DUNEDIN — The group stood, gazing out across the water at Honeymoon Island as guide Julie Lawson gave the lay of the land. First known as Sand Island, then more inelegantly as Hog Island, it got its current name in the 1940s when marketing people tried to pitch it as a retreat for newlyweds, with little palm-thatched bungalows and cottages. It didn't quite take, stymied by World War II, but the name lived on.
Better honeymoons than hogs, we thought, as we turned and headed back to the front door of Bon Appetit restaurant in Dunedin.
"Bon Appetit is the only caterer you can use out on Honeymoon Island," Lawson said over the sound of champagne corks popping. Hogs still on her mind, she went on to explain that Dunedin was first incorporated so that a law could be passed about picket fences in town to keep the wild pigs out.
We listened, but maybe not as attentively once the smoked trout, calamari salad and fried mozzarella were set before us.
We were on our first stop of six on GourmetTrek, a new series of culinary history tours of communities around Tampa Bay. These tours feed the mind with rich stories that make up the history of Dunedin, Ybor City, Channelside, downtown Sarasota or Tampa's South of Howard district. But they feed the belly even better. The vision of Tampa Heights resident Anita Gary, each walking tour stops at restaurants and bars along the way, sampling dishes and learning a bit about each establishment from the chef or owner.
The head of Diversity Advertising and Public Relations for 14 years, Gary had a health scare two years ago that caused her to take stock.
"I want a new challenge, deciding to create the life that I wanted by pursuing the things I really love to do: I love to go out to eat, I love wine and I love travel."
A winning triumvirate, indeed. We meandered down Dunedin's Main Street, stopping into Sea Sea Riders for pan-roasted salmon on purple Peruvian potato with mussels and a saffron butter sauce, before continuing to Cappuccino Café for delicious little cookies. On to Casa Tina to sample a special of pasilla peppers stuffed with picadillo and drizzled with walnut cream, and then to Café Alfresco for a plate of lamb chops, prosciutto-wrapped shrimp and little pork ribs. Whew. By the time we hit the last stop, Pan Y Vino, for shrimp Veracruz and a glass of herbaceous sauvignon blanc, many of us were waving the white napkin of surrender.
All the while, Lawson, a graduate of the International Tour Management Institute in Los Angeles, wove stories of Dunedin's past with information about each restaurant's chef and culinary mission.
"I believe in the difference between touring and traveling," Lawson said. "A traveler cares about a place's food, traditions and culture. A tourist's interest is more fleeting. I hope I'm bringing a little bit of the traveler to these food tours."
In general, weekend tours begin at 2 p.m. and end around 5, a late lunch or early dinner, fitted into the time that most restaurants are slow. Gary says restaurants have been eager to participate, seeing tour participants as potential new customers. For participants, who for most tours pay $45, it's a deliciously edifying afternoon that is every bit as deliciously eat-ifying.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Her blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/dining.