2016 in Review: Strong and Steady with a Side Trip to the Pacific Northwest
In our second year, we at Rhode Island Red Food Tours (RIRFT) were focused on a consistent and fun “foodie” experience for our guests and steady, strong growth for 2016. Guests taking our tours were introduced to new restaurants and eateries they never knew about before. Most were vacationers, but there were many RI’ers rediscovering the food-scape and looking for something new and different to explore in Newport. In fact, we had one summer resident who came on the tour THREE times this year because she wanted to share an afternoon of food and fun with family and friends. I love it when we all get in on the “RI Brag!” We also had several groups that took the tour the year before and enjoyed it so much they came back. The ultimate compliment!
In 2016, we welcomed our first Food Tour Guide, Andrew, a 1st-year law student at RWU. Adding Andrew to the team was the best decision we made all year! He was the perfect facilitator between the restaurants and guests. They all just loved his charm, wit, and knowledge of Newport. Guests never missed a chance to share their sheer delight with him on our review sites. When guests chased both of us down the next day to make sure they gave him a big tip, we knew were doing something right!
We cannot thank our food tour partners and their staff enough. Mission, Perro Salado, Washington Sq. Cafe and White Horse Tavern are as professional as they come in this business. They are always ready and welcoming to every RIRFT guest that comes through. They work long, demanding hours still serving up a smile and a greeting despite giving up much of their summertime fun.
We switched up a couple of our restaurant partners this past year to add a little more freshness. The new additions took us to a whole new historic waterfront neighborhood. We explored historic wharfs with one of the last traditional Newport Fishermen Shacks and a more modern version, Newport Shipyard, which is complete with cafe and luxury yachts.
One of the many reasons people take our tours is so they can discover new places to enjoy and return to later. It seems like a record number do exactly that because we always see reservations being made and guests going back in for drinks. At the end of the tours, they tell us where they want to go back to. We have even bumped into RIRFT guests at our partner restaurants!
In 2016, we were humbled by all of the wonderful reviews from our tour guests that so thoroughly enjoyed the tours, as a small . As a result, we even earned TripAdvisor’s 2016 Certificate of Excellence Award, ranking us #1 in the Food & Drink category and #7 of 52 Tours in Newport. Let’s be honest, it’s hard to beat those mansion and sailing yacht cruise tours!
Media nods and acknowledgments both online and in print were from RI Monthly, Edible Rhody, studenttravelplanningguide.com, vacationidea.com, broadwayworld.com, rfdtv.com. Some awesome bloggers like pattyj.com, discovernewport.com, and Abbey Culinary Arts Club wrote about their experiences after taking our tours.
Our season wrapped up with ten days in the Pacific Northwest where we attended the Second Annual Global Food Tourism Conference in Seattle with a side trip to Portland. Food Tourism is a fairly new industry so it is always great to network with your peers so what a thrill all around! We have wanted to go to both cities forever and it didn’t disappoint. Both cities have been on the hot, hot list of food cities in the country, so we literally tried to eat it all up.
No visit to Seattle is complete without visiting the historic Seattle Public Market and experiencing the fishmongers hawking like a scene out of a 19th-century bazaar. From there, we took a food tour in the hot, new hipster neighborhood of Capitol Hill with Savor Seattle Food Tours, one of the most successful and longest running food tour operators in the country. We took the “Hip on the Hill Food Tour” and got the lowdown on this tech-centric, modern, creative LGBTQ community. On the tour, we were introduced to a trendy new Thai restaurant, SOI, where we later set our sights on the Nahm Khao Tod and Khao Soi (curry noodle soup), which we know will sadly never be duplicated!
It was also very exciting to get a “twofer” at the Food Tour Conference. We ate at two James Beard Award winning restaurants, Tom Douglas’s Restaurants, Dahlia Lounge and Palace Kitchen. Each of the restaurants were phenomenal. Chef Douglas sat in on a panel discussion with another famous Seattle, James Beard Award-winning Chef Thierry Rauntureau, “the chef in the hat.” They were so much fun and couldn’t say enough about how much they believed in the idea of food tours and food tourism. They wholly believe that food tours have helped them keep their restaurant’s front and center of tourists and visitors in what is a highly competitive food scene.
We went on to play food tourists in Portland, Oregon where “green” takes on a whole new meaning. At the huge farmer’s markets fruits, vegetables and flowers take center stage and command your attention. We’ve never seen so much lush-looking produce in one place! We were on sensory overload.
We stayed in the N. Mississippi District, a great walkable neighborhood right out of Portlandia, littered with Craftsmen Bungalows, groovy reclaimed storefronts filled with vintage boutiques, garden shops, bars, cafes, food carts and fresh-from-the-closest-farm eateries.
