Taste History Culinary Tours in Palm Beach County July 21 and 28
Dee Dee's Conch & Rib Shack was the first stop on the tour; conch fritter and ribs were on the tasting menu.
All photos, Tricia Woolfenden
As Lori Durante leads a small, sweating pack of culinary tourists east on Atlantic Avenue on a recent Saturday afternoon, she breaks her swift stride momentarily to point across the street, toward Johnnie Brown's, a burger and barbecue joint in Delray Beach.
"Johnnie Brown's was named for Addison Mizner's famous pet monkey," Durante says before resuming her brisk pace and leading the group to its next tour stop at Scuola Vecchia Pizza e Vino, peppering the remaining walk with other tidbits about the ever-changing landscape of downtown Delray Beach.
Durante, director of the Museum of Lifestyle & Fashion History, is the creator and guide for the museum's thrice-monthly Taste History Culinary Tours. The next tour is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday and will include multiple stops in Delray Beach and Boynton Beach, many of which involve tasting regional and international cuisine.
The chariot (part one) awaits.
During the course of the three-hour-plus tour -- which Durante invited Clean Plate Charlie to join, gratis, on June 23 -- attendees were bombarded with dozens of factoids about Florida, regional history, local businesses and buildings, and the roots of various traditional and modern cuisine. These are the kinds of random bits of knowledge (the Dutch helped introduce cookies to America, a bonafide Margherita pizza must include all three colors of the Italian flag, and so on) that are useful for dinner parties and bar trivia nights.
The three-to-four hour tours are conducted mostly via air-conditioned bus, with Durante narrating on a PA system from start to finish and providing time for questions at the various tour stops. Several blocks of walking are always included and the tour takes place rain or shine, so it's important to dress for the weather and wear comfy walking shoes.
There are three tours each month. Every third and fourth Saturday, the tour covers Delray Beach and Boynton Beach. The second Saturday of the month ventures north to Lake Worth and Lantana -- a recent addition to the Culinary Tours' repertoire. At least two restaurants or food venues are included in every tour, in addition to historical points of interest, like churches, hotels, and parks, as well as markets and urban gardens. The museum works with a rotating roster of venues but the locations for each tour are kept under wraps until the day is underway, so that each tour unfolds as a surprise, Durante explained.
The museum has long led narrated bus tours of southern Palm Beach County, but when they added a culinary component last year, the tour dates sold out for months. The summer is an ideal time for locals to give it a whirl and learn about the region, in addition to out-of-the-way culinary destinations. Find a photo diary of the June 23 tour below.
Reverend Marcia Beam talks about the history of St. Matthews Episcopal Church in Delray Beach -- a Bahamian church her ancestors help to found. She reminisced about the traditional Bahamian foods she grew up with, like coconut candies, pigeon peas and rice ("at every Sunday meal"), and stewed conch, and said church potlucks feature traditional foods that rival the best in town. "You haven't had conch fritters until you have the ones from right here," she said, indicating the church.
The third stop of the day was Scuola Vecchia Pizza e Vino, where we saw our Margherita pizzas made in front of us and cooked in the restaurant's specially-made oven. Imported from Naples, Italy, the oven cooks between 950 and 1,000 degrees, finishing the pie in just over a minute. The restaurant is one of the only in Florida that is certified as being able to prepare pizza in the traditional Neapolitan style.
When Scuola manager Alessandro Piazzo heard that many of the visitors were new to the pizzeria, he rushed to the back to bring out a plate of the restaurant's own mozzarella, which is made fresh on premises daily. They also make their own burrata.
The fourth stop on the tour -- the historic and retro-chic Colony Hotel on Atlantic Avenue -- turned into a longer-than-planned layover when it was discovered that there was a mechanical issue with the tour bus. We were given about half an hour of free time to walk around downtown Delray while dispatch sent a replacement bus. For Clean Plate Charlie, that meant checking out the Colony's throwback phone booth (above) and heading over to Cupcake Couture for sweet treats to go.
Our chariot (part two): This is the larger bus sent to fetch us when our original set of wheels crapped out on us.
After swinging by a community garden in Boynton Beach for a quick peek, the tour proceeded to the Secret Garden Cafe and Ocean Ave. Green Market. Both businesses are part of Community Caring Center's initiative to give people living in urban settings affordable access to healthy and fresh foods. The stop included tastes of deconstructed vegetable and crab quiches.
Ocean Ave. Green Market sells whole bean, fair trade coffee, among other items.
The next stop was Palermo's Bakery in Boynton Beach where owners shared samples of fettucini Alfredo and crustini with roasted peppers.
The dessert options at Palermo's are nothing short of epic.
The tour concludes where it begins; Boynton Beach Mall, specifically in The Cellar at Macy's, which is a tour sponsor. There, Bonnie Brown of Bonnie's Best Bites led a demonstration on how to make oatmeal raisin cookies. "I always add extra cinnamon -- I always add a little extra of the things I love the best," Brown said.
All Taste History Culinary Tours depart from the parking lot of Boynton Beach Mall. Participants should meet at the east Macy's entrance. Tickets for the Taste Culinary Tour of Historic Palm Beach County are $35 per person and are available online, here. Spots are available for the tour this Saturday and for Saturday, July 28, as well as dates in August and into the fall. Call 561-734-5467 or 561-243-2662.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to South Florida dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.