Chef Melissa Fordham at Blue Bistro displays a sandwich that is one of the lunch specials offered by the restaurant.

Written by Scott Braden,  Photos by: Walter Calahan

It is lunch time, and the thrifty Carroll Countian wants great food for a great price.

Where, in a forest full of restaurants, can the hungry and the pennywise stalk the wild lunch special?

Here is a sampling, along with price ranges.

But first, what is a lunch special? According to Frank Tunzi, co-owner of the Buttersburg Inn in Union Bridge, restaurateurs know that it is the result of being creative and using the ingredients you have. The object: move them.

“If I have prime rib left from the day before, I can slice that thin and serve it as a French dip sandwich,” Tunzi said. “It’s a way to use leftovers, but you can also create special dishes.

“Also, you get special deals on food that you can pass along to your customers. When you look at a cheese steak sub special, it’s actually a lower price than it is on the regular menu. That’s what a special is.”

“We offer a range of sandwiches: chicken salad, chicken Cordon Bleu, cheese steak subs, and chicken Philly subs. On Saturday we have a cheeseburger and fries special. It might be beef or pork barbeque. It all depends on the season and menu.”

Daily, weekly and seasonal specials tend to be attractive offerings at most restaurants.

According to Penny Chen, an employee of New Asia Restaurant in Taneytown, the establishment has 55 specials – from kung pao chicken to moo goo gai pan – all for a very reasonable $5.50 each.

“Lunch specials are offered from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day,” said Chen, “We offer them so our customers can eat an inexpensive, delicious lunch and bring the family by later for dinner.”

Salvatore Romeo, owner of Paradiso Ristorante in Westminster, said that his specials have a lot to do with the current market price.

“We try to be diverse,” said Romeo. “We offer meat, seafood and a vegetable. There’s a variety of ingredients. We want to keep it fresh.”

Lori Javier, co-owner of The Blue Bistro in Westminster, said that her lunch specials – which cost around $9.50 and come with one of 20 different side salads and a fountain drink – change every day.

“We offer homemade food every day,” said Javier. We make everything fresh. We make different combinations of sandwiches like our brisket cheese steak with garlic mayo, lettuce, tomato, and fried onions. That’s one special that has made it to our menu. Then, there is the holla chicken wrap, which consists of crispy chicken, crab dip, and melted cheese.”

A. Harry Sirinakis, president of Harry’s Main Street Grille in Westminster, offers price-sensitive lunch specials.

“They change on a weekly basis,” said Sirinakis. “Our lunch specials are very successful. We advertise them on boards. We have flyers advertising them on top of the menus. We have sales staff promoting the specials. We also run contests so the staff member who sells the most wins a T-shirt or other reward.

“For specials, we’ve had a crab quesada, a delicious pit beef sandwich on a nice hard roll with a side of baked beans. And we have done a chicken pasta Florentine; lots of different things.”

Augusto Illiano, proprietor of Illiano’s J & P Restaurant, explained at his Hampstead restaurant that he believes in serving good food at an inexpensive price.

“We offer lunch specials for under $10,” said Illiano. “And we make all the food ourselves.”

Bill Schroeder, owner and chef of Giulianova in Westminster, agrees.

“In a town of six Subways, four Jiffy Marts, and several WaWas, we have to do it twice as good for a very reasonable price,” said Schroeder. “So my specials vary from season to season – whatever comes to me.”

“When it’s hot in the summer people don’t want to eat anything heavy or too hot,” Tunzi said. “So that’s when you offer salads. You can do a shrimp salad plate or a chicken or tuna salad; even a coldcut sub or a ham and cheese. These are items that people aren’t going to get tired of on a hot day. In the winter, when it gets cold again, you serve hearty dishes, like a hot roast beef or a hot turkey sandwich.

Cheryl Lawson, owner of Munch’s CafŽ in Westminster, offers her customers a different sandwich every day of the week.

“What we do,” she said, “is knock about 10 per cent off a regular price to make it special. And we change three or four sandwiches including turkey bacon and melted Swiss or Italian coldcuts. We also offer crab soup or another soup of the day. We have specials because they always tend to be the biggest sellers – and we want to make everybody happy.”

Sherri Hosfeld Joseph, owner of Birdie’s CafŽ in Westminster, offers lunch specials based on the seasons and the holidays. “And according to what is a good value for me to purchase that particular week,” she said.

Lunch specials are also used as a way of building a menu.

“Our lunch specials usually become permanent additions to the menu,” said Hosfeld Joseph. “My lunch specials are a gauge for what we’ll offer next.

“Anytime you do anything in the restaurant business it’s to attract customers. It’s also a way for us to show off what we can do: our skill sets, a way to offer our regular customers variety. Some people come here to get the same thing every time. Others want to try new things. We listen to what our customers say and what they ask for, and we accommodate.”

“We also use the opportunity to experiment with new offerings,” said Sirinakis. “We use a special as a gauge to see if people like it or not, or if they want more.”

“On Fridays, we run a crab melt special,” said Tunzi. “People come in every day and ask for the crab melt. So we make it. It’s not on the menu, but if they want it, we make it for them. Some items just catch on.”

How expensive are lunch specials going to be?

Kim Frymier-Byrnes, owner of Sideways CafŽ in Westminster, has a special that consists of two out of three items.

“They are a selection of a sandwich, a salad and soup,” said Frymier-Byrnes. “So a customer can order a soup and sandwich, a sandwich and salad, or a soup and salad. Whatever they prefer.

“The specials seem to do very well. They are $9.99, and our sandwiches are overstuffed, Sandwiches come with chips and with potato salad or macaroni salad – which are made here, too.

“I think with the $9.99 deal, people want to spend less than $20 for lunch. And we always have a nice lunch crowd who are here for the deal. We also have burgers that are $9.99 that come with cottage fries or chips. And then we offer a salad, cole slaw, macaroni salad, or potato salad. I think that’s a pretty good lunch.”

Jeff Hoffman, owner of JJ Hoffman’s Creamery in Finksburg, serves a weekly special of a sandwich, a drink and chips or a salad for $5. “They’ve been very successful,” said Hoffman, “and they attract a lot of customers.”

Hoffman’s Creamery has also taken lunch specials into the digital age.

“We have an e-mail list where we put out the specials to our subscribers each Tuesday,” said Hoffman.

Some restaurants, like Todd Bricken’s Brick Ridge in Mount Airy, do not serve lunch. Instead, they sell a close cousin: an affordable Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“Our Sunday brunch is a menu, not a buffet,” said Bricken, “so there are some traditional items like pancakes and waffles. Other breakfast items that are available are grits, sausage, and bacon. There’s eggs with toast. We make eggs Benedict. We also do a crabcake Oscar, a grilled salmon, and some nice salads. It costs between $10 and $13. Then we have mimosas, bloody Marys, wine, all that – a full bar.”