The Fork and The Road returns!

After a few months of rest and rejuvenation . . . and lots of exploring new culinary treats, I am back to the website and blog. The past months have taken me to a food meeting in NYC which was beyond fabulous and an extended stay in south Jersey that totally cleared my mind and my constantly inflamed W PA sinuses. (Nothing like a beach breeze to cure all ills.) I’ve trekked to central PA for luscious produce and homemade ice cream, explored the history down to Pittsburgh’s south in Washington, PA and visited a brewery, a grain mill and a dairy up north of Butler.  But now it’s time to share my finds.

Blazing hot pizza oven at Keste in the West Village.

The culinary tours are still on the menu, but my focus is now mainly on charter tours. Here’s how it works. A business  purchases all 18 or 20 seats, and fills the seats with employees or customers as an incentive or “thank you” for work well done, great service or for stellar business patronage.The tours are also popular with book groups, garden clubs and “newcomer” clubs.  They’re a  great team building experience and a way to learn  about the many culinary treasures in our area without being worried about getting lost on the backroads.

The Fork and The Road is also currently doing  presentations on W PA culinary history to groups who are limited in time for a driving tour or who don’t care for riding on a bus . .albeit a luxury bus. These talks are lively, fun and involve tasting some local treats.

Milking time at Otterbein Acres farm near Carlisle. The cheese is available here in Pittsburgh in at least two markets.

If you’re looking for something new and different for your group, give me a call. I can build a unique tour specific to your group’s interests.


So many great places, so little time.

Sorry for the long gap since the last post.  A few new fall tours and some charter tours were underway and things got crazy.

Let me tell you about some of the many wonderful people and stops from recent trips.

First of all,  my tours are pretty informal, so by the end of the day, my guests feel like old friends to me.  This really is one of the best parts of the tours.  The people are just the best.  Just had to say this.

Jim Koontz, innkeeper at The Compass Inn Museum, with a few fabulous tour guests.

Second, the stops are great ( or I wouldn’t have selected them in the first place ) but the owners of the businesses or the docents at the museums or the managers at the stores . . or whoever welcomes us . . .really do make each tour special.  These are hard working folks who have a real passion for what they do.  And they want to share their enthusiasm.  I am truly honored that they are wiling to share their time and expertise with my tours.

Okay, so if you missed the tours this fall, I’ll give you a few places to visit on your own. The Compass Inn Museum in Laughlintown is just a treasure.  If you go, which you should, please ask for Jim Koontz (see his photo above.)  Jim is the innkeeper there, and he continually delights my groups with his knowledge  of the inn and of much, much more. During the holidays, The Compass Inn does candlelight tours. The small gift shop is a real gem, too.  Check out the MANdles (man candles) and the books of word trivia.  THE BEST.

Sharon Detar, owner of Connections Cafe and Tea Room, taught us how to make grilled pizza.

While you are in the Ligonier area, stop at Connections Cafe for lunch.  Sharon Detar, the owner, once worked for a vegetarian restaurant and her attention to healthy and fresh really shows.  Try her curried chicken salad and the white chocolate raspberry tart.

If you’re  out in the Mon Valley, take a drive through Belle Vernon to visit Melanie Patterson at the Good Ol’ Days House. You can usually find Melanie in her store across the street, and if you’re lucky, she’ll give you a quick tour of the bed and breakfast across the street.  Melanie carries lots of old time candy and also sells some delicious Gene and Boots ice cream.

Front of The Tin Front Cafe in Homestead

For some delicious food that is close to the Burgh, drive on over to the Tin Front Cafe in Homestead.  The lovingly prepared vegetarian food is a treat.  Ask for Ellie, Daniel or David to fill you in on the history of the building. And then mozy over to Judy’s cookware store next door.

The next sunny autumn day, take a few hours and visit some of these real gems right in our backyard!

 


The Laurel Highlands in April

Yes, it is April. But it’s April in southwestern Pennsylvania, so one can expect any type of weather. And yesterday, on the Laurel Highlands tour, we had about everything Mother Nature can dish out . . . snow, sleet, rain and sun. . . and we still had a great time.

Okay, so it didn't look like this outside yesterday. But it was snowing when we got on our way.

Deb and I carefully select our stops because we love what each location is doing with regards to food.  These are all hardworking food artisans or business owners who have a true passion for what they do.  We are always excited to have our groups get to know these wonderful folks out in the backroads of Western PA.  We try to mix it up . . some shopping, a little history, maybe a cooking demo, a tour of a kitchen. . so that there is something for everyone.

