This past year we decided to start a food tour. The journey has taken many twists and turns some have been quite wonderful and well others a bit more challenging. This month we had the amazing opportunity to speak at Taste Trekkers Expo in Providence, Rhode Island. Our topic was one we love, wine and food in Niagara.
So the foodie road trip to Providence began with asking our GPS Fergie 2.0 to point us in the right direction. Leaving at midnight meant less traffic and we could get to our destination with a full day ahead of us. A 7.5 hour drive, taking turns at the wheel while the other napped.As I turned off to stop at a tourist information centre the car started chugging and making horrific noises. Houston we’ve got a problem….22 km from our final destination, a car full of conference handouts this is not looking good at all.
We pull over at a breakfast spot and Google the nearest Volvo dealer. Pawtucket…..well we’ve never been but I’m actually happy we’re about to go there. A flat bed truck arrives courtesy of AAA to escort us to our next stop. I must say the folks at Steingold Volvo are so friendly and efficient. Within 30 minutes we have a diagnosis. The lounge at Steingold is unbelievable…..luxurious leather, wood panelling and a flat screen tv. Later we find out that they are a former Rolls Royce dealership and they kept part of it for the customer lounge. Another hour and we are on our way with a bit of a “to do” list for our mechanic at home. If you’re in the neighbourhood and need your Volvo serviced we highly recommend Steingold.
We arrive at The Dean a little poorer and feeling a little worse for wear. The staff at The Dean make us feel welcome and we immediately feel we made a good choice. The room is a fair size which is good because we have lots of stuff with us. There are no dressers and no closets….formerly a “rent by the hour” type of establishment it would seem they had no need for storage. We improvise and make good use of the window sills and bench.
The elevator is really delightful, reminding me of New York in days gone by. Push your floor and gates come across. Your can fit three people in a pinch….we laugh as it has kind of a magical feel to it. Perhaps transporting us to a chocolate factory or to buy school supplies at Hogworts. In the lobby there is a barista and the lattes are divine. A pretzel one evening from Faust helps as we both become a little “hangry” prior to dinner reservations one night. The staff welcome us back as we return from our daily adventures, a very nice touch. The Dean is a nice boutique hotel that for us was a better choice than a larger, impersonal style option.
Not ones to let the grass grow under our feet, we’re off and running. Drop off to the Biltmore done, we are free to explore the city. Up the hill to Brown University I marvel at the beautiful Ivy League campus so different than the 50 year old university that I’m employed by. Stop I say, there it is a testament to the 60s architecture that I am so familiar with. Their library with long narrow windows and a residence bearing a striking resemblance to Brock. I suddenly feel proud…we look like an Ivy League school how fun is that?!
We have a bit of a walk around the downtown core and discover the beauty of Providence! It is a fantastic walking city and even better in the fall as the colours start to change. Cafes, independent boutiques, grand old hotels and delicious restaurants. There is a great deal to look at and the architecture and use of green space is quite lovely.
Providence is a foodie heaven and over the next couple of days I discover some pretty inspired cuisine. On our first night we take the recommendation from our hotel and try GPub. The atmosphere is “energetic” but we are exhausted and in no mood. The edamame with sirracha and sesame oil are yummy and so is the pretzel with mustard butter. Our mains are a bit disappointing but I hear they are fairly new and ironing out some kinks so I would certainly give them another try.
We wake up early the next day and decide we will take a quick road trip to Newport….maybe pick out our new summer digs. A small mansion by the sea perhaps. I know it’s October but I only brought sandals and the car situation cut into my shoe shopping budget. We jump on the local bus at the Newport visitor centre and we’re off. The cliff walk has undergone a lot of restoration since Hurricane Sandy and parts just reopened this year. I discover as we get to the rocky part of the path and see a few concerning signs that sandals may not have been a good idea.
The view is breathtaking as we walk along the sea I imagine a Great Gatsby kind of existence that these mansions cultured. The Breakers said to be the grandest of them all. It is best known for being the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his family. It is now owned by The Preservation Society of Newport and is open to the public. Vineland Mansion built for tobacco heiress Catharine Lorillard Wolfe is now part of Salve Regina University. We soon realize though that exits from the path are few and far between and 2 miles on rocky cliffs is a lot longer than you might think.
Before we head back we need to pick up a picnic lunch to eat on our trip back to Providence. Along Bellevue Avenue we find a showroom filled with Rolls Royces , The International Tennis Hall of Fame and a tiny shop called fittingly Le Petit Gourmet. Some cheese and a couple of paninis and we’re off.
