“When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” said Saint Ambrose, a bishop of Milan. Meaning, when you are visiting a new place, you should try to do as the people do who are from the place. Interestingly, all across the country travelers are discovering a “food tour” is the perfect way to do just that.
We’re all creatures of habit; going to the same restaurants, ordering the same thing. The antidote to that is a food tour, which pushes us out of our comfort zones. For instance, when we travel to a destination different from home, we have a tendency to say, “I can’t eat that.” On a food tour, your guide will tell you, “Oh, give it try,” as she tickles your senses by describing the different types of foods, delving more into the cooking style of the place, the history of that specific cuisine and town, including the local flavors, spices, customs and traditions.
One of the reasons for the “food tours” evolution has been international wine, beer and food festivals. New Orlean’s Mardi Gras is a good example. It, along with other world-known festivals such as Toronto’s Caribana Festival and Brazil’s Carnival, has ignited a new trend that’s created a buzz in the travel scene. Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance (OCTA) published a report entitled “The Rise of Food Tourism,” in which they state, “Culinary tourists share millions of F&B (Food and Beverage) themed photos daily across social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and especially Flickr. This increases travel consumers awareness of different cuisines and cultures and it fuels their desire to experience them.” According to OCTA, it was one of the most downloaded reports by the travel industry.
Closer to our own backyard, we’re seeing a population of travelers who love to discover the world in undiscovered places like our downtown area, where our city’s various cultures and cuisines may be found. Part of that ever-growing appetite to embrace new environments is by seeing, touching, smelling and tasting new dishes, while enjoying local hospitality and hearing stories about the town’s most interesting tales.
“Taking a food tour is so much more fun than hopping on a bus tour and going around in circles to see a city,” says Kristl Story, owner of West Palm Beach Tours. After taking her first tour two years ago in Austin, Texas, she fell in love with the concept, and since then, she’s been in over 26 food tours, and created one of her own. Now, as one of the tour guides of West Palm Beach Food Tours, she takes pleasure in giving travellers a firsthand taste of our city and the flavors they have read, seen and heard so much about.
The response from tourists and locals alike has been great. According to Story, since a food tour is a fun way to learn about a city, she encourages her guests to do it at the beginning of a vacation, rather than the middle or the tail end of their visit. That way they have a chance to go back to their favorite place once more if they like.
If you really want to experience downtown West Palm Beach, begin by tasting what’s on the menu of West Palm Beach Food Tours—Johan’s Joe, The Blind Monk, Subculture, Hullabaloo, The Alchemist, Pizza Girls, and Ganache Bakery Café.
Story is a good storyteller. She does a fine job mixing food history with its appropriate culture, and adding city architecture, landmarks, and other cool things about the area, as well as all the great things to do and see while in town into her presentation.
“When you’re walking about town, you see so much more,” says Story. “Even locals looking for something cool and different to do love our tour. They’re surprised on how much they learn about our city, and on average they go back to at least one restaurant on my list.”
Everything is intentionally chosen on this tour. Where you go and what you eat helps to tell the story of the area.
First Stop: Johan’s Joe – 401 S. Dixie Highway
Johan’s Joe is a Swedish coffee house that’s open seven days a week, serving delicious Nordic sandwiches, salads & soups, pastries, and of course, delightful coffees from their Lofberg’s Swedish house blend to other international flavors including, Americano, Cappucino, Cortado, Espresso, as well as other hot and cold brews.
The Swedish are known for their “Sika,” a tasty assortment of delicious pastries, and our group has the pleasure of tasting every morsel of a peanut butter brownie, a coconut macaroon, vanilla sugar bun, and a marzipan with a Swedish rum flavoring, which is a very traditional Swedish treat. “The Swedish drink coffee three times a day, although my husband would say it is more like five or six,” says Laura Olsson, one of the owners. According to her, Swedish people drink more coffee per capita than anyone else in the world.
Second Stop: The Blind Monk – 410 Evernia Street #107
A place to eat and drink, The Blind Monk has an incredible wine and beer list, not to mention other cool cocktails, such as the Cuban Mojito, pronounced (moe-hee-toe). Our group is served this traditional Cuban highball, which consists of white rum, sugar, sugar cane juice, lime juice, soda water, and mint.
The staff at The Blind Monk has a passion for delicious foods, so they love to introduce guests to their next favorite beverage. Story explains the origin of the Mojito, as well as the next three plates being served:
The Pan Con Tomate [bread with tomatoes] originates in Spain, consisting of tomato, garlic-rubbed toast sprinkled with sea salt. The Strawberry Bruschetta, balsamic marinated strawberries, with goat cheese mouse is an Italian dish. But hands down, everyone’s favorite seems to be the Ahi Tuna Tostada, a crispy tortilla with mango salsa and avocado.
“It’s what South Florida is all about—mangoes, coconuts, pineapples, and avocados!” Story talks about how mangoes and avocados, specifically, are widely produced in our area. Everywhere you go in West Palm Beach, you can find either a mango or an avocado tree; and so, it’s not surprising that you will find in many of our restaurant’s menus these delectable fruits that go so well with your Mojito.
As we cross the railroad tracks, the BrightLine comes into view. Story explains how this sleek and modernistic designed high-speed train that goes up to 125MPH is slated to start soon, with stops from downtown West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, to Miami, and future plans to add Orlando to the route.
