There's something afoot in the culinary tourism world. They're called culinary walking tours, and they combine two of my favorite pastimes: eating and walking.
In the past two years, I've managed to chow my way through Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, B.C. It's now become one of my favorite ways to experience a city, whether it's my debut in a town or a repeat visit.Bon appetit!
It seemed a bit strange to have a guy with a Brooklyn accent give a tour of the Rose City, but David Schargel's energy and enthusiasm for his adopted city is contagious. He's the owner of Portland Walking Tours, which offers two Epicurean Excursions in the Pearl District. We signed up for the morning tour; there's also an afternoon version that's heavier on the sweets and sips.
After passing out bottles of Oregon Rain water ("This is Liquid City!"), Schargel takes us to the Flying Elephant Deli for a sample of tasty orange-tomato soup. From there, we board the Portland Street Car to the Pearl District, where we'd spend the next three-and-a-half hours indulging in more than 20 sips and bites.
Our first stop is Bridgeport Brewing, the oldest brewery in Oregon. We disregard the early hour and sample Blue Heron, IPA, and Rope Walk brews. We also get to go behind the scenes before the brewery opens to the public, including a gander at the "hop room." Drinking ale in the morning is not such a bad thing.
The Pearl Bakery is next, and one of my favorite casual dining spots in Portland. We get an inside peek into the bowels of the bakery, sampling sourdough bread, baguettes, croissants, gilbassier (a sweet bread with citrus and anise) and bouchon (a chocolate-type cake).
By now it truly is Liquid City outside, and we run through the raindrops and slide into the comfy chairs at In Good Taste, a cooking school and gourmet shop. Here we sample three different mustards, along with a Mayasara 2002 Estate Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley.
It's on to The TeaZone, a casual and non-hoity toity place where we taste a trio of teas: green, oolong and black. Schargel's info bites continue, and I learn that tea is second only to water in worldwide consumption. What, not wine?
After all those liquids, I'm feeling a bit peckish, and happy to hear that Hot Lips Pizza is next on the menu. Located in the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center, the former 1895 warehouse underwent a green restoration and reopened in 2001. Today, it's a community-friendly and environmentally sound building.
We sit down at large tables and dig into one of Hot Lips' artisan pizzas, this oen composed of potatoes, broccoli, and onions. It's unusual but tasty, with no tomatoes or cheese in sight. The pizza goes down nicely with a Hot Lips-handcrafted soda of apple, cranberry, and ginger.
Our final stop is for something sweet. Via Delizia is a dessert and coffee house where we indulge in gelato and sorbet. A perfect ending to an entertaining epicurean excursion.
Grazing on Granville Island
As a frequent visitor to Vancouver, B.C., sometimes I think I've seen and done it all. But after my husband and I went on one of Edible British Columbia's Chef-Guided Market Tours, I learned a lot more about the food culture of this Canadian city.
Eric Pateman, founder of Edible B.C., is our guide on the three-hour Granville Island Market Tour. The other chef-guided tours feature Chinatown and the Italian district of Commercial Drive.
Our first stop is La Baguette & L'Echalote. As Vancouver's first French bakery, people lined up for blocks when it opened in 1982. It's known for its signature baguettes, pain au chocolat and French sour cranberry and pecan loaf.
South China Seas Trading Company is a favorite spot of local chefs. As a chef and self-described foodie himself, Pateman is a regular. The ethnic specialty store offers such unique products as Meyer lemons, green papaya, lemon grass, and kaffir lime leaves.
Next it's a stop at the "little square table" at Granville Island Tea Company, where we sample Matcha tea and Masala chai tea. They're both new tastes for us. Across the way is Edible B.C.'s retail store, which opened in 2006 and features more than 700 local products and is the largest store of its kind in western Canada.
Other food stops include The Stock Market (homemade soups), Nons Drinks To Go (non-alcoholic cocktails), Oyama Sausage (best selling shop in the market), Armando's Finest Quality Meats and Terra Breads. Their signature fig anise bread is yummy, as is the cornbread with chives, cheddar cheese, and red onions.
It's only fitting that we end the tour at Barbara-Jo's Net Loft, located just outside the main market. It's a branch of Barbara-Jo McIntosh's popular cookbook store Barbara-Jo's Books to Cooks in nearby Kitsilano.Savory Seattle
Angela Shen launched Savor Seattle Food Tours in 2007. The self-described "food evangelist" offered only one tour then, the Pike Place Market Food and Cultural Tour. But this summer, she added the Downtown Seattle Food and Cultural Tour. That's the one my friend Sandy and I went on.
A dozen of us gathered in the upper lobby of the Mayflower Park Hotel. Shen passed out bottled water along with personal audio devices, a first for me. It turned out to be a great way to hear everything she had to say, and I'm sure it saves her voice, too. For the next three hours we indulged in 26 small bites and sips, learning about the history and culture of Seattle along the way.
Our first stop was the restaurant Andaluca, located in the hotel. I've dined here numerous times, but it was fun to meet Chef Wayne Johnson and sample his tasty Crisp Duck Cakes and handcrafted Sangria. Next was Serious Pie, the newest of Tom Douglas' five restos, located just around the corner from the Dahlia Lounge. The pizza here is some of the best in the city, and I love the foccacia style blistered crust and house-made buffalo mozzarella.
At the Chocolate Box we sampled cold tea infused with chocolate. Not my favorite; the dark chocolate tasting was much more to my liking. From there it was onto German-style food at The Bavarian Meat Delicatessen where we tasted Landjager sausage, kasla (smoked pork tenderloin), and other meats made just two blocks away.
More sweets, this time at The Confectional, which specializes in cheesecake and cheesecake truffles. We sampled Colombian hot chocolate shooters, which went down easy, even on a hot summer day. Wending our way through the crowds of the Pike Place Market, we popped into Place Pigalle, a bar I hung out at in my college days. It's cleaned up since then and has been a restaurant since 1982. We sat among the other diners and sampled mussels and wine.
Creminelli Meats is sandwiched between Garlic Garden and a wildlife artist in the market. Ah, salami! We tasted three: Barolo, Piccante, and Tartufo. All handmade under master artisan Cristiano Creminelli. And what better to wash it down with than beer from the Pike Pub & Brewery? As the fifth brewery in the state, it features such nicely named beers as Pike Naughty Nellie. The golden fermented-style ale was served with Naughty Nellie Cheese and Naughty Nellie Beer Bread. I forgot to ask, "Who's Nellie?"
On to the last stop of the tour, Gelatiamo, located at the corner of Third and Union. This place is the real deal, with Italian owner Maria Coassin the mastermind behind the recipes. We sampled pistachio gelato and raspberry sorbet, a sweet ending to a unique slice of Seattle.