Slow food, slow travel, slow wine have become a mantra of sorts.
There is no best way to discover cities and neighborhoods than street level.
If you live in Bay Area or plan a visit, make sure you save time to take in local food scene by foot thanks to Lisa Rogovin of Edible Excursions. She offers small group tours in San Francisco, Berkeley, and West Marin County.
I talked with Lisa a week ago while she was taking a mommy break to get a feel for what she offers.
Q: Lisa, how did you fall in the walking food tour cauldron and what was your first trail?
In 2004 while I was working at Gourmet, Stan Bromley, a manager at the Four Seasons in San Francisco asked me to organize guided visits of Farmers Market at Ferry Building for week-end guests. That's where it all started. I continued that Saturday tour for hotel until mid 2005.
Q: Tell us about different options you offer now?
The original idea, Ferry Building tour still lives on (Tuesdays and Saturdays) it takes about 2 hours and includes a wine sampler picked specially for our group.
We also have the North Berkeley Gourmet Ghetto outing every Thursday. 12 miles east from San Francisco it takes us over the Bay Bridge. In 3 hours we make stops at original location of Peet's Coffee, take in local stalwarts like Acme Bread, Chez Panisse. It is a visit to the roots of California locavore scene. Forget all you think of Berkeley. It is very educated yet casual and suburban.
Back in San Francisco, a recent addition Taste the Mission takes us to a predominantly Latino area whose history harks back to 1776 and its Franciscan founders. Maybe more comfort food here with cupcakes at Mission Mini, donuts and latin fare like tacos and also sweet bread (pan dulce) from La Victoria. Taste the Mission is on Saturdays only.
Our furthest outing is to West Marin County (Point Reyes), 50 miles north, home of cheese makers like Cowgirl Creamery, wineries and oyster farms like Hog Island. This tour is for private groups.
Q: How many people join you on your walks? What is the mix between locals and visitors?
Groups include anywhere from 4 to 12 people. For private groups we require a minimum of 6. 70-75% are locals, the rest being visitors with 5 % from abroad.
Q: Are rain dates planned just in case?
No, it is rain or shine. Thankfully so far weather has not prevented any tour from happening.
Q: Depending on group, do you consider special requests?
We are sensitive to allergy, health and dietary needs. With private groups we customize as much as we can.
Q: Are there favorite stops both for you and for participants?
I have a soft spot for Saul's Delicatessen in Berkeley (Jewish deli with California sensibility). They smoke their meat in house and switched to homemade and seasonal sodas including a great celery soda which works wonders with pastrami sandwich.
In Mission, I favor Dynamo Donuts for its creative Bacon Maple Apple option for example. They use palm oil so it's not greasy. Another Mission fav is Humphry Slocombe for ice-cream.
Guests have a sweet spot for Bike Basket Pies whose menu includes Goat Cheese Quiche, They offer bicycle delivery.
Q: Has taking the neighborhoods in by foot changed your take on them?
For Mission definitely, at first it came off as a bit rough (though hedgy) then I realized it is a family oriented neighborhood.
Q: Last, once you get into the warmer months, are tours changing?
Yes, we do change some of the tastes based upon the seasons. Because the businesses that we work with are mostly centered around seasonal, local ingredients, their flavors change seasonally. For example, Recchiuti Confections on the Ferry Building Marketplace and Farmers Market Tour offers jasmine tea confections during the spring. Macaron flavors at Miette Patisserie and cheese tastings at Cowgirl Creamery, also on the Ferry Building Marketplace and Farmers Market Tour, change with the seasons, too. At the latter, we may taste cheeses made from the milk of goats who have been grazing on grass during the spring. On the Taste the Mission Tour, Local Mission Eatery's menu is 100% seasonal, so what somebody is tasting at a stop in December is going to be very different than in spring and summer. Saul's Deli sometimes produces special soda flavors that showcase beautiful seasonal ingredients, such as blueberries.
Thanks Lisa for taking some of your precious baby time to speak with us.
(* Top and bottom photos by Robin Jolin, middle one (Gregoire potato puffs in Berkeley) by xPress PR solutions)