“If there’s one street that can be called the heart of West Palm Beach is Clematis Street,” Story says as we continue on our way to the heavily trafficked strip, better known as the 500 Block, or nicknamed by the locals as the “hipster’s block” or the “artsy block.” This is due to a show called the Canvas Outdoor Museum Show, which brings together the most innovative contemporary artists from around the world, painting our town with vibrant colors and cool identity.
Third Stop: Subculture: The Annex – 509 Clematis Street
Subculture Coffee Shop serves as our grab-and-go tasting. This is one of the coolest coffee shops in town, whose whole purpose is to cater to the local coffee culture—one that brings “soul to our city.” Here we taste The Natural Acai Bowl, a fresh mix of Acai, housemade granola, bananas, strawberries, blueberries, coconut, and bee pollen, which is simply delicious and an unbelievable boost to your immune system.
One of the coolest thing about living in South Florida is all the outdoor dining that our area provides. Next we walk to Hullabaloo, where a neat courtyard has been nicely decorated for those breezy fall, winter or even spring evenings when it’s so nice to dine al fresco. Definitely a great hang out spot for downtown WPB.
Fourth Stop: Hullabaloo Italian Gastropub – 517 Clematis Street
The word Hullabaloo means great noise or excitement, and for good reason: this place has cocktails named after rock stars and a vintage Airstream camper in the backyard. Although this Italian gastropub is not large, it provides plenty of room for people to drink and eat, as they take a peek at Executive Chef Fritz Cassel working his magic in the open kitchen. We all seat and taste a small plate of some of his creations: Fire Roasted Chicken Meatballs with homemade ricotta cheese, Smoked Pork Belly, and Fire Roasted Brussels. The group raves about the brussels sprouts appetizer. Never thought it could taste this good. Italian and Spanish influences are at work in Cassel’s dishes, as well as in the rest of his menu. Nice atmosphere all around. Definitely this hipster restaurant is one to be visited again and again.
Fifth Stop: The Alchemist – 223 Clematis Street
Unique to this next food stop is the restaurant’s ability to intermix cultures, or take an original idea like the Cuban Sandwich and make it their own: the Cuban Cigar. This egg-roll shaped dish contains almost everything that a Cuban Sandwich does, except for some variations of the mustard and the ham, which is replaced with bacon.
As we sample this new creation of the Cuban Sandwich, Story takes that as an opportunity to give us a brief history of the famous sandwich. “The sandwich originated in Cuba, of course. But they just called it a sandwich…”
Story continues telling us how in the late 1590s, several voyages were completed between Cuba and the Tampa Bay area opening out of all things, Cuban cigar factories. Soon, these factories began popping up all throughout Florida, especially in the Miami and Tampa areas. Cuban merchants stationed in those cities started missing their home cooked meals, including their favorite sandwich. So, the cigar factories began making the sandwiches for their workers, calling it the Cuban Sandwich. Hence, The Alchemist’s take on the Cuban Cigar [Sandwich].
As our group leaves The Alchemist and begins traveling east towards the waterfront, Story points to Palm Beach, just a mile away across the bridge. She mentions how a lot of people who visit Palm Beach refer it as “New York City’s Sixth Borough.” You won’t read about this in any of the history books, because, well, let’s face it, it’s not. However, Palm Beach is one of the most popular city’s in America, partly because it is a tropical paradise, with warm weather and a beautiful beach that attracts thousands of winter visitors every year. And many have stayed. In fact, most of the resident population of this small island was primarily from New York. This influence has carried through our downtown, in the way we enjoy nightlife and choose our pizza—New York style.
Sixth Stop: Pizza Girls – 114 Clematis Street
Now, there are a handful of pizzerias in our downtown area that can rightfully claim they offer “authentic New York style pizza,” and Pizza Girls is one of them.
Our group is greeted by the owners of Pizza Girls, who readily move tables and chairs to accommodate us. Pizzas are served straight from the oven—nice and hot. And in a real New York moment, Jersey Shores accent and all, we hear one of the ladies in our group say, “Umm…just like home!”
Seventh Stop: Ganache Bakery Cafe – 120 S. Dixie Highway
All food tours are different but they have one thing in common: desserts are best served last. Ours ends at Ganache Bakery Café, where the owners Joan and Jamal wow us with some of Florida’s best flavors: coconut, key lime, and tamarind. Most people in our group are familiar with the first two, but are unsure as to what the last is. “Who can tell me what a Tamarind is?” quips Story. “A fruit,” I say, not knowing much more than that. Story explains that Tamarind trees are native to the Everglades, and portions of the Upper Keys and West Palm Beach, hence the street, Tamarind Avenue, west of downtown.
Jamal proceeds by instructing the group on the benefits of coconut water and tamarind juice—both equally refreshing and delicious. Now, a Florida food tour would not be complete without the proper dessert: Key Lime Pie. Jamal says that they use nothing but fresh products, and it shows!
This food tour is hip enough to lead a group of strangers through the streets of downtown West Palm Beach while tasting delicious foods from our favorite restaurants. If you want to discover the real and delicious downtownWPB, let West Palm Beach Food Tours tickle your senses. It has mine.
For rates and availability in upcoming tours, visit westpalmbeachfoodtour.com.
The West Palm Beach Food Tour is a highly rated culinary tour, taking foodies and food enthusiasts across excellent dining venues and bars in downtown WPB.