exploring and revisiting, flotsam, travel

St. Augustine – Friday

Before I flew down, I went over to TripAdvisor to see what-all there is to do in St. Augustine. Guess what? There’s literally hundreds of things-to-do in St. Augustine. I sent the Top 10 link to the boy, hoping, but not saying (and not expecting) that he’d want to do The Savory Faire tour. Because really, whatever he wanted to do would be fine. I was going to see him, and see a new place, and take pictures. Anything else is gravy. So to speak.

I didn’t say, “This is what I hope we’ll do.” But that’s exactly what he thought we should do. It was Number One on the list, yo.

A 1:30 start meant we had plenty of leisurely time to ease into a day off, get ourselves ready, and get our bearings in town before the tour started.

It was hazy and overcast, threatening but never delivering rain, and in the mid-60’s. Chilly to the Floridians, but a lovely respite to visiting northerners. The warm weather, fresh air, and slightly European feel made me understand why people come back again and again… and why some people choose to retire here. We walked along the waterfront, past the city gates to the Fort (it’s just like this in Cuba, the boy tells me; you stumble across remnants of the old city walls in the middle of the current city), walking its grounds and trying to imagine what the city would have felt like in the days when the fort was the biggest and perhaps most important building around.

Meanwhile, TripAdvisor was my only source of information on the Savory Faire tour. I knew that it had almost universally great reviews. I knew that there was a tour guide (or one of them) named Mia that people seemed to love. The TripAdvisor page says it’s $45 all inclusive pp and the reviews warn not to eat ahead because participants will be *so full* by the end.

The boy had ordered tickets from City Walks directly, so he knew a few more details. Yes, not to eat ahead was still suggested. But “all inclusive” didn’t include any beverages. Well, I suppose you could get water, and the preggy couple in our group did just that. There was an upsell if you wanted beer or wine (half-pours, just for taste, to complement the food).

The Savory Faire tour takes you to 5 restaurants that each represent a different culture that influenced St. Augustine. (Well, except for the Avilés restaurant in the Hilton, which does its own thing). At each one, you just have a little sampling. In between your nibbles, you walk from one restaurant to another, and hear a little more about the city and the settlers. Our tour guide – the famous Mia – also pointed out additional restaurants that are very good in the area, since obviously they can’t take us to all of them. And there were a few “extras” that get thrown in … stops that are not one of the 5 restaurants but where there’s something to enjoy along the way.

First Restaurant: The Tasting Room

The first restaurant on the agenda was The Tasting Room. There we had tapas of monchega cheese and spanish marcona almonds in an olive oil and sherry reduction, and a small piece of pork, seasoned subtly with curry, on a skewer.

First "extra" stop: Vino Del Grotto

After we left The Tasting Room, the first of several “extra” stops were thrown in. At Vino-Del-Grotto Winery, we tried orange wine, and a sherbert flavored wine cooler mix. All too sweet for my taste… but definitely new.

Second "extra" stop: Pop-n-Off Gourmet Popcorn

We also made an “extra” stop at Pop-n-Off Gourmet Popcorn, where we could try flavors ranging from sweet to savory to spicy. It was just a little taste of each, but for the record? AWESOME.

Third "extra" stop: Spice & Tea Exchange

Then we swung by The Spice & Tea Exchange. Which has a wide world of spices and seasonings but the scent was so overwhelming that it was impossible to distinguish any one item from another. And they served us a homemade tea that did not very much for either of us, but it was still nice of them to offer it.

Second Restaurant: La Pentola


From there, we criss-crossed through town to our second official stop, La Pentola, which was described culturally as an Italian/Minorcan restaurant. There we were served a small but delicious family style deal to share – one ravioli and two shrimp per person, plus some bread – while Mia explained how Minorcans came to St. Augustine and the early politics of the place.

Final "extra" stop: Hot Stuff Mon

One more (final) “extra” stop was squeezed in here, to a local shop that hawked hot sauces. They let us taste two of the sauces if desired. Which I did. Just… OK. The boy picked up a jar of super hot sauce for a colleague (which, unfortunately, ended up dropping out of the bag later and cracked open).

