Summerlicious: 10 Years of Foodie Fun

summer_eatsEvery city has its culinary hotspots: the hot new restaurants serving cutting-edge cuisine, and old favourites that delight patrons year after year with their consistently excellent food.

But for the average restaurant-goer, many of these top-tier restaurants are a once-in-a-while treat, or a “someday” experience for later on, perhaps when the household budget isn’t so tight. Dropping $150 or more on a gourmet meal just isn’t in the cards for many people.

Unless, of course, they happen to be in Toronto during the first two weeks of July. For the past 10 years, the city has sponsored “Summerlicious,” a culinary event designed to encourage diners to try new restaurants and experience the best the city has to offer for an affordable price. This is the perfect even to hire a car rental and taste all that Toronto has to offer!

Hot Days, Delicious Nights

Summerlicious is the companion event to Winterlicious, a similar two-week event held during the first two weeks of February each year. In 2003, event organizers designed Winterlicious to encourage residents and visitors to eat out during a notoriously slow period for restaurants. To entice diners, participating restaurants around the city created special prix fixe menus at a reduced price. Lunch entrees range from $15 to $30, with dinners coming in at $25 to $45 per person. The menus include appetizer, entrée and dessert, and allow for a taste of the best culinary talent in town — without the astronomical price tag.

The inaugural event was a rousing success, and expanded into Summerlicious to help build business during the summer, when fewer people head out to dinner. The two-week event has become one of the highlights of the summer, with thousands of people flocking to the more than 150 establishments that regularly participate.

Summerlicious 2013: The Basics

The 2013 Summerlicious event will take place from 5 July to 21 July, and organizers expect nearly 200 restaurants to participate, including both old favourites and new additions.

The best way to enjoy the event is by making reservations at your top choices in advance; reservations are generally accepted at the end of June, with a few advance opportunities for qualified groups, such as American Express cardholders. While you’re not necessarily required to make a reservation, the top restaurants fill up quickly. However, this could be a bonus: if your favourite spot doesn’t have a table, try a new restaurant that you’ve never visited. Summerlicious offers the perfect opportunity to try out a new place that you might otherwise overlook, or dismiss for being too expensive or not your scene.

Because Summerlicious is designed to provide a taste of the restaurant’s offerings, the prix fixe menus are generally determined in advance and don’t allow substitutions. The menus are generally available at the official Summerlicious website before the event so you can find a meal that interests you. Of course, you can always order from a restaurant’s regular menu, but expect to pay regular prices for your meal.

You should also expect to pay for drinks and a gratuity. In fact, the one complaint that some participating restaurants have had about the event is that patrons visit restaurants to order from the special menu and leave a paltry tip for their server, who provides the same level of service he or she would during a regular meal. For example, at Auberge du Pommier, a regular participant, the white-glove service is as legendary as the filet mignon; although you’re only paying $45 for the gourmet meal, your gratuity should reflect the exemplary service.

Making the Cut

One reason that Summerlicious is so popular — in addition to the affordable prices — is for the opportunity to try new foods and experience the best the city has to offer. Selection criteria for the event is stringent; chains are prohibited from participating, and the regular menu prices for the items served during the promotion must be higher than the Summerlicious prices, ensuring that patrons are getting a deal.

Summerlicious is the ideal opportunity for foodies — or those who simply want to try something new — to go out and experience the best that this food-obsessed city has to offer, while giving the local economy a much-needed boost. Plan to dine out at a few of the participating spots this year, and you might just discover a new favourite that you never would have tried otherwise.

About the Author: Lori Markham is a self-described foodie who eagerly awaits the arrival of Summerlicious each year. Last year, she visited Embrujo Flamenco during the event and was inspired to take up flamenco dancing after enjoying the best tapas in Toronto.