Por Que No? Taqueria is a brilliant, festive, and eclectic space. It was as lively as it was inviting. Sustainability was front and center in all the places we visited in Portland and Seattle, it’s a way of life there. You will not find farm-raised seafood, all seafood is fresh line caught straight out of the Pacific. Por Que No? Taqueria was no exception. They really took sustainability to a whole new level, using rice bran oil in their fryer. Rice bran oil is healthier and GMO-free, high in antioxidants and low in saturated fat. When it is time to get rid of the waste oil, they use it as gas in their errand vehicle, which happens to be a bright yellow ambulance, converted to run completely on used fryer oil! We visited this taqueria a few times during our trip. In the end, between the best salad of the entire trip and the tacos, we wanted to take this place home with us and turn our little backyard outbuilding into a replica, except we wouldn’t want to share, Por Que No?
During our trip, Tasty & Son’s was our breakfast/brunch go-to place. Described best by Portland Eater 38 as “a sprawling, family-style menu flaunting influences from North Africa to Asia to the American South, with a strong ‘put an egg on it ethos.’” It’s worth every minute of the unapologetic wait you will undoubtedly have!
We also dined at Ox, an Argentinian-inspired menu born from Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quinonez, 2015 & 2016 James Beard Finalists for Best Chef Northwest Category. We sat at the bar because we wanted to sit in front of the wood fire which the meals are all built around. The restaurant has a nice neighborhood-y, comfortable vibe. This is a place for the serious meat eaters in your life – sweetbreads, short ribs, housemade chorizo, blood sausages and skirt steak. Yum!
One of our favorite experiences was going to the newly opened Pine Street Market that features nine of Portland’s best chefs and purveyors. Plan on a little bit here and there and you can have it all. It’s a modern food court with small counter bars at each restaurant with community seating throughout. Our favorite for noshing was the Israeli Street Food from Shalom Y’All by John Gorham, the brilliant mind behind Tasty & Son’s. We wrapped up our visit there with Salt & Straw Wizbang Bar, Portland’s iconic soft-serve ice cream with flavors like Roasted Strawberry Coconut and Malted Sweet Cream… yeah, it was as good as it sounds!
Last but certainly not least was the three hour “Division Street Southeast Tour” with Forktown Food Tours. This great tour is the best thing to do if you want to get the lay of the land and see how Division Street developed into one of the hottest neighborhoods in Portland. Our guide Arielle was delightful! She is an artist originally from New Mexico, now living the life in Portland.
Bollywood Theatre, started by Chef Troy MacLarty a Chez Panisse alum, and a constant on all the Portland Eater lists, is an epic experience. Indian street food comes alive in this vibrant and energized setting. We had “Vada Pav”a spicy potato dumpling in fried in a chickpea batter, smothered in chutneys, referred to as the “poor man’s burger”. Yum! Indian comfort food!
In the first mile of walking, we went to Lauretta Jean’s Pie Bakery. The bakery was as charming as can be! It had a great homey vibe with all those quintessential, homemade pies (oh, my!) that left your mouth watering. We kept wondering how we could get one of those back on the plane!
Next was Xico, where we had ripe grilled plantains like no other, brushed with piloncillo butter, pecan-chipotle salsa, red chile, crema served with a margarita on the rocks. Our one big regret was not having time to get back here because the menu looked fantastic. This is another one on the annual Eater Portland’s 38 list, so if you like good Mexican food like we do, check it out for us!
Last but not least on this tour was the Tidbit Food Cart Pod. The pod concept has us so intrigued because it was created out of necessity to keep the high costs of brick and mortar down for small upstart businesses and to capitalize on the food economy in Portland.
The variety of street food was so diverse, from Ingrid’s Scandinavian Waffle Sandwiches to Namu Korean & Hawaiian to Pyro Pizza. This pod is unique to even Portland because the lot was started and designed by noted restaurant designers in Portland. It not only has food carts, airstream and trucks but there are also flower vendors, vintage clothing, jewelry, art and more. They created this tight-knit enclave of communal-minded nomads, a modern day hippy commune around commerce, where you are an invited guest to experience. We hope someone brings this concept back to RI, it’s a great way to utilize a vacant lot and create a micro-economy.
This little trip was fun, #foodisfun and being a food tourist doesn’t mean you have to be a chef, cook or culinary. There are all kinds of food experiences to be had, all over the world! Just be open to exploring and experiencing all the wonderful ethnic and creative foods you can.
We would suggest you start in your own backyard neighborhoods because there are treasure troves of gastronomic adventures all around us. And when you travel, be sure to take a food tour because you will surely get a variety of tastes and a sense of the history of a place through this experience – it’s so worth it! Food Tourism is the way to go because good food is for everyone!
So if Santa left you any gift money or maybe you’re planning a getaway weekend or summer vacation or just looking for something fun to do – get yourself that RIRFT gift certificate you should have gotten as a gift! Don’t forget, there are always birthdays and anniversaries too!
Stay tuned to see what Rhode Island Red Food Tours has in store for 2017. There are far more food experiences to be had here in this “small state with big eats.” #smallstatebigeats.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
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