Third Restaurant: Aviles

The third restaurant on the tour was Avilés, in the Hilton (the smallest Hilton in the Americas). In order to get there, we came up the historically-significant steps of what was once a whites-only hotel that wouldn’t let Martin Luther King Jr in – he waited there on the steps and ultimately was arrested – the notoriety spread and the hotel no longer exists, but the stairs remain. At Avilés they served us a small but tasty piquillo pepper stuffed with goat cheese … a perfect balance of mild sweetness in the pepper and mildly savory in the filling.

Fourth Restaurant: Meehan's

The fourth restaurant was Meehan’s Irish Pub, along the waterfront. There we were served a half-cup of clam chowder (I’m not a fan of clam chowder; the broth and potatoes were very good; I left the clams behind and the boy ended up eating them), a deep-fried reuben appetizer (think, half an eggroll, but filled with the makings of a reuben… I don’t like reubens either, apparently, and I had believed up until now that anything could be rendered palatable by deep frying it) and an oyster. Which was cooked, and delicious (even if scary looking) and about the size of a nickel.  The drinks were full-size here, though, due to an error at the bar.

Inicidently, the two-sips-per of wine I was having over the course of the day? Getting me a little tipsy anyway.

Our final “restaurant” of the day was Savannah Sweets, a candy and fudge shop tucked away in town. (Sorry, no photo. Did I mention the wine? Did I mention the full pour at Meehan’s?)

Mia had started the day telling us that – because we would probably be too full by the time we got to dessert – she would make sure we could take our dessert to go.  What this actually meant was that we went into the fudge shop and were allowed to buy one item from behind the counter. A piece of fudge, a truffle, a chocolate turtle, a candied apple, a praline… like that.

I picked a dark-chocolate-almond turtle, and the boy got a chocolate-coconut cluster. Then it was 4:30, and Mia was off to meet her 5PM “Pub Crawl” tour, and we were on our own.

What I loved about this tour: We really did get to sample a lot of different foods, some of which I would probably never have ordered on my own. Experientially, it was definitely an adventure. There were some nice unadvertised “extras” thrown in (which although really promotional for those shops, were still sometimes fun and interesting for us). And it was a several-hour source of entertainment, with all the eating just a series of “nibbles” spread out all over town. And Mia was fun and upbeat, and as always I had a good time hanging around with the boy.

What we didn’t love about the tour: It was pretty pricy, once you factor in everything. The historical/cultural aspects of the tour started to fade out after the third stop. And all the hype about how full we’d all be? Well, no, not so much. I mean… no, I wouldn’t eat a hearty lunch just before starting the tour, but this is roughly how the boy recapped it, in a small but private rant on the cobblestone streets:

Yes, it was good. Yes, it was fun. But I’m not “full” – are you “full”? We’re looking around for the restaurants to start serving dinner, and we just finished a food tour not 10 minutes ago. What did we get? No really, think about it. Three bites of cheese, two almonds, a small piece of pork. A ravioli and two shrimps. What else? A small pepper. Oh yeah, a little bit of soup you didn’t finish, one tiny oyster, and that fried thing you didn’t like. And a cookie for dessert. No, don’t count the “extras” (even though the popcorn *was* really good). Everything was good, but what I’m saying is, don’t keep going on and on about how full I’m going to be, when there’s no way anyone’s going to be full.

On that point, he was right. We killed half an hour in poking around town, and then ended up back at the first restaurant for tapas for dinner. Each of us picked two tapas to share. Each of us, I think, picked something that was really, really good, and something that was just OK. But it was a fun experience, even if by then I was starting to get a headache.  Something about wine and walking, I guess.

But we enjoyed the lights and colors of the city, and I stopped for a really delicious hot chocolate at Luvberry (also, no picture, sorry)… which was really tasty if not hot enough. He said he didn’t want any (I got the impression he’d never tried hot cocoa before) so I shared with him. So we strolled in the dark and sipped our not-quite-hot cocoa in the cool night until it was dark and a little too cold and I really needed to get back to meds and rest… a quiet, cozy evening in front of the TV.

The presence of someone who makes you feel safe and peaceful and happy can be such a blessing … even if you’re just sleeping off a headache while they watch cheesy Friday night TV.

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