Sweet Onion Restaurant Week comes to Walla Walla

Josh Goodman

Diners at Walla Walla restaurants are in for a sweet treat this week––a sweet onion treat, that is.

July 9 through 15 is the first annual Sweet Onion Restaurant Week, an event meant to highlight the variety of ways to prepare Walla Walla’s signature crop and draw customers both locally and from around the region. Fourteen area restaurants are participating in the event and are offering two-course lunches for $12.12 and three-course dinners for $20.12 or $30.12.

The restaurant week is happening in conjunction with this Saturday and Sunday’s annual Sweet Onion Festival, which features food, music and dance performances and even onion bowling.

Michael Mettler, owner of Achevia Marketing Group and a consultant for the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Commission, said that the restaurant week was formed out of efforts to highlight Walla Walla as a food destination, including to people who may be more interested in food than wine.

“Restaurant weeks are usually a way for different restaurants to come together to highlight what they offer the public,” he said.

While some of the participating restaurants are drawing from their existing menus, others are using the week as an opportunity to innovate. Among the creative options are a smoked hanger steak with Walla Walla sweet onion crepes and red chili aioli at T. Maccarone’s, and a watermelon, watercress and sweet onion salad at Olive Marketplace & Café.

Some of the most unique offerings are the desserts, which include an apple and sweet onion upside down cake at Jacobi’s Café and Walla Walla sweet onion ice cream with caramel sauce at Whitehouse-Crawford.

“It’s an offbeat little delightful dessert that you really have to try in order to understand,” said Emily Riley, general manager of Whitehouse-Crawford.

Michael Kline, owner of the Walla Walla Bread Company, said several people ordered from the bakery’s restaurant week special, which included such options as a Walla Walla sweet onion puree; a sweet onion tart with blue cheese, dates and prosciutto; and a sweet onion and potato quiche.

“[Monday] we had a really great day, and we had a lot of people in asking about the promotions and deals going on,” he said. “I think . . . we’re going to see some great results that in the years to follow [will] pay off for the restaurateurs and the farmers and such.”

That’s the plan for Mettler, who said that though many restaurants are offering their specials at a loss, they can make up for it in alcohol sales and repeat customers.

“In the short term, the goals are to heighten awareness of our local restaurant partners, heighten awareness of the Walla Walla sweet onion and provide tangible returns for the participating restaurants,” he said.

Helping matters, the restaurants are getting a lot of buzz for their $200 participation fee, which helped to pay for radio, television and social media advertising. Mettler hopes to get more restaurants on board next year and to advertise the restaurant week to potential tourists from Seattle and Portland in the near future.

Then again, those who aren’t tourists may simply get a good meal at a good price.

“For college students and other people who may not want to swing 60 to 70 dollars on a dinner, this is a phenomenal opportunity to experience some of the restaurants in the valley,” Mettler said.