As the restaurant boom has blossomed in Cleveland, so too has food tourism. Seven years ago, Taste Cleveland Food Tours (tasteclevelandfoodtours.com), an extension of a nationally owned brand of tours, set up shop, covering hot spots like Tremont, Ohio City and Little Italy. Recently, new entrepreneurs have expanded these offerings to provide their own grassroots tours of other culinary hot beds in the area.
Asiatown Food Tour (nightmarketcle.com) was created as an extension of Night Market Cleveland, a popular summer event held monthly through the season. "For the first time this year, we will continue through the summer and into the fall and winter. We want to keep the excitement in the neighborhood month after month," says Josh Maxwell, one member of the Small Organization Solutions team who oversee the tours.
Meanwhile, the Westside Shuffle (westsideshuffle.com) takes up to 30 attendees on a three-hour bus ride through Old Asia Town and to four restaurants in the downtown St. Clair-Superior area. Leading the tour is Ewyn Tsang, who grew up in the tightknit Asian community and has a personal tie to many of the family-owned businesses.
"We have a lot of people who are big foodies that like trying new things. They're usually a mix of Caucasian and Asian," explains Tsang. New additions to the tour this year: Superior Pho, Szechuan Gourmet, Pho Ha Nam, and Asia Food Company. Included in the $70 ticket are four courses (you will have leftovers) and two cocktails designed by Watershed Distillery to be enjoyed on the bus.
Out west, Amy Collins and Sharon Marrell were inspired to create Lakewood Dish Dash (lakewooddishdash.com) after taking a food tour in Virginia and loving the experience. "I've been living in Lakewood for 10 years and have been really impressed with the food culture here," says Collins, who is also on the board of Taste of Lakewood. With over 50 independently owned restaurants within the municipality, a walking dining tour was a no-brainer.
"We love hospitality, entertaining and building community, so when we came back we wanted to do it. But who has time to organize something like that?" she says with a laugh. Collins lost her job last year, which gave her the perfect opportunity to lay groundwork. She participated in the Start-Up Lakewood Ideation Challenge to galvanize momentum, starting the tours with a soft launch last October.
One tour is focused on downtown Lakewood, one traverses Madison Avenue, and another hits the west end of Detroit Avenue. Each offers a sampling of five to six restaurants and food retailers. "It's not a progressive dinner," Collins clarifies. "You could have ice cream right in the middle; no need to save room."
From bite-sized samples at Urban Bulk Foods to family-style servings at Thai Thai, or whole pieces of pizza and draft beer at Angelo's, the tour makes sure to represent what each destination is known for. Tours are capped at 12 people for three hours of tasting, covering about a mile and a half to 2 miles of territory on foot. A ticket will cost you about $45, plus a tip for your guide.