Writing about all the restaurant closings recently has been a downer, so it's nice to see a couple of local restaurants doing well enough to invest in their future.
The first is Elbow Room. It just re-upped its lease with Fig Garden Village for another 10 years and is remodeling.
The 58-year-old restaurant is staying open during its remodel, with workers redoing the walls and installing windows at night.
Customers have been signing walls, which will be soon covered up as part of the remodel.
But don't worry, says owner Mike Shirinian, it's still the same old Elbow Room. He took great pains to make sure it remains the old-school comforting San Francisco steak house-style restaurant that attracts both hip folks in their 50s and 60s and 20-somethings who like the retro feel.
He likened the changes to getting a new version of your favorite car.
"The new model is a little smoother, sleeker, but it's still the same kind of car you like," he says.
Shirinian spent two years researching the look he wanted and toured restaurants in the Bay Area and Napa for inspiration.
That new look includes lots of mahogany trim and a mahogany bar, new bar stools and new booths. The walls will get a face-lift and they'll soon be a stainless steel wall near the pass-through window with a 1950s-inspired diamond-pattern design. Flat screen TVs will feature its wine list and photos of the weddings and banquets it can host.
On the patio, the Elbow Room's trademark cat leaning on a martini glass will soon appear in neon on the wall, along with some other minor upgrades.
Shirinian has pumped several hundred thousand dollars into the remodel, with lending from Fresno First Bank. The work will be finished in early August.
The Piazza del Pane restaurants are also changing things up a bit.
The restaurants run by the same folks who run Me-N-Ed's do solid lunchtime business, but CEO John Ferdinandi says they want to boost dinner business. So, they've classed up the bar, added a patio and expanded the menu in hopes of attracting more customers.
Both the Palm and Herndon restaurant and the one at Cedar and Nees got the face-lift.
The bar area now has carpet, and a new wall separates it from the kitchen, making for a more intimate spot.
A bar menu is available during happy hour from 3-7 p.m. every day. It includes some food already on the menu, like the popular Ahi Tower, but also $6 Angus beef sliders with cheddar and bacon, and crispy fried Brie with honey and fruit for $8. Drinks are discounted, too.
They've also added a patio. The one at the Palm and Herndon has an arbor with grape vines growing up it, fountains and lights strung overhead. The existing enclosed patio remains.
Piazza del Pane's regular dinner menu expanded too, with the addition of a grilled bone-in rib eye for $25 and osso buco dish made with beef shank, white beans and Italian sausage.
"We continue to walk up the sophistication ladder," Ferdinandi says of the menu. "You've got to stay fresh. You've got to stay innovative."
The restaurant has gotten classier since opening about six years ago assistant manager Jenny Evans says she sees female customers coming in wearing sequins and heels these days, and the restaurant is hosting baby showers and birthday parties.
But Piazza del Pane wants to keep its regular customers happy, too, Ferdinandi says. Affordable options such as pizza remain on the menu, along with old favorites such as chicken piccata. And if a customer's favorite dish has been removed, ask for it, Ferdinandi says. If they have the ingredients, they'll make it.
If you've considered the five-star Erna's Elderberry House Restaurant in Oakhurst out of your budget, the restaurant has a new option that's a little easier on the wallet.
The restaurant started offering a bar menu with appetizers all under $20 last week. The menu is offered in the wine cellar bar and casual dress is acceptable.
"We wanted a little different environment," says Molly Berg, director of operations. "We would love to see people have a nice place to just come in and have a cocktail and relax after work and not get that hole-in-the wall type of atmosphere."
The appetizers are decent sized, such as the three cheeseburger sliders, or a grilled cheese sandwich with smoked gruyere and caramelized onions.
The bar menu is offered between 5-9 p.m. every night.
The rock-lined cellar stays cool even when it's hot out, Berg notes.
The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6431, firstname.lastname@example.org or @BethanyClough on Twitter. Read her blog on fresnobeehive.com.