Recently I profiled a couple of new local food tours that have popped up this season. Being that I don't get to take many vacations, I'm a pretty rabid fan of these when they're in my hometown. Most of the time I run around Seattle acting like a huge know-it-all; changing my perspective for an afternoon and treating the city I grew up in as an unfamiliar place is a remarkably refreshing way to feel like you've actually been on vacation, if only for a couple of hours.
Since writing about Seattle Food Tours' revamped Belltown Restaurant Tour and Savor Seattle's Craving Capitol Hill tour, I've found a couple of others that make me want to play tourist all over again. Last week I joined Bryce Lathrop on one of his enigmatic White Moustache tours. You'll find no roster of restaurants on his website, no itineraries. Just a list of more than a dozen by-the-seat-of-your-pants themes that could change, even mid-tour, on a whim. Lathrop knows how to read a crowd, and his gut instinct is what leads the way. It works because he doesn't need to make pre-arrangements with restaurant owners: while some food tours get their samples provided for free at businesses hoping that guests will return for a full meal, Lathrop pays full price for full portions. “I want people to have an authentic experience,” he says, “and that's the only way to do it.”
You can go for The Pork Parade, where pig is consumed at every stop; start your day with the progressive breakfast tour Sunny Side Up Seattle; eat your way from Everett to White Center on the World of 99 tour; hit only street food, only pies or cupcakes, go all vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free; or put Lathrop to the test by crafting your own theme. He tries to learn enough about his guests to take them to places they've never been and try things they've never tried. “If we've got a Southerner in the group, you can bet we're not doing barbecue,” he says.
I love this tour for locals especially because it's anything but touristy. My small group was whisked around town in a little white van up to the University District to Guanaco's Tacos Pupuseria for Salvadoran pupusas and Negro Modelo, over to Wallingford's neighborhood Italian gem, Cantinetta, where we inhaled their handmade gnocchi grilled with lamb sausage and peaches, then to Revel in Fremont for their shrimp and edamame pancakes and Cosmos made with Ebb & Flow Gin from local distillery Sound Spirits. At $100 per person for two hours (add $100 for each additional hour, and he'll go all day if you want him to), White Moustache is pricier than others. But the amount of thought, creativity and sheer portion size that goes into it is worth it.
Next up is Seattle Bites Food Tours, which grabbed my attention with their “Man vs. Seattle Bites” eating contest coming up on July 22. For this competition the three-year-old company, which normally conducts walking and eating tours of Pike Place Market, has enlisted the bottomless stomach of I Love NY Deli's Rob “The Wing King,” who once ate 130 chicken wings in one sitting. “He thinks he can beat any challenger in eating an array of the food we serve on the tour,” says Seattle Bites co-owner Mark Breitfuss. That includes full portions (the tours normally feature sample sizes) like a bowl of New England Clam Chowder from Pike Place Chowder, German sausage on a bun from Uli's Famous Sausage, a Banana Nutella crepe from Crepe de France, South Indian chicken tikka masala from Saffron Spice and more. Whoever eats the most in 50 minutes wins.
So who gets to be the challenger? That's the really fun part. Anyone who thinks they have the chops can enter to be selected via the Seattle Bites website. Breitfuss will publicize the candidates on Facebook and Twitter, and he says that the wanna-be eater who generates the biggest social media response will be the one to face off against The Wing King.
The public is invited to come witness the carnage for free, partake of some discounted Market eats as well, and throw a few bucks into the hat for the Pike Place Market Foundation. The exact location is TBD, so check the website to find out.