By Tara Dickinson
Taste History Culinary Tour of Historic Delray Beach & Boynton Beach
It’s called a culinary historical tour, which we can translate as one delicious way to learn about your local history. This may be something you do every time you travel to a new place – or, it may be the first time you’ve ever considered such an adventure. As a first-timer on such a tour, I will have to say I was tremendously surprised – I would do the outing again and highly recommend it to all. The average age range? There wasn’t one. Our group covered the entire spectrum, with the youngest member of our group under 10 and the oldest, a proud and outspoken 94. There were two entire families with three generations in tow, a few out-of-staters, and then us locals from Boca Raton to West Palm Beach. A nice, unexpected aspect of the tour was getting to chat with so many different people, hearing their stories over plates of delicious food!
All aboard! We met at outside of Macy’s at the Boynton Beach Mall. Stepping onto a medium size tour bus with comfortable seats and solid air conditioning, we were greeted with a gift pack of local coupons, informative pamphlets, and a reusable tote bag from the City of Delray. Nice touch.
Now let me tell you about Lori Durante. She is the glowing, beautiful soul who narrates and organizes the next four hours of your life, and she’s got it down. No kidding: she is a walking Wikipedia of knowledge when it comes to Florida and all its intricate history. At 11AM we are off on our historic trip to the cities of Delray and Boynton Beaches. En route to Delray, Lori shares with us some of the fascinating details of Florida’s settlement history. Being a resident of the Sunshine State for more than 30 years, I even learned a few new things. I don’t want to give away all the fun facts, but I will share one: did you know that the origin of our state’s name comes from a Spanish explorer who was taken with our flowering jungle flora? He named it La Florida, which translates to “The Flowery” or “Feast of Flowers”. On the way to our first tasting we passed historic sections of the city, viewing old churches, buildings, and homes that are still in use from the 1920’s.
On the west side of Delray, we began at Sweet’s Sensational Cuisine and Catering. As the theme for this tour focused on ‘Floribbean’ culture (a mixture of local and Caribbean cultures), this was a perfect choice (SPOILER ALERT before the article’s conclusion: Sweets was my favorite stop). Now let me tell you: this was my first time having oxtail and curried goat. All I can say is, I’m hooked! We were presented with a buffet line of items to sample: rice and beans, fried plantains, empanada-like little vegetarian and meat pocket sandwiches, stewed browned chicken, curried goat, the most melt in your mouth layers-of-flavor oxtail, and of course Jamaica’s famous jerk chicken!
The cooking process, ingredients, and history behind the dishes were shared by the restaurant managers (this is another thing that makes the tour so noteworthy – you get to meet the owners, hear their stories, and feel their passion for feeding people). They host a monthly outdoor fish fry, featuring music and a community block party-like atmosphere. Why is the restaurant called Sweet’s? I’ll let you find out that one. Regardless, this is a hidden gem that I’m thrilled to have been introduced to.
The next destination was east of Swinton on Atlantic Avenue, at Café Bleu. This upscale, coffeehouse locale has all the right elements: the hip house vibe, with nice tunes flowing over the air, large windows and open airways, mural art, a comfy couch sitting area, outside tables, and an eclectic menu. We sampled ice-brewed coffee, featured wines, and some fruity herbal iced tea. Everything was top notch and had a great local ‘Delray’ feel. Cabana El Rey came next. The day before our tour was National Tequila day, so the restaurant concocted a signature drink with marinated pineapple, agave, lime, purple corn, and of course, tequila. Fantastico! No glass was left untouched. To accompany our refreshing beverage, we were served Cuban flavored ribs, a cabbage slaw, and yucca fries.
Having tapas-style portions throughout the tour was just right, allowing us to taste a variety of dishes without getting too full! A few more blocks down Delray’s main drag and we hit one of the ‘art’ stops on the tour. The Artists’ Guild is an extension of the Boca Museum of Art. Featuring all local artists, it was wonderful to see such talent displayed. Mediums ranged from sculpture to pastels, photography to screen prints. Everyone had a different favorite, and we were invited back for the rotating gallery openings thoughout the year.
Now, it was time for a bit of dessert. Le Macaron French Pastries delighted, with samples of over a dozen different macaron cookie treats. I was thrilled to find out these are made with almond flour and completely grain-free (so you know I had to test each flavor!). If you are on a gluten-free regime, this is a pretty safe bet. With flavors like basil, lavender, coconut, pistachio and raspberry, there will always be something to temp your taste buds. The tour continued with a visit to another local historic spot, The Colony Hotel. With many features still in place from the ‘20’s, the old school charm was quite evident and emitted a slower, relaxed pace. It makes you want to sit on the front porch and nurse a mint julep while watching tourists go by.
We then continued on back to Boynton Beach, learning that the names of these cities belong to their developers, who all hailed from Michigan. We passed by old fruit groves and vegetable packing plants, more historic buildings that are still going strong. The last destination was Palermo’s Italian Bakery, in operation for over 100 years! Another surprising treat to learn was that they never use sugar in any of their baked goods, relying on natural honey for sweetness. They also use the Cadillac of flours imported from Europe, semolina. Traditional, over-flowing abundance and down-home trustworthy family style is what sums up Palermo’s. Authentic Italian delights cover a range of choices, though the general consensus was that the rum-soaked bread treat was the clear winner. Again, it was a pleasure to meet the owner and chef, hearing the establishment’s history, making the dishes all that more personal and special.
Taste History Culinary Tours of historic Palm Beach County is a wonderful way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I will surely be going back on the other trips offered that cover the West Palm Beach, Lake Worth and Lantana areas. It was so fascinating to learn about the history of my new home and the surrounding cities. One can always read about history and see old photos; it really is a whole other experience to get out there and touch, taste and see history in your own backyard.
Taste History Culinary Tours of Historic Palm Beach County run every Saturday, covering Northwood Village/West Palm Beach/Lake Worth, Lake Worth/Lantana, and Delray Beach/Boynton Beach.
For more information, call 561-243-2662 or 561-638-8277 or e-mail: Tour@TasteHistoryCulinaryTours.org.