When the effects of the coronavirus pandemic hit the hospitality industry in 2020, it not only closed restaurant dining rooms, but put a stop to New Jersey’s food tours.
But with restaurants up and running again, food tours are starting up, too. These tours invite food lovers to explore a town by enjoying its restaurants’ signature dishes and learning about local history.
“For the first time in 15 months, we are opening public tours again, and it is really exciting,” said Alessia Aron, owner of Beyond the Plate Tours, which presents excursions in Jersey City, Red Bank and Somerville. “They (local restaurants) have been through hell and back, and we are just trying to support them as much as possible.”
Her company, previously Jersey Girls Food Tours, is one of seven that comprise the NJ Food Tour Trail.
“Initially, the female operators were really inspired by the (Upstate New York Food Trail) and how it connects all of the trails together across the state,” said Devon Perry, a representative of the NJ Food Tour Trail. “(COVID-19) made it flow seamlessly and easier to collaborate since everyone was used to working online.”
“We thought that coming together and creating the New Jersey Food Tour Trail would help us come out of the pandemic better,” said Audrey Wiggins, owner of On the Town Food Tours, another participant. “July 1 is our official opening date for all tour companies; some have started a little earlier than that, but everyone is now officially open.”
On the Town Food Tours offers tastings in Atlantic City, Bordentown, Collingswood, Haddonfield, Hammonton and Mount Holly. Other NJ Food Tour Trail companies include Asbury Park Food Tours, which showcases restaurants in the city; Cape May Food Tours, which focuses on Cape May; Sister Cities Food and Shop Tours, which highlights food favorites from Lambertville; Savor and Stroll Culinary Tours, which offers food and walking tours in Morristown; and Have You Met Newark Tours, which combines the history of Newark with local dishes.
Each company and details about its tours can be found at njfoodtourtrail.com/tours.
“I just thought it (Somerville Food Tour) was a very cool concept,” said Karin Giamella, owner of Blue Sheep Bake Shop in Somerville, one of the possible stops on the tour. “It is something that I would definitely participate in, and normally you see these kinds of things in the cities. I thought it was very cool to bring it locally.”
The companies offer 19 two- and three-hour tours, with prices ranging between $65 and $150 per person. Some tours have attendees explore an area while walking to different restaurants to sample dishes. Others are biking tours designed to feature local culture, history and food, and some include shopping.
Depending on the company, the group minimum is between one and six people. Each tour business has its own policy regarding COVID-19, but all companies expect guests to comply with the latest CDC guidelines and local restrictions.
“Our tours are open, and we do most of our tours outside,” said Mary Ockrymiek, owner of Cape May Food Tours. “There is only one stop that would be inside, and guests have the option to stay outside and not go in.”
“The small business shops have been really receptive, and the restaurants are excited to be back,” said Kathleen Carozza, owner of Savor and Stroll tours. “So even though some businesses struggled during the pandemic, others have blossomed.”
Somerville Beyond the Plate Food Tours brings attendees behind the scenes to meet chefs and learn about running a restaurant, all while tasting their dishes. There are four or five stops on this tour, and attendees can also sample beer, wine and cocktails. Stops can include the Fresh Tiki Bar, Project Pub and Village Brewing Company. The tour costs $99 per person; visit beyondtheplatefoodtours.com.
In Cape May
Cape May Food Tours is designed to showcase the resort town’s architecture while highlighting local restaurants. There are six stops on this walking tour, and attendees will have a chance to sample seafood, sweet treats, homestyle and contemporary cuisines. It takes about three hours to complete, and tours run rain or shine. Stops include Quincy‘s Original Lobster Rolls, The Original Fudge Kitchen and Aleathea’s. Tours cost $87 per person; visit capemayfoodtours.com.
In Asbury Park
Taste of Asbury Park’s Sip & Stroll Tour brings attendees closer to the history and dishes of the city. While strolling to six different stops, tour guides provide stories on the history and culture of Asbury Park. This tour is for people 21 and older, as alcoholic beverages will be available for sampling, and is designed to accommodate people of all walking speeds and wheelchairs. Stops include Purple Glaze Donuts, Cookman Creamery, Sami’s Street Food and Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten. Attendees also will be able to speak with restaurant owners and chefs. Tours cost $100 per person; visit tasteofasburyfoodtours.com.
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In Jersey City
Jersey City Beyond the Plate Food Tours offers five stops for tastings and one for dessert. Guests will meet chefs and other culinary experts along the way while learning about the history and culture of Jersey City from their tour guide. Stops include Jersey Wine and Spirits, Razza and Bang Cookies.
“The tours bring people to Jersey City, where they can explore all of the new and great things that we have going on here,” said Dan Richer, owner of Razza. “In addition to our regulars and neighbors, we love having the ability to share what we do with those visiting from out of town who are interested in tasting our pizza and all that Jersey City has to offer.”
Tours, which take place rain or shine, cost $99 per person. Visit beyondtheplatefoodtours.com.
In Atlantic City
On the Town Food Tours’ Atlantic City tour focuses on tradition and family: The tour showcases restaurants that have been handed down through several generations. Six stops are featured on this tour, which also includes a visit to the world’s most famous organ: White House Subs, Ducktown Tavern; and James Candy Company. The cost is $80 per person; visit onthetownfoodtours.com.
The company also offers tours in Haddonfield, where Bob Hochgertel is co-owner and managing director of Kings Road Brewing Co.
While Hochgertel, who serves on the Partnership for Haddonfield board to support local business growth, did not know about the food tours, he said he is happy for ideas that inspires more people to visit town.
“Anything that drives traffic into any downtown is good for all the businesses concerned,’’ he said. “And what we found when we did food truck nights is, we were initially concerned that they would hurt the restaurants, but it was quite to the contrary. The people that came in for food truck night were going into the restaurants when the lines were too long. It was good for all of us.’’
Another option is On the Town’s South Jersey Food Box. The box contains various local dishes and includes a half-hour tasting session with the owner of the company.
Morristown Savor and Stroll Tours highlight local history and favorite restaurants. Offering three or four stops, this 2½-hour tour is designed for everyone. Stops can include Seasons Olive Oil & Vinegar Taproom, Pierogies House and Enjou Chocolat. Children are welcome. Tours cost between $65 and $80 per person; visit savorandstrollculinarytours.com.
Editorial Intern Julia Duggan: [email protected]