We arrive back in town late and we scurry into our Taste Trekkers 2014 Expo Industry Day to become excited about the concept of culinary tourism. They are speaking our language……foodieconomy……build it, love it, live it, share it and people will come. Hope and Main what a wonderful way to bring that to life. A 3.2 million dollar, 17,500 square foot culinary business incubator. The idea is to help new culinary businesses have reasonably priced shared access to commercial grade kitchens. They also help provide industry specific resources. It’s about creating community and the feeling of support. Their tagline, Make Food Your Business.
The reception afterwards at The Dorrance gives us a chance to meet some like minded people. The Dorrance is positively stunning, an old bank with stained glass windows represeting the banks of the world. History on the Dorrance seems hard to find but there is a blogger that gives us a little insight in his piece on The Dorrance, A sense of Place and Time. We meet other food industry professionals and ask questions, pick their brains and share insights as newbie food tour operators. Those “ah ha” moments where you say I wish I had known that when I started. Hubby is still busy being social while I sit and chat with a nice couple about their food venture. He is using Hope and Main for his production….how wonderful! I joke that many of us as culinary entrepreneurs have to be ” crazy or stupid” and he asks which one am I? I hesitate briefly and respond…hmmm both I think! We all laugh knowingly, but I am impressed that unlike many of us he has left his day job to make his dream come true. They are clearly in the adventure together and I marvel and think How amazing it is when couples show that kind of support for each other…it truly rocks!
Night #2, New Rivers Restaurant on Steeples Street, found during another “hangry” moment. It turns out to be a rather wonderful choice made in a time of desperation….what luck! The waiter approaches us with fear and trepidation but he senses our need and he quickly takes our order and there is fabulous food before us in no time. I chose a brined and grilled pork chop with baby sweet potato, griddled apples and cider smoked bacon jus. Hubby had a sirloin burger with seeded roll, crispy frites and herbs, aioli and sweet pickles ..both are filled with flavour and we slow down a bit to enjoy what is before us.
Finally the big day! It is time to head over the The Biltmore for the 2014 Taste Trekkers Expo, Foodie Day. We set up and get our slide show going…..photos of our gorgeous Niagara that we proudly call home. Food, wine, places to stay, food tours….so many visual suggestions while they wait for us to start. We want them to know there is so much more Beyond The Falls! Comments are heard, “we had no idea there was so much to do for a culinary tourist.” “They have how many wineries?” “The food looks amazing…we need to go.”
Our session goes well and we speak to a full house telling them about Wine Country Ontario with a focus on Niagara of course. We speak to the group about the food scene and our rock star chefs, amazing walking food tours (by Niagara Culinary Tours) and outstanding food trucks. We have their attention….we brought a little wine to share. We sample wines from Pillitteri Estates Winery and Pondview Estate Winery and people are happy. We make a few suggestions about where to stay, Heart of Niagara‘s Holiday Inn in St Catharines so they can check out all sub appellations in Niagara and Highbrook Bed and Breakfast in Niagara on the Lake.
Later in the day we talk to all the people who drop by our table to ask questions about travelling to Niagara. There are speakers talking about New Zealand, the food of the Andes and a little closer to home Miami Food Tours, so much to learn about and so many options. After the speakers are finished the ballroom opens and it is a bit of a mob scene but in a good way. There is food and lots of it. People try artisan breads, proscuitto, cupcakes and even pickles from our new friends at Fox Point Pickling Company. The offerings are interesting and the people friendly and enthusiastic. We are tired but marvel at what a great event it was. Maybe next year we’ll go as guests so we can enjoy all of the speakers and events that the Taste Trekkers enjoyed.
Night # 3, Birch Restaurant, undoubtedly the highlight of our trip. It had been recommended and described as epic. They were oh so right! The restaurant is tiny with U shaped bar seating for 18? We choose the $49 four course menu. I explain my seafood allergy and they happily accommodate by making suggestions and letting me know which items they can modify. No muss, no fuss.. Love it! Each course is a work of art perfectly arranged on the stoneware plate. The combinations were unusual and quite delightful. First course raw Rhode Island Beef wrapped in kohlrabi with crispy rye, chives and garlic chive capers. For the second course there was slow roasted carrot with grilled quahog clam, toasted seeds, yarrow and almond. Third course we each had the Rhode Island chicken with barbecued cabbage, nasturtium and potato and Vermont pastured beef with grilled onion, pole beans, salted scallion and blueberry. Our desserts didn’t last long but we can say it involved ingredients like husk cherry, woodruff, blueberries, sweet corn and marshmallow. I would have to say that it was undoubtedly one of the best meals I have had! Providence has earned a special place in this foodies heart. My only regret is that we didn’t get to thank the chef.