Explore the roots of good food

Friday, August 31st, 2012


Central Coast Food Tours

Nothing can connect someone to the character of a region like its cuisine. When a delicious morsel made from locally grown food melts in one’s mouth, sending endorphins into the brain like fireworks before settling satisfactorily in the stomach, the land and body literally become one.

Experiencing the Central Coast is synonymous with tasting its food, but trying to pick a few restaurants that capture the unique spirit of the area can be a daunting task, especially if time is tight and knowledge is lacking. Luckily, there’s a business that takes hungry visitors on downtown walking tours that guarantee to have everyone leave town feeling like a local.

Central Coast Food Tours is owned and operated by husband and wife team Laura and Yule Gurreau. They started the business in 2011 by partnering with local restaurants and taking groups of up to 12 people on a two-mile trek through San Luis Obispo’s vibrant downtown corridor. The combination of food and history quickly became the city’s No. 1 ranked tour on tripadvisor.com, and the success prompted the Gurreaus to expand recently into Paso Robles.

“We’re just local people who love this area and want to share our enthusiasm with visitors,” said Laura Gurreau, who started the business with her husband in April of 2011. “We want to shine a light on the back street finds.”

Yule leads the San Luis Obispo tours, introducing travelers to six to eight eateries (depending on the season) with unique styles and flavors that represent the diverse qualities of college town. Most are small, hole-in-the-wall type gems that locals love but that tourists might easily overlook. Laura handles the North County operations.

“Some of the county’s best restaurants are in Paso,” she said.

Each stop on the tour includes a pre-arranged, snack-size serving of the establishment’s finest offerings. Be prepared to taste decadent truffles, fresh salads, rich olive oils, exotic meats, house-made sodas, pastries and much more. The five stops on the Paso Robles tour offer a wide variety of flavor – from hearty, home-style French food to crisp vegetable medleys – but one thing all the chefs have in common is an unshakable respect for local produce. Their menus change seasonally as new fruits become ripe and coastal fisherman haul in new catches.

All together, there’s plenty of food for a full meal (and even take-out boxes), but the fine dining is broken up with easy strolls through interesting neighborhoods, giving everyone time to digest and make room for more morsels.

Of course, a tour of Paso Robles wouldn’t be complete without a little wine tasting, and Laura doesn’t disappoint. Her tour includes two opportunities to sip Paso’s claim to fame, and the wines are expertly paired with delicious dishes.

The food is the obvious star of the show, but the tours include much more than a list of restaurants and some lunch. The Gurreaus did extensive research with the San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles Historical Societies to learn about the region’s dramatic history and architecture. They also sat down with each of their featured business owners to learn the story behind the food.

“Wine has kind of taken over the culture, but there’s still this old, authentic history that’s really enchanting,” Laura said.

She introduces participants to Victorian homes owned by Paso Robles’ founding fathers, including a man whose nephew was the infamous Jesse James. Did you know that the bank robber himself once visited old Paso Robles’ mineral springs to help restore his health after a shoot out? Or that the town sits atop a network of tunnels, possibly used for running whiskey during Prohibition? Ever wonder why most of San Luis Obispo’s buildings are made of brick, or why all the houses seem to have front porches? And how did local hero and famed developer Alex Madonna get his start?

These questions will be answered along with details about Father Junipero Serra and the groundbreaking at the iconic San Luis Obispo mission. Participants will hear the heroic (and allegedly haunting) tale of a hotel clerk who sacrificed his life to save several others while the Paso Robles Inn burned. They’ll learn how Black Sheep Bar and Grille got its name, and they’ll hear the heartwarming tale of how a departed regular got a plaque in a table at Jaffa Café.

Even jaded, long term residents are bound to learn something new about the many works of public art that decorate their home town or possibly discover a wonderful restaurant they’d always known about but never tried for one reason or another. It’s a great activity for tourists, but it’s also perfect for Cal Poly alumni doing reunion get-togethers. Between feeding your stomach and feeding your brain, there’s not a dull moment. The tour guides are friendly and helpful, willing to answer questions on any topic. They’ve even developed an “Insider Finds” packet that helps tourists plan their entire vacation, offering tips on local activities, hotels, and hikes.

To book your own delicious adventure, go to centralcoastfoodtours.com or call (800) 979-3370. Tours cost $69 per person, last between two and three hours, and take place rain or shine.

— Nick Powell

About the Author