Foodies on Foot: Walk, Taste, Sip and Learn About Columbia Through Food
I often like to imagine I have my own Food Network show. You know, one of the those where I go into all of the best local food joints with my close personal friends and am served the best food and drink pairings the city has to offer? If you imagine the same for yourself, Columbia Culinary Tours can make it a reality.
Whether you're a Columbia native looking to learn more about the food of your hometown or a visitor craving the cuisine of a new place, Columbia Culinary Tours offers unique, small group food tours that take you on a culinary adventure to places you may have been and new places you haven't.
Two years ago, Columbia Culinary Tours owner Kerri Linder was looking for a fun and flexible job she could do in her spare time, now that her children are older. Linder, a born and raised, third generation Columbian, has a passion for traveling and food and got the idea for starting her own local tour business while on a culinary tour in South Carolina.
Guests get to choose from five different tours, each featuring different types of food and drink depending on the time of day. Each tour includes stops at four restaurants and one specialty food-related shop. Tour guests are given large samples of delicious delicacies at each location and restaurant chefs talk to them about the food they are experiencing and their personal role in the restaurant. Guests get the opportunity to ask questions about the food, the venue and anything else that comes to mind.
I had the opportunity to tag along on the most popular Night On the Town tour on a Wednesday night. Columbia Culinary Tours strategically plans most of their tours on weeknights so restaurants are more available for guests to come in and enjoy the experience without the busy time constraints and crowding of the weekend.
Now, I don’t want to give away too many details of the tour, so I won't tell you the specific things served at each restaurant, even though both the menu items and restaurants on each tour change from time to time. I’ll give you a little bit of the inside scoop, but it’s far better to check it out for yourself.
For this particular tour, we visited The Broadway Doubletree Hotel's in-house restaurant, Eleven Eleven, Umbria Rustic Italian, Broadway Brewery, Craft Beer Cellar and Günter Hans. At the end of the tour, Linder handed out a sheet with the names of the places we went and what was served if each place knew their menu for us ahead of time. That list is super convenient if guests wish to revisit a stop on the tour and get what they had or want to recommend a certain dish to a friend.
We got very lucky with a breezy 70-degree night for the walking tour. I learned so much about the town I have been living in for five years. Buildings I had walked past on my trips to campus every day came alive with stories of important, world-renowned figures walking the halls and making important speeches.
The food was different and exciting from place to place and included preview tastings and backdoor entrances (talk about feeling like a Food Network star.) Menu items I would have never thought to try were presented at each place and paired with drinks that I don’t usually go for, but were excellent with the flavors of the food.
I was one of ten people on the tour and the others were friendly and excited to learn about the history, food and even each other. Sitting around the five different tables brought about stories of how they were connected by other locals, how the food we were tasting reminded them of their mom’s special way of cooking a similar dish or their kids’ way of soaking the dishes that were certainly piled up in the back from the ten of us. It was fascinating to see how people bond over a city’s history, food and casual connections they never knew they had until going on a tour.
Columbia Culinary Tours has completed about 120 tours and partners with 21 local shops and restaurants. Public tours are available on their website and private tours for events like office parties, team building and date nights are also available.
Linder is looking to potentially create a bus tour of Columbia that reaches areas with rich history and great restaurants that cannot be accessed by walking from downtown. While keeping the downtown tours at the heart of Columbia Culinary Tours, she hopes to continue to grow and inspire people to learn new things about food and the city, no matter where they are from.
Visit https://columbiaculinarytours.com to view the details of each tour Columbia Culinary Tours offers and to view available dates.