narrowing down where I really want to go into a sort-of delicious version of Tetris.
Do you try new restaurants or go to your trusty favs?
Debarre: I’m always down for a new spot, and this is the best time to try them out! But my trusty favs are always a guaranteed stop.
Jeff: Trusty favs, for sure. And, as far as new restaurants, chances are I've already checked them out, but Restaurant Week is a good time to go back.
Meryl: Definitely both! That being said, part of the fun of Restaurant Week is testing out somewhere you've never been before, so I do try to pick at least one new-to-me spot.
Do you always order from the Restaurant Week menu?
Debarre: I order from the Restaurant Week menu, but have been known to add to an extra side or two.
Jeff: Sometimes, because it's fun to try the different Restaurant Week menus. But I'll also go with some of my regular options.
Meryl: Yes, I do. You can get the normal menu the rest of the year; I want to try the menu items that the restaurant's chef has dreamed up especially to show off his or her best.
Do you attend more than one restaurant throughout the week?
Debarre: Absolutely. 100% of the time. Yes.
Jeff: Absolutely. I'll get around to as many as I can. Some of these chefs are my good pals, and I love supporting their art and our local restaurants.
Meryl: My ideal Restaurant Week plan--barring any curve balls--would be to have one nice dinner out with my husband, a fancy lunch date with my girlfriends, and a more casual meal with my two young kids. The great thing about Lawrence Restaurant Week is that there are always multiple participating restaurants to chose from in each of those categories.
Any tips for people who have not participated in the past?
Debarre: Watch for places that offer more than just dinner options, definitely look at the menus online so you don’t think the entire menu is under the Restaurant Week pricing, and take this time to try a new food or a new place!
Jeff: Get out and hit as many places as you can. We are fortunate to have some amazing food places in our town and this is a good time to show our support. Plus, Restaurant Week is really fun. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it!
Meryl: Don't feel like you have to go to dinner. For our family, a dinner date means we have to jump through the hoop of getting a babysitter, but at lunchtime, our children are taken care of at school. Even the more upscale restaurants have Restaurant Week lunch menus, and--perhaps particularly with Valentine's Day so close--it always feels romantic to sneak off with my husband in the middle of the day and have a really decadent lunch.