Seeing the sights—and tasting the tastes
Flower City Food Tours uncovers area gems
A punk-rocker, a financial advisor, and a writer walk into a bar. No, this isn’t the setup to a corny joke but rather what unfolded in late May at Nox Cocktail Lounge. Faye, the punk-rocker; Tom, the financial advisor; and I, the writer, walked in as our first stop on a Flower City Food Tour.
These guided expeditions, which are offered in Pittsford and the Neighborhood of the Arts and on Park Avenue, bring people from all backgrounds together to walk Rochester’s most restaurant-dense areas.
In short, the tours work like this: Groups of up to twelve people—usually made up of smaller, two-to-four person groups—walk through designated neighborhoods, stopping in six to eight culinary destinations along the way. Each tour is led by a guide who doles out interesting cultural and historical facts about the given neighborhood. The ticket, which costs about $57 depending on the tour, includes a small-to-medium–sized plate at each destination (and, generally, a beverage).
Cheri Davenport, a Pittsford resident and the owner of Flower City Food Tours, was inspired to bring this business model to Rochester after going on a food tour in Carmel, California, in 2016.
“The Carmel tour was so much fun, when it ended I looked at my husband and said this is a great idea for a business,” says Davenport. “At the time we had just become empty nesters, and I was ready to do something again.”
After consulting with the Carmel tour operator as well as a network of tour operators across the country, Davenport, who had previous careers in public relations, marketing, and event planning, developed her own food tour in the Rochester area. Davenport set her sights on Pittsford and its bevy of restaurants for the first food tour location.
“I feel extremely grateful to all my tasting partners, especially those in Pittsford who took a chance on me,” says Davenport. “I didn’t have a track record, so for them to listen to my idea and embrace it and support me—that meant a lot to me.”
The Pittsford food tour, which launched in April 2017, was an instant success. Relying on word of mouth and positive reviews on Trip Advisor, Davenport organically attracted people visiting from out of town and Rochester natives eager to explore their own backyards.
A thriving tour in Pittsford allowed Davenport to approach restaurant owners in different areas and extend onto Park Avenue in August 2017 and the Neighborhood of the Arts in May 2018.
While Davenport does have other locations on her radar for her expansion, she plans to continue growing her business in its existing neighborhoods before officially adding any new destinations. The end of the Flower City Food Tour season is in November. Tours will open back up in May 2019.
To get the full Flower City Food Tour experience, I dropped in on a tour in each neighborhood.
Park Avenue, 11 a.m.–2 p.m.
A duo of retired women who have been friends since 1978, a middle-aged couple, and a mother with her two adult children, one visiting from Texas
Jines Restaurant: Mimosa with banana bread french toast
Furoshiki Kitchen & Cocktails: Sake, pork belly steamed buns, and miso soup
Baker Street Bakery: Key lime pie, lemon tart, and chocolate cream pie
F. Oliver’s: Olive oil and balsamic samples
Blu Wolf Bistro: Bacon cheeseburger slider and house fries, baby beer
Stever’s Candy: Dark chocolate and milk chocolate samples
Half Pint Pub: Half pint of beer
Magnolia’s Deli & Café: Strawberry spinach salad
With a mimosa and a shot of sake to start off the day, our guards were down and we easily made friends on this tour of Park Avenue landmarks. By the halfway point, any mirage of shyness was erased for all parties. Hobbies, passions, personal goals, and times past were discussed with a frequency normally reserved for a therapist’s office. The only thing that interrupted conversation was dizzying amounts of food. With eight stops on this journey, restraint proved to be a valuable tool. Calories added up quickly, and open space in our stomachs decreased with each bite. Some stops, like Baker Street Bakery, took this into account and offered miniature versions of its key lime, lemon tart, and chocolate pies. Other stops, like Blu Wolf, who provided mounds of fries and a bacon cheeseburger slider the size of a hockey puck, went with the go-big-or-go-home method to make an impression on our group. After roughly three hours walking up and down Park Avenue, taking in its sights, sounds, and history, the tour ended at Magnolia’s, where we had a strawberry spinach salad. I said good-bye to my new friends much fuller than when I arrived.
Neighborhood of the Arts, 4–7 p.m.
A middle-aged couple, two tour guides in training, and the owner of Flower City Food Tours
The Gate House: Red wine margarita, Wease burger, and sweet potato fries
Salena’s Mexican Restaurant: Chips, salsa, margarita, and a chimichanga
Lento: Gimlet with potato and duck gratin
Starry Nites Cafe: Tropical sunshine wine slushie and white chicken chili
Fiamma Centro: Aperol spritz, squash pizza, scialatielli pasta, and Nutella pastry with gelato
Three Heads Brewing: Peach hefeweizen
Nox Cocktail Lounge: Coffee cocktail and s’mores
The Neighborhood of the Arts tour was still in its infancy, so I went on a test run of sorts. Davenport supervised two tour guides in training: Faye, who is also in a punk rock band, and Hope, who studies tourism in college. Tom, a financial advisor, and Candy, a hospital worker, rounded out the group. With four of the seven stops on this tour located in the Village Gate, the NOTA excursion covers the smallest distance of any Flower City Tour. Its time slot, 4 to 7 p.m., and the presence of beer or a cocktail at every stop, makes this tour perfect for a date night or as an early start to the weekend. The creativity in this artsy area extends to its restaurants. While each stop provided unique flavors, Fiamma Centro stole the show with a three-course meal of its own that included a delicious squash pizza with smoked mozzarella and pancetta, scialatielli pasta mixed table side with cheese and a light red sauce, and a flaky, rich, Nutella pastry.
Pittsford, 11 a.m.–2 p.m.
A family of four visiting from Fresno, California, and a team of five women from a software company in Victor
Simply Crepes: Crème brûlée oatmeal and a maple crepe
Label 7: Chicken and waffles
Olives Greek Taverna: Watermelon gazpacho and spanakopita
Dolce Cupcakery: Cup of cake
Erie Grill: Blushing mule, braised pork belly and cucumber salad
Pittsford Farms Dairy: Ice cream
Via Girasole: Charcuterie
On a picture-perfect, eighty-degree day, this tour, which mostly explored Schoen Place, highlighted the small-town, old-world charm of Pittsford. There was a perfect balance throughout the tour between meticulous creations like Erie Grill’s beautifully braised pork belly and simple joys like ice cream and a scenic waterfront trail. Pittsford’s beauty was certainly not lost on the family from Fresno, who remarked on its beauty, friendliness, and resemblance to a Norman Rockwell painting.
At some point on each tour, maybe it was while guests exchanged phone numbers after their crème brulee, hugged and shook hands after duck gratin, or had meaningful conversations between pork belly and ice cream, it became apparent that food tourism is about more than just food. FlowerCityFoodTours.com
Nicholas Abreu is a (585) staffer. Follow him on Twitter at @NicksPicks585.