How’s this for a way to start your weekend early? Sample more than 40 beers and wines and taste mesquite-grilled chops, steaks, seafood — and maybe even win a new car. The event, Salt Creek Grille’s annual Wine & Dine charity event, will be somewhat of a baptism by fire for the newly appointed executive chef Richard Zukowski, who took over from longtime chef Jason Hensle early in June. Zukowski’s prior experience includes Windows on the Water at Frogbridge — a catering venue on an 86-acre resort in Millstone Township — and Marketfair’s Big Fish Bistro. “He’s still getting acclimated,” says Amy Foulks, general manager of the Forrestal Village restaurant, “but with his experience, we know he can take the kitchen to the next level.”

Foulks is hoping that the third time’s a charm, weather-wise, for the restaurant’s annual Wine & Dine charity event, coming up on Thursday, June 30, 5 to 9 p.m., under tents on Salt Creek’s sprawling back lawn. “The first year we held it in May, and it was 50 degrees out,” she recalls. “Last year it was 100. Maybe we’ll even out this year.”

About 200 people attended last year’s evening of wine, food, and live music despite the heat, and this year the restaurant is hoping for 300. The designated beneficiary of the evening is Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mercer County. “Each year we select a different charity,” Foulks says. “As an organization, we really like to give back to the community, and their mission involves giving back to the community as well. It’s a great event for a great cause — and it’s a lot of fun.”

She says that Zukowski will also whip up “a variety of dishes we don’t normally offer.”

Providing the live music are the Grammy-nominated Latin jazz band, 3D Ritmo de Vita, and Billy Hill of the Meg Hanson Band. A free wine bag is just one of several takeaways planned for those attending, as well as a silent auction with items donated by Wegmans Princeton and others. WPST’s radio personality Newman will broadcast live.

Although this is the first time Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) is the designated charity, Salt Creek Grille has been raising funds for the organization for the last three years. Each year, the restaurant offers a different chicken dish on its regular menu for which $1 of every order goes to the Mercer County affiliate. Plus, it sells tickets for the Mercer BBBS annual new car raffle at the Wine & Dine evening. The restaurant is also the scene of the actual drawing, which this year will take place on Saturday, September 24. (The winner, by the way, will have a choice of one of six different models — each worth between $45,000 and $50,000 — from Open Road BMW, Lawrence Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz of Princeton. For more information on the raffle, visit bbbsmercer.org.)

Says Susan Dunning, executive director of BBBS-Mercer for the last five years, “Salt Creek Grille has been helping us consistently, raising about $20,000 for the last three years. They are among our best community partners.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters, which has been around since 1904, provides caring one-on-one adult mentoring to kids without moms and/or dads. “We ask for a one-year commitment of four hours a month,” Dunning says, “but even that one year of knowing that one person is there just for them can make a night-and-day difference.” Independent research confirms her claims. Among the statistics: 46 percent are less likely to begin using illicit drugs, 27 percent are less likely to begin using alcohol, and 52 percent are less likely to skip school.

Dunning’s agency serves about 600 children a year, up from 100 when she came on board in 2005. Prior to that, she managed training and development, performance management, and benefits for the Sarnoff Corporation. For 18 years before that, the West Chester University graduate was with Delmarva Power. At BBBS of Mercer she oversees a staff of 11. “I am proud of the low overhead here. Everything we do — interviewing children, their families, and volunteers; screening; matching; mentoring; managing cases; setting up activities — everything goes to serve the children. The average cost is only $1,000 per year per child, for a life-changing experience. You know, once they get into the juvenile [detention] system, it costs $42,000 per year.”

The Mercer agency currently has 60 children on their waitlist. For information on volunteering, visit bbbsmercer.org.

Wine and Dine, Salt Creek Grille, One Rockingham Row, Forrestal Village, Plainsboro. Thursday, June 30, 5 to 9 p.m. Food, wine, and beer samplings. Silent auction. Music by Billy Hill and 3-D de Vita. Register. $75 benefits Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mercer County; $60 in advance 609-419-4200 or www.saltcreekgrille.com.

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