Local foodie offers samplings of Capital City essentials

Kimberly Harper was visiting Miami and looking online for something to do to get a feel for the city. She found the perfect idea in a Cuban food tour. She’d also found herself a new career.

“About halfway through the Miami tour, I knew a Baton Rouge food tour would be a great idea,” says Harper, a self-admitted foodie. “We have the right food and right history.”

Before launching Baton Rouge Food Tours last fall, Harper did lots of research. She bounced the idea off friends and family, and got a thumbs-up from everyone.

“I go on a food tour of every city I visit. My last one was in Savannah, Ga.,” she says. “I went to a lot of local restaurants beforehand to taste. I developed relationships with the restaurant owners and chefs. Eventually, I found the ones I wanted to work with.”

Because of the number of restaurants now found in downtown Baton Rouge, many of them in historic buildings, and the plethora of other historic sites in the area, Harper knew that focusing her tour downtown was the way to go. It also allowed her to make it a walking tour, although with multiple stops to eat along the way it’s more like a stroll.

On the crisp, sunny day we went on the almost three-hour, one-mile tour, Harper was escorting Paula and David Tockrum, of Jarrell, Texas. They were in town visiting daughter Angela, a welding engineer with Entergy’s Riverbend nuclear facility. Also joining us was Kimberly’s mom, Christy Harper, who served as her daughter’s guinea pig as she tasted food and honed her presentation.

The tour began at Poor Boy Lloyd’s with the quintessential roast beef poboy — mayo on the side.

“I had some tour-goers from up north who didn’t like mayonnaise, so they put it on the side now,” says Harper with a laugh.

Once we can all give her a rousing “C’est Si Bon!,” we’re off to stop No. 2, the Hilton Capitol Center, the tour’s only non-food stop. Here Hebert explains the hotel’s restoration, it’s colorful connection to former Gov. Huey Long, the mysterious tunnel connecting it to the King Hotel across the street and other interesting tidbits.

She also takes us up to the historic Heidelberg Ballroom, where we step outside for a magnificent view of the Mississippi River.

En route to our third stop, the upscale Stroubes, Harper points out the Shaw Center for the Arts, the Old State Capitol and the new Town Square. At Stroubes we sample duck and andouille gumbo as well as corn, crab and brie bisque. As we enjoy our soup, Harper gives a crash course on making a roux, the “holy trinity” of onions, celery and bell pepper; and talks about the many festivals in Louisiana.

“If we eat it, there’s a festival for it,” she says, “ and we eat everything.”

In walking from Stroubes to Zolia Bistro Enoteca, we learn the City Club was once the post office.

Our taste at Zolia, which mean’s fruit of the earth, is Shrimp on a Hot Tin Roof, a tasty dish whose sauce is made with local Tin Roof Beer.

Back on the street, we pass historic St. James Episcopal Church to reach The Lobby Café, once home to The Morning Advocate. Here we sampled another South Louisiana staple — the muffuletta.

By this point, no one minds the walk between stops. It’s the only way we can manage to keep sampling all the delicious food.

St. Joseph Cathedral, another historic downtown church, is a point of interest on our way to Restaurant IPO, where Harper explains award-winning chef Scott Varnado is all about bringing food fresh from the farm to the table. Our taste buds are titillated with his duck poppers.

Of course, no culinary feast would be complete without dessert and this one’s no exception. For our sweet fix, we head to the Hilton’s Kingfish Grill for Bananas Foster Beignets and a cup of Community Coffee, getting the scoop on the locally made java as lagniappe.

“This is a great way to experience the city,” says the man from Texas, David Tockrum.

“You really get a feel for the culture,” adds his wife. “So, where do you want to eat dinner tonight?”

The Tockrums take the tour map, with its coupons from the participating restaurants, and start mulling over their choices.

“I love introducing people to food, teaching them how to eat things like crawfish, oysters,” says Harper, who has a degree in special education. “I’ve always had a passion for people and for food.”

Baton Rouge Food Tours take place on Thursdays and Fridays at 11 a.m. and Friday nights at 6 and costs $45 per person, payable in advance.

For more information, visit batonrougefoodtours.com or call (800) 838-3006.