A TASTE OF RALEIGH: Taste Carolina Gourmet tours showcase culinary treasures

Originally published in Wake Living Magazine

It’s finally happened: Revitalizing downtown Raleigh is no longer just a dream. It’s the place to be, and the place to be seen. Sidewalk cafés and hip hangouts create a village vibe that draws a loyal crowd of weekday after-fivers and weekend diners.

Now that the city streets are bustling with eclectic shops and restaurants, a new problem is emerging. With so many great choices, how do you pick the best place for an evening out? The solution is simple: Sample your way through an array of eateries during a Taste Carolina Gourmet food tour.

Designed for singles, couples and smaller groups, it’s easy to hop aboard one of the three pre-arranged Saturday tours. Dates for the Chocolate Tour and the Brews Cruise vary, but the Capitol-to-Glenwood walking tour takes place from 2-5 p.m. each Saturday, rain or shine.

The walking tour begins near the Capitol at Dos Taquitos Centro. After a Mexican appetizer and meet and greet, the group takes a bus ride from the Wilmington Street location to the former Seaboard train station. At 18 Seaboard, owner-chef Jason Smith serves up fresh, fried-green tomatoes topped with a housemade special sauce.

The last bus ride takes the gang to Glenwood South, where the walking part of the tour begins. At Escazu Artisan Chocolates, the group samples raw and roasted cocoa beans, as well as one of the establishment’s daily-made chocolates. It’s then on to Zely & Ritz, where owner and chef Sarig Agasi shares his story, emphasizing the eatery’s farm-to-table cuisine while the group clamors for the recipe for the pear turkey being served. Dessert is waiting at the last stop on Glenwood South, The Cupcake Shoppe Bakery.

The walk back to the Capitol showcases an entertaining history of Raleigh, with stops at The Foundation, which serves local brews and housemade mixers; The Duck and Dumpling, which offers up its signature dumplings; and The Mint, whose design is inspired by the building’s former life as a bank.

The tour is a collaboration of co-owners Joe Philipose and Lesley Stracks-Mullem, who were introduced by Kelli Cotter, co-owner of Toast in Durham. Stracks-Mullem was inspired after out-of-town guests requested to eat as much food as possible during their short visit, while Philipose’s interest grew out of frustration.

“With hearing so many transplants say that there wasn’t any good food in the area, I just knew there was an opportunity to open people’s eyes to the great places they had in their own back yards,” he says.

“My idea for the business was to connect people with great farms, restaurants and shops here.”