Our buddy, Jim Koontz, at The Compass Inn Museum

Chef Mark Henry from Treetops restaurant.

We also hand select the samples we give out, whether on the bus or in the goody bags.  We never pass out anything we wouldn’t eat ourselves. We also always like and respect the artisans who have crafted the foods that we sample. It’s a very important part of my company’s mission.   Companies such as Wild Purveyors, Millers Mustard, LaDorita Dulce de Leche and One Tuff Cookie and others provide our region with top notch foods. They are wonderful additions to the tours.

We can't forget Anna Jo Noviello, owner of Aunt Anna's Biscotti (photo courtesy of Aunt Anna's Biscotti)

The stops on our tours are amazing, but the guests on the tours are just as fantastic.  It is truly our pleasure to spend a day with them.  The tour is more like a day out with friends rather than a “canned”  guided tour. It’s relaxed and informal.  And we want everyone to have a good time.

Mouth-watering Desserts at Treetops in Acme

The current set of tours begin and end at McGinnis Sisters in Monroeville.  Karen Novak does a spectucular job of getting us some caffeine and a few treats in our bellies before we get on our way for a day of nibbling and dining. The day after each tour, I am always grateful for the wonderful people at our stops and our on tour bus.  Thanks to all of you for making this so much fun for us!!


Spring Culinary Tours from the Pittsburgh Area

A quick word about the spring 2011 tours.  After many requests for a Saturday tour, we’re venturing out to the Laurel Highlands  on Saturday, April 2.  If you went on this fun tour last fall, our newest version is similar, with a few little tweaks from last time. A new shop or two and a mini-factory tour.  But just like last October, we  meet some fantastic food purveyors and chefs and eat a lot of wonderful local foods. A delicious specially prepared lunch and award winning dessert are included, too.   And a local wine sampling!!

The Bedford tour on April 28 also has a few twists from the route we took last fall.  I know you’ll love the changes.  We sure do.  If you’ve been meaning to drive out to Bedford but never get there, let us do the driving for our culinary tour to historic Bedford.  Breathe in the fresh mountain air while we eat and drink our way through the town.  Good stuff.

Our new tour, the one with an Italian focus, is turning out  to be magnifico.  It covers many traditional Italian food specialties such as pasta, biscotti and cannoli along with some contemporary Italian cuisine. We’ll be meeting many personalities in the Italian world of Greensburg and surrounding areas, too. This tour is running twice. Once on Thursday, April 14 and then again on Thursday, May 12.

A few spots remain on most tours, and people come and go off the list  due to other commitments that arise, so if you are interested, please contact me at mary@theforkandtheroad.com or 412.576.1755.

All tours leave from McGinnis Sisters Special Food Store in Monroeville around 9 AM and return at about 5 PM.  The cost is $125, which includes transportation, all samples, meals, wine tastings and admission fees ( when applicable.)

 


Lancaster County Tours

White Chocolate Mousse with Frangelico. Notice the Whoopie Pies - gobs to Pittsburghers - peeping out from the background.

If I’ve ever needed one of those herbal cleanses I read about in magazines, today might be the day.  I spent the weekend in the Lancaster area on a Wine and Chocolate Tour with Lancaster County Tours, LLC, a culinary tour company. The weekend started with a chocolate buffet at my wonderful home base, The Artist’s Inn & Gallery, in Terre Hill.  The literature for this B&B mentioned that the “horse and buggies” would be clip-clopping past the Inn, and they were right.  It’s the loveliest sound. Really is.  I could have stayed in my cozy bed there all day just waiting for another carriage to pass by, but since chocolate… and wine were on the agenda, I sprung to action at 8AM for Jan’s delicious breakfast, which included yummy white chocolate French toast. The day ended with a special chocolate trio dessert at a trendy restaurant in downtown Lancaster.  The chocolate creme brulee was what dreams are made of.  ( I know, that sentence ended in a preposition. I don’t care.)  Each stop on the tour was delightful. . .  talented food and wine artisans, enthusiastic store owners and creative chefs.  The B& B folks ( five are involved with the tours) and the guests were friendly and fun. Really fun. I came home with a bunch of new Facebook friends.

Notice this old tin says Lunch Chocolate. We had breakfast, lunch and dinner chocolate on this tour!

I’m not sharing any stops on the tour because then it would ruin the excitement for your own trip. Which you really should do.  Oh, and there are other culinary tours coming up in the next few months and they would make great Mother’s or Father’s Day  gifts.

Next blog:  my first barrel tasting.  Definitely not my last barrel tasting.


