It’s an evening of the unexpected. A group of 22 people, most of whom don’t know one another, are sauntering down Salem Street in the North End, restaurant hopping on a summer night, hungry for a culinary adventure.
We are all part of Dishcrawl, a 2½-hour tour of four restaurants. We stop at each for one course, so by the end we’ve eaten a meal. It’s similar to a progressive dinner, but the idea here is to get a taste of several neighborhood restaurants and bring people together over food. Except for the first location, which is the meeting place, the restaurants are kept secret. Tickets are $45, which doesn’t include drinks.
Dishcrawl tours were started three years ago by Tracy Lee, 29, while she was working in sales for a tech company in Silicon Valley and writing a food blog. She thought of the idea of reinventing a pub crawl with food. “I love taking people on food adventures,” says Lee on the phone. For her first event in Los Angeles, 90 people signed up; for her second in San Jose, there were 120. She knew she was onto something and quit her job. “I wanted to do my own start-up,” she says. Lee trains “ambassadors,” as guides are called, online, and runs tours in 120 cities in the United States and Canada.
Our group meets at a pub. Really, an Irish pub in the North End. Goody Glover’s is a peculiar choice, but then again, the area was an Irish community in the 19th century, and we did come to try new places. Guide Sydney Manning leads the group to the cozy, dark wood upstairs bar. We nibble on spring rolls stuffed with scallion mashed potatoes laced with bits of crispy bacon, along with spicy chicken wings and halved burgers. This is greasy but tasty, pub grub. The space is tight and it’s easy for Dishcrawlers to introduce themselves. “There’s a lot of mingling going on,” says Manning, a recent Emerson marketing graduate. “That’s our mission.” The group is diverse: a couple from Marblehead, a retired teacher from Newton, college students, two women working in Boston with newly minted Princeton degrees, some local businessmen and their wives.
When the bill comes, everyone divvies up what he or she owes for drinks before heading out.
Our next stop is Bacco Ristorante & Bar, where the setting sun has lit the restaurant’s facade with a glow. Manning divides the group to make it easier for the restaurant to serve us quickly; each stay is 45 minutes. Assistant Emily Small, another recent Emerson grad, leads one group, Manning the other. She steers us to the bar with its floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the bustling neighborhood. We grab beer and wine as platters of garlicky calamari with spicy peppers and marina sauce are set down alongside dishes of golden arancini balls, which contain fontina and basil risotto, and plates of prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella. After the pub grub, this is heavenly.
Our group moves on to the Roman-style restaurant La Famiglia Giorgio’s Ristorante, where we sit at a long table and dine on antipasti: Parma prosciutto, marinated mushrooms, artichokes, platters of meatballs as big as clementines, in a bright marinara sauce, all served family style. Dark wood wainscoting and terra cotta walls give the room an authentic feel. One of the college students, a movie buff, entertains the table with his knowledge of films and gives recommendations. We dig in, but portions are generous and we barely make a dent.
The group reconvenes for our final destination, the dessert course. We’re wondering which cannoli spot or Italian bakery our ambassador has chosen.
It turns out we’re having cupcakes, another surprise. The group is a bit disappointed. “Where’s the cannolis?” asks one. “A slice of tiramisu?” Then again, Lulu’s Sweet Shoppe’s version of a Hostess cupcake is so rich and chocolaty, it more than satisfies a craving for something sweet.
Now all we need is espresso. But we’re on our own.
The next Dishcrawl takes place on Aug. 21 in Brookline (Coolidge Corner). Go to www.dishcrawl.com/boston.
Ann Trieger Kurland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.