FAIRHOPE — The Fairhope culinary scene ebbs and flows like the tide. In the fall of 2020, as restaurants around the area were getting back to a new normal, Taste of Fairhope joined the scene …
FAIRHOPE — The Fairhope culinary scene ebbs and flows like the tide. In the fall of 2020, as restaurants around the area were getting back to a new normal, Taste of Fairhope joined the scene with a mission to connect people to the city through food.
Culinary food tours are popular in cities flush with tourists and tasty food. They are a fun and efficient way to hit multiple restaurants in one meal, learn the local history, see the city and meet new people. You may be surprised to know that the couple behind Taste of Fairhope and Bienville Bites Food Tour had never been on a food tour before deciding to start the Bienville Bites in 2017.
Chris and Laney Andrews live in Mobile with their young family. According to Chris, he has always been the person people ask for restaurant recommendations and Laney has always been big on hospitality.
"A friend of ours told us about a food tour she took in Savanna (Georgia)," Chris Andrews said. "We were like that is it. We have to do this because we knew someone else would if we don't."
Andrews knew creating a food tour in Mobile was something he needed to do when he couldn't stop thinking about it. He began to research food tours around the country and learned it was a common thing and there were hundreds of them across the country. He located a food tour consultant in Chicago and headed there to take his first tour and learn about the business.
Bienville Bites took guests on the first tour in Mobile in the fall of 2017 and has been going strong for five years. They have grown, added tours and work with 20 different restaurants throughout Mobile. Andrews said they had a lot of feedback from people asking them to add tours in Fairhope and he knew it was the natural place to expand.
"There are so many great restaurants in downtown Fairhope," Andrews said. "Of course, everything that happened in 2020 (COVID-19 pandemic) delayed our plans. My wife Laney decided in the fall of 2020 she wanted to go ahead and do it. She headed it up and started the tour in Fairhope while I was running things in Mobile. We were probably the only food tour in the world that started in 2020."
What to expect
Andrews offered to take myself and Gulf Coast Media photographer Micah Green on a private tour to experience it firsthand.
The tour kicks off at Provision where we met up with our tour guide, Andrews, and were led to a reserved seating area. We were treated to a Provision mule and avocado West Indies toast. The cocktail package is an add-on that I highly suggest. I have eaten and cocktailed previously at every restaurant on the tour and had never tried any of the three cocktails included. They are now in my regular rotation.
The avocado West Indies toast was piled high with lumps of crabmeat. Andrews said the dishes selected for the tour are based on local staple dishes or restaurants' signature dish. West Indies salad originated at Bayley's Restaurant on Dauphin Island Parkway around 1947 and is a Mobile Bay dish. The tour guides also give guests the history of the region.
As we headed to our next stop, Andrews showed us some of the stops the tour makes to discuss the history of Fairhope, like the Fairhope Museum.
Our next stop was Bay Breeze Café for their signature dish tomato bisque soup and grown-up grilled cheese. We also sampled their cocktail called The Karen.
Once we finished, we headed to Panini Pete's for beignets and the house roasted turkey panini. Andrews explained how Pete's beignets are different from those in New Orleans.
After dusting the powdered sugar from our clothes, we headed to Happy Olive for an olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting with owner Sue Rusyniak. I hate to admit it, but it was the first time I had ever been in the store, and I was surprised by their selection. Rusyniak taught us the proper way to taste the olive oil, which was a bit spicy with fresh grassy notes. The vinegar was delicious. We also sampled some of the house made mustard which even Andrews had never tried.
Andrews said the stop at Happy Olive gives guests a moment to take a break from eating and learn something new. They also have time to shop before heading to the next tour stop.
Next up was Dragonfly Foodbar for a firecracker shrimp taco and turnip fries, both of which will always be found on my table when I dine at Dragonfly. It was the cocktail, the Dragon's Eye, that was new for me, and it was a delight.
The last and final stop on our tour was Mr. Gene's Beans for the classic Fairhope Float. On the walk across the street, Andrews said he has had tour guests that did not like coffee but loved their Fairhope Float. It truly is the signature item of the iconic Fairhope ice cream shop.
As we slowly headed back toward Provision, Andrews gave us some more Fairhope history. The tour was ending, and Micah Green and I were stuffed to the gills.
Being a tourist in your own town or area can open your eyes to things you did not see before and teach you new things. Despite living in Fairhope for nine years, I learned things I did not know.