Spring Culinary Tours

I’ve been super busy researching all of the fantastic stops for the Spring 2011 tours.  The Fork and The Road did a culinary tour to Bedford and to parts of the Laurel Highlands last fall, and both were terrific, but there’s always room  for a little tweak here and there.  The number of high quality artisanal foods in these areas just keep increasing and it’s so hard to decide where the tour bus should go.  So hard and so fun!

New this season is the Italian themed tour.  Of course, lots of testing of all of the stops and products is in order, so as soon as there is a day without ice and snow, I head out on Route 30 to investigate all things food. I’m not giving away any big tour secrets, but I can say I’ve been sampling dark chocolate truffles, freshly made cheese,  delicious pasta, crunchy biscotti and a variety of pasta sauces. Oh, and a little vino always enters the picture, too.  The Italian tour is a mix of “old school” and “cutting edge” cuisine. Good stuff.   We’ve already had quite a  response to this tour, so we’re doing two of them instead of just one.

The small tour size (18 people max.) allows us to have a more personal experience at out stops . . talking with the chefs, store owners or vintners.  So don’t delay in signing up.  A few tours are close to capacity.  For more info, click on the Tours tab above.  For even more info or to register, email me at mary@theforkandtheroad.com or call 412.576.1755.  Hope to see you on the bus!!


Yes, I am blogging about the Laurel Highlands . . . again.

But I can’t help it.  I can’t imagine another place with so many good foodie finds in such a small area. And so many nice people.  Today I’m thinking of Heather and Bob Kuban, who own Currant Thymes in Ligonier (136 E. Main Street, 724.238.2930) and Kandi Newell and her husband Dave,  who run Old Linn Run Coffee Roastery,  in Rector, Pennsylvania.  Not only did these folks generously give samples out to the ladies on my culinary tour, but they sell some of my favorite treats to purchase for myself and for gifts.

Good eatin' at Currant Thymes

One of my rules of stops on the tours is that the owners have to be kind and the products/services have to be the best.  Heather sells some of the finest maple syrup on the planet, tapped in Rockwood on the Paul Bunyan Maple Syrup Camp.   Their Maple Cream is smooth and sweet, heaven on a spoon, or on pancakes, waffles or toast, too.  Heather also carries a line of towels from a company called Mu Kitchen.(The Mu is missing an umlaut – two dots – over the u, but I couldn’t find it on the WordPress symbol tab.) They’re colorful and stylish, and I especially love the ones with the built in scrubbers. Heather samples a  warm spicy chocolate dessert soup, a broccoli cheese soup and a rich puff pastry hors’ deuvre filled with brie and Meyer lemon preservs. Oh my! And then there was Kandi.  Working hard to promote her small batch coffee roasting business, she cheerfully  explained all about their beans and the roasting process. And the subsequent brewed coffee was (is) the best. Full flavored with some zip, the Bobolink Farms Brazilian is my favorite.

My tour was called Hidden Culinary Treasures in the Laurel Highlands, but I would love it if everyone knew about these folks.  They wouldn’t be so hidden, but they’ll always be treasures to me.

Heather from Currant Thymes

Kandi from Old Linn Run Coffee Roastery


Sign up now for the fall tours!

Mix this kind of scenery with amazing food . . . and you've got The Fork and The Road Culinary Tours!

This fall, we are able to take larger groups on our culinary tours. It is going to be so much fun.  The tours are still small – maximum number of 18 people – and we are travelling in style in a luxury mini-coach. It really is comfy and nice, with big windows for watching the autumn leaves go by.

Our three day-long Autumn 2010 tours start and end at McGinnis Sisters Special Food Stores in Monroeville.  The October 21st tour focuses on the hidden foodie secrets of the Laurel Highlands.  Our October 26th  tour takes us to historic Bedford, Pennsylvania, which also has its share of hidden culinary gems.  The third tour, on November 12th, keeps us closer to Pittsburgh in the Gateway to the Laurel Highlands –  Greensburg, Latrobe and some  little towns in between.  Who knew there were so many great food experiences right in our eastern backyard?

Each tour includes round trip luxury transportation, tons of samples, a meal or two (depending on the tour), cooking demonstrations, some history of the area, and a few surprises. All meals, samples, and other fees such as museums are included in the cost.  A great time is guaranteed.

Don’t think we’ve forgotten about areas North, South and West of Pittsburgh, but you’ll have to wait for Spring for those tours.  We’ll keep you posted about the dates as soon as everything is lined up.

For additional information, click on the Tours tab.