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Food tours offer taste of restaurants, history

On a sunny, unseasonably cool Saturday, I headed downtown on an empty stomach with my walking shoes on. I was joining one of the first groups to experience Rochester Food Tours. The three-plus-hour trek would cover six downtown restaurants over a...

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Brianna Elwood, left, Steve Baumgartner and Tammy Baumgartner sample food at Mac's Cafe in Rochester during a recent Rochester Food Tour. The guided, three-hour walking tours stop at restaurants and other businesses in the downtown area.

On a sunny, unseasonably cool Saturday, I headed downtown on an empty stomach with my walking shoes on.

I was joining one of the first groups to experience Rochester Food Tours. The three-plus-hour trek would cover six downtown restaurants over a 1.3-mile leisurely walk — just enough time and exercise between stops for our food and drinks to digest.

Rochester Food Tours promises unique eats and some interesting insider knowledge of Rochester you've maybe never heard before.

Now, having lived in Rochester for more than 12 years — and writing the Quick Bites food and restaurants column for the P-B for more than five years — you'd think I might have tasted everything Rochester has to offer. But you'd be wrong.

I spotted the husband-and-wife duo of Mike and Brianna Elwood by the dove fountain in Peace Plaza in their matching blue shirts. The Elwoods put the group at ease right away by giving some of their story and inviting us to tell a bit of ours.

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A food tour is born

"I'm a huge foodie," Brianna had told me earlier. "I love to eat food, I love to cook it, love everything about it." While in Arizona a couple years ago, she and Mike had a great time on a food tour of Tucson. "In the back of my head the entire time, I was thinking, 'Rochester,'" Brianna said.

The couple started planning and researching, going on other cities' food tours, and eventually signing up for a four-day intensive training in Chicago through Food Tour Pros last fall.

"They covered everything, from restaurants, routes, walking time and number of miles to the script, marketing, long-term growth and billing," Mike said.

The couple started reaching out to Rochester restaurants and got more interest than they could take on.

"We made a list of our favorite places, then narrowed it down based on distance, walking route and the hours they're open," Brianna said. "When we started contacting them, they were all on board almost immediately."

Food and stories

"We have three goals for today," Mike told us on the day of the tour. "One, we want you to have fun. Two, we want you to learn something, either about food or Rochester, even if you're from here. And third, we want you to end the tour pleasantly full." He explained that some stops have more generous portions, while others are lighter tastings.

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After a brief introduction to Mac's as the longest-standing restaurant in Rochester, we headed in for a cute little half-gyro and baklava, which we enjoyed while Brianna told us more about Peace Plaza, the history of the Chateau Theater downtown, and what the doves in the fountain symbolize.

As we walked to each of the destinations, we stopped along the way to learn about historic buildings, new organizations, key locations and events, and even restaurants we didn't visit that day.

Though I had visited all the restaurants on the tour, I tasted something I'd never tried before at each. And did you know that Calvary Episcopal Church in downtown Rochester is known for its fruitcake at Christmastime? Or that present-day McGoon's Taxi Co. was the site of the first bank robbery in Rochester? Me neither.

By the end of the tour, I could check off all three goals: I had fun, learned something, and yes: I was definitely "pleasantly full." They don't tell you that you'll also make new connections with the other people on the tour, but that happens, too.

Future tours

For now, tours are available for lunch on Fridays and Saturdays only. But the Elwoods won't stop there.

"Our goal is to increase, not just the number of tours we're doing, but the number of people on the tours," Mike said. The current group size is capped at eight, but the Elwoods want to be able to accommodate 12 or 14.

"There are more restaurants we want to include, as well as maybe doing a wine tour or beer-tasting tour," Brianna said. "I have lots and lots of ideas."

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If you go

What: Rochester Food Tours

When: 11 a.m. until about 2 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays

Cost: $40 per person, covers food at six restaurants. Beverages besides water can be ordered at your cost.

Distance: 1.3 miles, leisurely walk. All locations are handicap-accessible.

Special requests: When you purchase tickets online, you indicate any food allergies, sensitivities or other special accommodations needed, and they can make adjustments for you.

View the calendar and make a reservation: RochesterFoodTours.com.

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Mac's Cafe

Greek and American Cuisine

20 First Ave. S.W.

Press Coffee and Tea Lounge

Specialty fine tea and coffee

315 S. Broadway

People's Food Coop

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Local and regional foods

519 First Ave. S.W.

Twig's Tavern & Grille

Dedicated gluten-free kitchen

401 Sixth St. S.W.

Chester's Kitchen and Bar

American food — featuring rotisserie chicken

111 S. Broadway Suite 108

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Chocolaterie Stam

Fine chocolate and Italian gelato

111 S. Broadway Suite 208

4eea0039a325d51b5859ab61faf8a10f.jpg
A Rochester Food Tour, a three-hour walking food tour of downtown Rochester, is held recently. Tours are conducted every Friday and Saturday starting at 11 AM. Pictured, from left, are Brianna Elwood, Steve Baumgartner, Tammy Baumgartner and Mike Elwood.

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