It's cold and overcast when I pull into Sea Sea Riders, a seafood restaurant on Dunedin's Main Street. I'm flustered because I'm running late, about 5 minutes past our 1 p.m. start time, and I pull my sweater around me to ward off a gust of wind as I walk up the ramp to the restored 1903 Old Florida home-turned-restaurant. Kimberly McAvoy greets me at the door.
I'm here for a food tour of Dunedin, which McAvoy will guide and says will be intentionally coastal in fare. You pay one price for a ticket, which includes food at a handful of stops and drinks at a few — if you want more to drink, you can pay for it on your own. On the menu for the day: mahi mahi, lobster and the piece de resistance, a whole fried snapper. It's a walking tour, no more than a mile and a half total. I worry, briefly, about the thickness of my sweater, but I'm happy about the chance to walk off what I'm anticipating will be a full stomach.
McAvoy and her business partner Mari White, both of whom live in Tampa, started Tampa Bay Food and Craft Beer Tours in summer 2017. In addition to a Dunedin food tour and a separate Dunedin craft beer tour, they now have tours in St. Petersburg's EDGE District, and will begin tours in the Tampa Heights area in February.
McAvoy particularly likes giving tours of Dunedin, she said, and our tour kicks off with its first factoid: Ninety percent of Dunedin's businesses, according to McAvoy, are owned or co-owned by women.
How it went
At Sea Sea Riders, where I join a table of about 10 other tourgoers, we're offered an option of a craft beer or a blood orange margarita. I opt for the margarita while McAvoy tells us what to expect that day, which, after our meal of mahi mahi at Sea Sea Riders, will include a stop at a craft brewery and dessert at a waterfront restaurant.
We are, indeed, treated to a coastal spread. At Cueni Brewing Co., we're served flights of craft beer that include a porter, a wit and a light brew cheekily named Fizzy Yellow Beer. Then, decadent lobster pizza from Lucky Lobster Co. a few doors down, which challenges the notion that seafood and cheese don't mix. Hush puppies, jambalaya and housemade honey remoulade await us at Happy's Bayou Bites, a food truck/dine-in hybrid at which a live band (one man with a washboard strapped around his neck) plays behind the truck.
At Hog Island Fish Camp, we are served the whole red snapper, scored and flash-fried then baked over mussels, clams and shrimp. Hogfish sliders (a Hog Island must-try, according to McAvoy) round out the meal. We finish the day at Bon Appetit for coffee and petite desserts, mine consisting of peanut butter mousse and chocolate cake.
McAvoy is attentive and knowledgeable throughout the tour. She points out painted oranges on local buildings, a Dunedin hallmark celebrating its history in the citrus industry, and gives information about surrounding businesses, including the location of the one-time Skinner orange concentrate plant.
The tour is impressive and a deeply satisfying experience. We meet restaurant owners, like Jon Cueni of Cueni Brewing Co. and Mark Jordan of Happy's Bayou Bites, and the food is delicious, abundant and varied. And yes, I was full.
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Tours are kept small, usually ranging from six to 12 people, McAvoy said, to make sure they feel intimate. Generally, tours last about three hours and include five to seven stops in an intentional, thoughtfully planned route that showcases a variety of local cuisines and specialties. It's a great way to spend an afternoon, whether you're from out of town or you've lived in the area your whole life.
Contact Carlynn Crosby at firstname.lastname@example.org