The best way to get to know a place is to sink your teeth into the culture and history that help shape its food traditions. Here are several epicurean adventures that let you taste the authenticity of a given destination’s culinary profile.
— Newport, Rhode Island
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In the land of coffee milk, “stuffies and chowda” and endless seafood — including the largest catch of squid in the country — Rhode Island has a unique and evolving culinary scene anchored by the state’s appetizer of calamari.
Bringing a sampling of the City by the Seas to the table is Rhode Island Red Food Tours. Its 3-hour Newport Neighborhood Food Tour exits the beaten path in favor of one meandering through a rediscovered neighborhood distinguished by 17th and 18th century colonial architecture.
Learn the local legends and lore while munching through six tasting locations, including Perro Salado, serving locally inspired Mexican dishes in a former 18th-century Naval officer’s home; Stoneacre Brasserie, offering a locally sourced seasonal menu paired with boutique French wines; and the Mad Hatter Bakery, where the stuffies specialties, quahogs (hard clams), is stuffed with spicy chourico.
Mission is hip on burgers and dogs. The Tavern On Broadway dishes up Rhode Island faves, including clam chowder, in a beautifully renovated 200-year-old colonial building. The Vanderbilt Grace, a boutique hotel in a mansion built by one of America’s richest families, serves up five distinct dining venues.
Covering about 1.8 miles, the Newport Neighborhood Food Tour operates 12-3:15 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from April 20 through late November. Tickets: $69/person includes all food; $82/person includes all food and three alcohol tastings.
Overnight at Newport’s Cliffside Inn, a luxurious bed and breakfast just steps from the historic Cliff Walk, with formal gardens, walking paths, wrap-around porch and outdoor fireplace. A member of Select Registry, the inn is tucked into a circa 1876 Victorian mansion that coddles guests with sumptuous beds and imported linens, whirlpool baths and spa showers.
Dining here brings its own epicurean delights, with a multi-course breakfast featuring seasonal, savory breakfast entrées, homemade granola, fresh-baked breads and muffins and a coffee, roasted daily and blended exclusively for the inn — all served in an elegant Victorian parlor.
— Juneau, Alaska
Snap a selfie wharf-side with Patsy Ann, Juneau’s official canine greeter now memorialized in bronze. This is where Juneau Food Tours, a 9-stop culinary tour de force of Alaska’s capital city, begins.
“Our guests are treated to unique foods they might not get in other cities, particularly Alaskan seafood,” boasted founder and owner Midgi Moore, who is also a Juneau travel writer and blogger. “Our culinary hosts are Juneau locals who provide an authentic experience — and love it when guests ask about living in the Last Frontier.”
Moore offers several tours, including A Tour with Taste, featuring these yummies: king crab bisque from Tracy’s King Crab Shack; panko-crusted salmon filets with house-made tartar sauce from Deckhand Dave’s; and halibut fusion nachos from V’s Cellar Door. Sample a hog wing and brewed beer pairing at McGivney’s Downtown; spruce tip salt at Kate’s Creations and spruce tip salted caramels at Chef Stef’s; and locally brewed beer at the atmospheric Alaskan Hotel & Bar. At SALT, the chef chooses, and serves it with wine.
The most unusual item on the tour is the Ice Cave Blue Blend tea from Harbor Tea and Spice, a shop offering over 50 varieties of organic teas from all over the world plus hundreds of organic bulk herbs and spices, including in-house spice and herbal blends.
“The tea is a beautiful blue, deriving its color from the butterfly flower,” said Moore. “The shop also uses Devil’s Club and other locally-sourced botanicals in the tea.”
A Tour with Taste operates rain or shine April 30-Oct. 1. The tour is limited to up to 12 guests. Tickets: $129/person includes all tastings, a guided walking tour, reusable shopping bag and bottled water. Meet at the Alaska Commercial Fishermen’s Memorial, which is dedicated to those who have given their lives to the Alaska commercial fishing industry.
Cruise passengers arriving in Juneau for the day can also sign up for Moore’s tours. Aboard Princess Cruise Lines, it is called “Taste of Juneau Walking Tour”; aboard Holland America Lines, it is denoted as “Foodies on Foot.”
Traveling a bit farther afield, Intrepid Travel’s 8-day Italy Real Food Adventure presents an insider’s guide to regional Italian cuisine that has participants salivating from Venice to Rome. Of course, there is pizza and pasta, but fresh seafood, sharp-scented cheeses, cured meats, 12-year-old barrel-aged balsamic vinegars, desserts like tiramisu and sweet kranz are on the menu, too — not to mention a Cicchetti Crawl through the wine bars of the City of Canals.
Known for creating hyperlocal real-world adventures for small groups (usually no more than 10), Intrepid Travel emphasizes authenticity. Step into landscapes of canals, churches and other historic buildings and monuments, Tuscan vineyards and a medieval walled town, but also scenes of farmers unloading the day’s catch and locals’ laundry snapping about on clotheslines.
Watch the masters roll pasta and then stick your own hands in to craft tagliatelle al ragu. Overnight in a farmhouse in Tuscany and taste olive oil made from the fruit of the surrounding olive trees.
Departures to Italy’s epicurean wonderland are scheduled May through October. Epicureans should pack as lightly as possible as participants carry their own bag/s and travel is primarily by comfy trains.
— Other delicious destinations
Giving guests an unforgettable taste of a destination is Oceania Cruises’ Culinary Discovery Tours. Available in 50 ports worldwide, including Barcelona, Corfu, Helsinki, Monte Carlo, Tahiti and others, these chef-led tours include market-to-table tours and cooking classes, foraging tours, market tours followed by tapas or lunch and dozens more. Each is designed to showcase the authentic flavors of a given region in a personal experience.
In Vermont, where the beer scene is nothing short of world class, Burlington’s Hotel Vermont has not only the world’s first beer concierge — Matt Canning — but a Beer Concierge Program with a wide range of experiences: private tastings, educational sessions, concierge services, Bike and Brew Tours, 2-night Summer Vermont Beer Experience. This includes a private dinner with beer pairings, a full day tour through The Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, Lost Nation and Waterbury, with offerings from brewery cellars and an opportunity to take home a “haul” in a keepsake Hotel Vermont cooler.
(Author and travel and lifestyle writer Kathy Witt feels you should never get to the end of your bucket list; there’s just too much to see and do in the world. Contact her at [email protected], @KathyWitt.)
©2018 Kathy Witt
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