The real treat to a food tour is not only discovering new cuisines and places, but hearing the stories of the people behind the counter that make it happen. That was the best revelation of the downtown West Palm Beach Food Tour I took last week on a sunny, cool weekday.
Our cheerful, energetic host, Kristl Story, has been hosting the tour for a few years now, and has turned her passion for food and dream of being a baker and travel agent into a successful reality. Kristl’s love of all things food was expressed for years on a lifestyle blog featuring her recipes and frugal living tips. She’s been featured in All You Magazine, Good Housekeeping and on KHOU-TV.
The small group of eight met at The Blind Monk on Evernia Street for the start of West Palm Beach Food Tour around Downtown. A terrific wine bar that also has jazz at night, screens films on the big 2-story wall and is a real labor of love and has a historical tale behind the name. The name The Blind Monk is derived from Dom Pierre Pérignon, the famed Benedictine monk and cellar master in Champagne, France. The story goes that to ensure the highest quality grapes were selected for his wines, Dom would taste and select grapes without knowing the source vineyard. Over time, references to these “blind tastings” led to the misconception that Dom Pérignon was blind. The name is a tribute to this wine making legend.
We didn’t blind taste any wine but sitting on the plush leather sofas inside we did have a zingy, refreshing mojito type cocktail made with Prosecco, mint and lime. For tastings we had a really yummy tuna and mango salsa mini-taco, followed by a crostini with organic tomato dipping sauce.
After that exotic start of our West Palm Beach Food, we headed out on the street past the new Brightline station construction along Dixie and over to the Palm Beach Hibiscus, a Key West style bed and breakfast I had passed a zillion times but had never been inside. It’s one of the only remaining wood vernacular frame houses in the area, built in 1917 and moved to Rosemary Avenue in 1996. Raised off the street to catch the breeze, brightly painted, cheery and lushly landscaped, the welcoming owner Randy ushered us into the back dining room and offered us some unusual Brazilian treats – a rich cheese bread roll and a fried concoction filled with chicken and cream cheese that popped with a hit of tabasco.
After the taste treats, we strolled the landscaped courtyard, ogled the sweet pond with blooming water lilies, and toured the upstairs where the guest rooms are. This is a fabulous little oasis in the heart of downtown, a great alternative to generic modern area hotels.
From there we strolled over to the next stop of West Palm Beach Food Tour: Longboards on Clematis. the hipster block west of Dixie, where there are ever changing murals and businesses. In fact the whole south side of the block is undergoing a new turnover. The north side has mainstay eateries including our destination Longboards, the surfer wet dream restaurant where boards hang from the ceiling and seafood is always on ice.
We perched on a long high table in the back courtyard, under a crisscross canopy of purple blooming Clematis vines and next to the funky Airstream trailer. The waitress brought out slices of Key Lime pie heaven on a plate, while Kristl pulled out a bag of key limes from her bag to tell us their story as we passed the bag around and took a whiff of the fresh tart little citruses. The real deal Key Lime pie is only made from Key Limes, the fruit that originated in the Florida Keys. With just three ingredients – lime juice, egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk poured into a graham cracker crust – Key Lime pie has become Florida – and possibly the world’s – favorite dessert. Alas the locally grown and revered Key Lime fruit has been outsourced to Mexico, as blight, disease and other issues have lowered the boom on the state crop.
A dollop of fresh whip cream is the preferred accompaniment, though some places still insist on the icky browned meringue on top. As the surfers would say, “whatever dude!”
After the sugar high of the pie, we cruised down Clematis and into a sweet heaven, Ganache Bakery Café, another truly special moment during our West Palm Beach Food Tour. The secret to Ganache’s success is the love of baking the owners Joan and Jamal from St. Croix share from a young age. Jamal was torn between a career in track and field or culinary arts when he worked at a hotel kitchen in high school and decided he could make a long career of this.
He gave a fun, informative demonstration of how to properly hack open a coconut with a lethal looking machete to reveal the magical coconut water inside and the sweet white meat. Coconuts are not native to Florida despite how they have proliferated. We all had a fresh glass of the juice as he gave his talk.
Then he showed us and spoke about another not so well known food, the Tamarind, a tree native to Africa but common in tropical islands also. It’s a seed in a long pod that gets boiled and made into a drink that tastes like a fruity cider. From there it goes into shakes, cakes, smoothies and other sweet treats. He said when was young he used to shake them out of the trees and bring them home for his family. Ganache makes secret recipe carrot cakes and other specialty confections.
A nice stroll down Clematis through the park led us to Pizza Girls, the ridiculously popular eatery run by Jen and Phoebe who make insanely good pizza in gourmet varieties like the New Yorker, White Cheese, the Statue of Liberty, and Lasagna Pizza. Everyone from Bill Clinton to movie stars have had a “slice day” here and with good reason.
The secret here is the crust, thin and crispy and done just right. A craft beer paired great the pizza. A new mural on the wall tells the Pizza Girls story, an inspiring tale of learning the ropes the old fashioned way and working 7 day weeks.
New murals abound around the downtown thanks to the Canvas project, adding to the beauty of the walk we took to our last West Palm Beach Food tour stop at Le Rendez-vous.
Located across the street from the Harvey Office Building where our WPB Magazine is located and where this column gets its name, I had an actual view to the Harvey on this assignment. Le Rendez vous is run by yet another foreigner who came to West Palm and fell in love with the city. He has opened an authentic French cuisine café with unique specialties and drinks at the funky, comfortable, art filled restaurant lounge.
We had not one but two incredible desserts – a chocolate mousse made with espresso and chocolate chips, plus a flaky warm apple croustade with vanilla ice cream sprinkled with red African spice. Absolutely to die for and a real sweet high to end the tour.
As West Palm Beach Food Tour operators state in their website: “Put on your walking shoes for a fun, entertaining and delicious way to learn about West Palm Beach“; this food tour is a must-do! Find and reserve an upcoming West Palm Beach Food tour here: www.westpalmbeachfoodtour.com