Are you ready to add some adventure to your dining?
Would you enjoy a little history or mystery on the menu?
Clever chefs and entrepreneurs are coming up with new ways to take the ho-hum out of your reservation.
You could set off on a mystery tour where you won’t know where or what you’ll be eating, stopping at historical landmarks along the way. Or how about sitting down to a meal prepared by six different chefs, each one trying to surprise and impress you?
What about a new take on the old-fashioned concept of a progressive dinner where you hop from restaurant to restaurant for each course?
Read on and find out what adventures await in local dining.
Canton Food Tours
Akron native Barbara Abbott was on a reunion trip with cousins in Scottsdale, Ariz., when she went on a food tour there in 2010.
There was food, fun, adventure and learning all rolled into one evening, and Abbott couldn’t help but think the concept would work in the Canton area, where she has lived for the past 13 years.
After two years of research and development, Abbott launched Canton Food Tours in 2012. Her new business has exceeded her expectations to the point that Abbott is currently in development to launch her first offshoot business, Wooster Food Tours in Wayne County.
“There are so many great places out there,” she explained, that the expansion to other cities seemed inevitable and a natural progression.
Abbott, 44, spent 13 years working at Quail Hollow State Park in Hartville, before taking time off to be a stay-at-home mom. She was used to working with large and small groups, and being a tour guide came naturally.
A tour costs $48 per person and typically includes six stops, not all of which are food and drink, as well as a guide for the evening and a goodie bag to take home. “They’re not eating one big meal at one place, but by the end of the night, they will have had enough food and drink to replace a whole meal,” she said.
Chefs at stops along the way tend to show off, hoping to lure customers back for a full dinner after the exposure, she said, particularly since 97 percent of her customers live within an hour’s drive of Canton.
Abbott has more than 75 partner businesses out there — restaurants, bars, museums, galleries and other spots that welcome her tours —and she will craft an afternoon or evening tour to suit any group’s theme.
She’s done fiery tours where the food gets hotter at each stop, gluten-free tours, craft beer — the limit is only the diners’ imaginations. She once did a tour to coincide with the Canton Marathon weekend that included a stop at Lucky Shoes to talk to a representative from New Balance running shoes.
For those with no preferences, Abbott has a fairly standard agenda, pointing out some of downtown Canton’s architecture and talking about the city’s founders, with perhaps a stop at the McKinley Monument in between courses. Bender’s Tavern, the city’s oldest restaurant, is a favorite. She typically tries to end with a sweet stop at Canton favorites Ben Heggy’s Candy or Taggarts Ice Cream Parlor, but has done tours that are all desserts, too.
After more than a year in business, Abbott said restaurants are calling her to find out how to become a stop on the tour, and she hopes to branch out to more cities in the future.
Canton Food Tours: Phone 330-495-0929 or visit www.cantonfoodtours.com.
Dinner in the Dark
Three years ago, Cleveland area chef Brian Okin (formerly of Verve in Cleveland, now at Cork & Cleaver Social Kitchen in Broadview Heights) put the word out in the food community that he had an idea for chefs to come together to host a monthly dinner to showcase their talents and maybe help out a good cause.
Two chefs called him back: Jeff Jarrett and Ellis Cooley, both from AMP 150 in Cleveland.
In that meeting, Dinner in the Dark was founded. Cooley has since relocated to Florida, but Okin and Jarrett remain the driving forces behind the idea, for which six chefs serve up a six-course meal each month for a charitable cause.
In their own words, Dinner in the Dark is “like an open mic jam session for chefs.” The chefs are responsible for creating their own courses, which typically come with a wine or cocktail pairing. Because they supply their own food, it’s anyone’s guess what each chef may be serving — hence the name Dinner in the Dark.
Diners don’t know what they will be eating until the dish is placed in front of them.
“You have to be adventurous,” Jarrett said. “You can’t have a lot of qualms about food and food sensitivities.”
Jarrett said the group doesn’t really accommodate special requests, but rarely gets complaints.
“I think people are looking for an experience, not just the food,” he said. “We have six different chefs, guests are basically sitting down and eating at six different restaurants in one night.”
Jarrett said the push is to make the meal more than “just going out to eat,” because there is good food in so many places.
The group is selling interaction with the chefs, and Jarrett and Okin encourage each chef to mingle with the crowd. While the charity benefits from the money raised, chefs benefit from the exposure they get from the 75 or so guests who attend — all potential customers for their own restaurants.
If a diner enjoyed a particular chef’s course, it’s likely they will visit his restaurant, because they feel like they know the chef, Jarrett said.
Restaurants that volunteer to host the meals get to select what charities get the proceeds. The dinner is $65 per person, plus tax and tip that puts the meal over $80.
Recently, the group held its first Akron-area dinner at Vaccaro’s Trattoria in Bath Township, to raise money for the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank and the Veggie U program in local schools.
Owner Raphael Vaccaro said the dinner sold out in five days, and the meal raised nearly $4,000 for the two charities. Dinner in the Dark has not yet received a tax-exempt charitable status, but Jarrett said he hopes that will come in the future.
Dinner in the Dark: Visit www.dinnerinthedarkcleveland.com for information on upcoming dinners and to make reservations.
Dishcrawl is one part party and one part progressive dinner, with staffers organizing crawls through various neighborhoods of participating cities.
The business started in San Jose, Calif., in 2010, and has spread to Montreal and various other U.S. cities since then. In each town, a Dishcrawl ambassador organizes an evening in which diners will visit four restaurants for a variety of food and cocktails.
Dishcrawl Akron had its debut earlier this year, with two summer events that hopscotched around downtown Akron hot spots, including Crave, dba, Urban Eats and Uncorked Wine Bar.
Caitlyn Williams, brand manager in San Jose, said the Akron events were successful, with Mayor Don Plusquellic attending the first event in July, but finding the right ambassadors to run local events had been a challenge.
Dishcrawl is still operating in Cleveland, and offers private events, but it will likely be 2014 before any events return to Akron, Williams said.
“We should definitely be back at some point,” she said.