Food Tour to Restore Sanity

The invitation read “Mystery to Restore Sanity.” The artwork from Saturday’s rally was brilliantly converted, switching out Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert‘s faces with George Washington wearing a mask.  When you clicked on the mask you got directions to a meeting spot.

I’ve been in a Mystery Club for 20 years.  Two couples plan an activity for the rest of the group of 13 couples.  They send out an invitation with clues and directions.  The mystery is the activity.  We’ve had dance lessons, karate lessons, and art lessons.  We’ve cooked, acted, driven race cars, had scavenger hunts, bike tours, and walking tours.  Every event includes food, sometimes at a restaurant and sometimes catered.
For this particular event, we gathered at the fountain in Old  Town Alexandria.  When I was told the activity was a food tour of Old Town, I literally jumped up and down.  Juvenile, I know.  But when it comes to food, that’s how I am.  Before arriving I had wondered if the event would be bloggable, and once I knew it was, words started racing through my brain before we even started the tour.

Our food tour included three restaurant stops with some history lessons of the area thrown in along the way.  Our first stop was Union Street Public House, housed in a historic townhouse and billing itself as a “neighborhood tap and grill.” Most of the group had chosen not to eat shellfish, but those of us who did started our eating adventure with a crab and lobster cake served with a salad, while the rest of the group dined on trout.

crab and lobster cake

While we ate we played a game, created by our Mystery group’s organizers, where we had to correctly identify twelve different spices.  I’ve seen this done on “Top Chef.”  I had no idea how difficult it was going to be for me.  I am clearly a better diner than I am a chef.

We departed from the first stop and walked for a few blocks while our tour guide shared a couple of stories about the architecture in the neighborhood.. Our next stop was Bilbo Baggins. The meat eaters had smoked chicken quesadillas with a mango black bean salsa and an Asian spring roll.  The veggie eaters had a portabella mushroom with tomatoes, pesto, and brie.

portabella mushroom

Again our organizers had a game for us to play, a quiz having to do with The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings

Our final stop was at Overwood, Woodfired American Kitchen.  Our dishes here included a toasted pasta with a tomato sauce and a tower of crispy green tomatoes with cheese and jalapeno aioli with shrimp on top for those who so desired.  Men and women sat separately at this location, and our task was to create a poem or song using a selection of candy (and prunes). For the record, the women’s song was infinitely better than what the guys came up with.

tower of crispy green tomatoes

Our meal concluded with a traditional Alexandria dessert, a jelly cake from Bittersweet Bakery.  I grew up near Alexandria and had no idea there was such a thing.   I liked it!

As food tours go, this one was just ok.  It was nice to get a taste (literally) of a few Old Town Alexandria restaurants, which I would probably otherwise never experience.  But the tour guide and the tour itself were fairly weak, and the meal didn’t feature any standout dishes. I couldn’t help but compare the food tour to others I have enjoyed in New York City, which featured terrific food and memorable tour guides. Although I admit, it is hard to compete when you’ve had a tour guide who was an Emmy-winning investigative journalist who had been imprisoned in Afghanistan. 

I lost a little sleep as I tried to figure out what I was going to write about the evening, as I had already committed myself to doing so.  I worried about insulting the evening’s planners if I wrote negative comments about the food or the tour.

But in the middle of the night I woke with a start and thought about the “Rally to Restore Sanity/and or Fear,” an event which I must admit I ended up experiencing from the comfort of my couch. (I have had a fear of crowds since an unfortunate experience at Preakness when someone threw a full beer can up in the air and it hit me on the head. So what if it was 30 years ago…it hurt!)

The rally was creative, humorous, and effective in bringing people together.  My Mystery Club event was all of those things and more. We got to go to restaurants!

The more I write about dining out, the more I realize that rarely is a meal perfect.  Regardless, gathering with friends for an entertaining night out is priceless.  I don’t know about you, but my sanity pretty much depends on it.

Union Street Public House, 121 South Union Street, Alexandria, VA
Bilbo Baggins, 121 South Union Street, Alexandria, VA
Overwood, 220 North Lee Street, Alexandria, VA

DC Metro Food Tours

My rating (on a 1-5 scale):   3

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