Off the menu: Grinch and Santa will visit restaurants in Pioneer Valley

Another indication of our collective yearning for normalcy this holiday season is the number of whimsical themed events that area restaurants are sponsoring. Holiday music, appearances from Christmas season personalities and, of course, plenty of festive food will be on offer in Pioneer Valley over the coming weeks.

The Grinch, Santa’s archenemy during the holidays, makes several holiday visits to area restaurants.

He will appear with Santa on December 11 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at a brunch sponsored by the Boathouse Restaurant in South Hadley. The restaurant’s regular brunch offerings are served, and Santa and the Grinch will be available for photo ops.

Call 413-536-2342 for reservations.

The Uno Pizzeria & Grill in Haymarket Square in Springfield will be sponsoring six Grinch & Santa dinner parties during the month of December. Held to benefit the Shriners Children’s New England (formerly the Shriners Hospital for Children), the dinners offer seating from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on December 11, 12, 13 and December 18, 19, and 20.

Reservations, essential, can be made by calling 413-543-6600.

Christmas caroling at restaurants is a popular tradition, and the Student Prince Cafe and Fort Restaurant, which first promoted the experience locally, hosts its Fort Carolers every evening from December 2 until the eve of Christmas. Lunchtime performances are scheduled for December 6 and 7.

Reservations, essential, can be made by calling 413-734-7475.

German restaurant Munich Haus in Chicopee will host its annual German Weihnactsfest, featuring the Dane Kane Carolers, every night from December 10-23.

Christmas carols will begin at 6:30 p.m. and the restaurant will offer a special holiday menu.

Reservations, which are required, can be made by calling 413-594-8788.

In December, the Irish House Restaurant and Trinity Pub in West Springfield will be hosting “Christmas Music with the Tavern Singers” nights. Seven dates are available on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays; each performance offers a buffet dinner option.

For more information or to purchase tickets, contact the Irish House restaurant at 413-342-4358.

What might be considered one of the more unusual holiday events this year is a wine and Christmas cookie deal being held at Hardwick Vineyard & Winery in Hardwick.

Scheduled for December 16, the evening will pair five types of cookies such as gingerbread, pecan snowballs and Italian lemon cookies with a selection of Hardwick Vineyard wines.

Contact Hardwick Vineyard & Winery at 413-967-7763 for details.

Accompaniments

* The peak season for restaurant gift certificate and gift card sales is about to begin and, as part of efforts to capture more of this business, a number of independent restaurants have started running promotions of “Black Friday” gift cards.

If gift cards are on your shopping list, be sure to check to see if there’s an early-season offer in effect at a restaurant your “gift” might appreciate.

Also keep in mind that due to menu price inflation, you may need to be a little more generous in choosing the dollar value of the gift cards you purchase.

* Hanna Devine’s restaurant in Ware has recently added lunch hours to its weekly schedule, with the restaurant now open for lunch from 11.30am Wednesday to Saturday.

Lunch entrees on the menu include baked haddock and vegetable ravioli. A Reuben Panini, chicken cutlet sandwich, steak and cheese with onions and peppers and several eight-ounce burger creations are among the offerings between the buns.

Lunch specials will also be available.

Answers from Hanna Devine at 413-277-0707.

Dunkin' vacation 2022

Dunkin’ new seasonal treats for 2022 include Cookie Butter Cold Brew and a Cookie Butter Donut with a Pancake Wake-Up Wrap.

* Dunkin’ introduced its line of holiday-inspired beverage and baked goods selections, which are now available at participating Dunkin’ stores.

“Cookie butter” is Dunkin’s holiday flavor theme this year; it comes in a Cookie Butter Cold Brew that is mixed with brown sugar cookie syrup. The drink is served topped with a biscuit butter flavored cold mousse and biscuit butter crumbles.

Cookie butter also appears in the case of baking, in the form of a cookie butter donut filled with cookie buttercream and finished with maple glaze and cookie crumbs.

Other holiday season drinks at Dunkin’ include toasted white chocolate and peppermint mocha lattes, both available hot or iced.

Eggs, melted American cheese, and the choice of sausage or bacon in a maple pancake are all part of the construction found in a Pancake Wake-up Wrap, a limited-time Dunkin’ snack creation that comes with a side of syrup.

* Westfield’s Shortstop Bar & Grill has reintroduced lunchtime operations with a range of lunchtime meals available Monday to Friday from 11.30am to 4.00pm.

Entree selections available include French Chicken, Baked Cod, Fish and Chips, and Baked Meatballs with Ziti; daily specials are also offered.

Those craving something a little lighter can enjoy a soup and salad combination or several sandwich plate options.

The Shortstop Bar & Grill answers 413-642-6370.

* Although the start of the event is still nearly six months away, the National Restaurant Association has opened registration for its 2023 show, which is billed as the largest restaurant and foodservice exhibition in the Western Hemisphere.

Scheduled to take place May 20-23 at McCormick Place in Chicago, the show features exhibitors, educational workshops, panel discussions and cooking demonstrations by top chefs.

Discounted early bird registration is now available on the show’s website, nationalrestaurantshow.com.

* Chick-Fil-A has brought back two seasonal favorites to its menu this month.

The Peppermint Chip Milkshake, a Chick-Fil-A fan favorite, is a mix of the chain’s “Icedream” frozen dessert and peppermint bark chips, then topped with whipped cream and a cherry.

Also making a return commitment is Chick-Fil-A’s Chicken Tortilla Soup, a specialty that features both the chain’s original spicy chicken variations, plus beans and vegetables in a creamy base.

Both items should be available until the end of the year.

There is a Chick-Fil-A location on Memorial Drive in Chicopee and on Hazard Avenue in Enfield.

* Last week, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen introduced a blackened chicken sandwich that took four years to perfect in the chain’s test kitchen. The first non-breaded chicken item developed by Popeyes, the sandwich will be available for a limited time.

Consisting of a whole chicken breast marinated for 12 hours and seasoned with a blend of Cajun spices, the sandwich is a tribute to traditional Louisiana “blackened” cuisine.

Members of the Popeyes loyalty program can earn 200 bonus points when they order the sandwich on the Popeyes app or on Popeyes.com.

There are Popeyes locations on Route 9 in Hadley, on Memorial Drive in Chicopee, on both State Street and Boston Road in Springfield, and now on Holyoke Street outside the Holyoke Mall in Ingleside.

* As the latest wrinkle in its “Eat Fresh, Refresh” menu overhaul, Milford, Connecticut-based Subway announced another ingredient upgrade – this time in the pickles it uses to top sandwiches.

Billed as “thicker, crispier, juicier”, crinkle dill pickle slices are promoted through a connection to the sport of pickleball. In conjunction with snack giant Frito-Lay, Subway is running a #PickleballisLife contest, with one winner getting free Subway sandwiches and Lay’s Dill Pickle Chips for a year. Contest details are available on Subway’s various social media sites.

* The Wendy’s Co. has contributed to this Christmas season’s limited-time lineup in the form of a Peppermint Frosty dairy dessert.

The Peppermint flavor will be available through the end of 2022, temporarily replacing the Vanilla Frosted flavor on the burger chain’s menu.

Wendy’s locations have also brought back Frosty Key Tags, which will be available before January 29. The tags, which sell for $2 and are valid for one year, entitle you to one free Jr. Frosty with every visit to participating locations. Proceeds from the sale of the key rings benefit the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

Hugh Robert is a faculty member of the Hospitality and Culinary Arts program at Holyoke Community College and has over 45 years of experience in the restaurant and education sectors. Robert can be reached online at OffTheMenuGuy@aol.com.

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