Pamela Hess leads a DC Metro Food Tour at Eastern Market. She arranges special samples from the vendors and gives a history of the building to the group. The companys Capitol Hill Food Tour closely tracks the Barracks Row Heritage Trail.
Most Capitol Hill denizens pay us no mind, carrying on about their weekend business without giving my little, lollygagging group a second look. Others smile and wave — “Hope you all like our city,” one friendly gentleman called out from across the street — appreciative we’ve come to admire their neck of the woods.
So it goes on the leisurely strolls DC Metro Food Tours has been winding through the neighborhood since 2009.
The company, which is one of 10 regional branches managed by the parent Food Tour Corp., offers nine structured culinary outings spread all over town. The twin treks designed for the Southeast quadrant include the 3.5-hour Capitol Hill Food Tour and 1.5-hour Foods of Eastern Market exploration.
According to Food Tour Director Jeff Swedarsky, both tours continue to grow in popularity. Each experience is kept fairly intimate (about a dozen guests on the Capitol Hill trek; no more than seven going through the market) and highlights only carefully vetted vendors.
“What we try to do is tell the history of the city through food,” Christopher Pitt, FTC director of outreach and development and occasional tour guide, explained as we sauntered along. He stressed that the company tries to stick with independently owned restaurants “that source their food locally” and that also have ties to the community. Not that newcomers are necessarily shunned.
“We couldn’t have done this 15 years ago. ... There was nothing here,” Pitt noted before launching into his spiel about the ascendancy of Barracks Row.
Walking the Walk
Whether you grew up here or are just passing through, confidence is high that the Capitol Hill Food Tour will hold your attention for at least an afternoon.
The circuitous tour closely tracks the Barracks Row Heritage Trail, interweaving stops at historical sights (Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion Park, John Philip Sousa’s childhood home, Navy Yard) with pop-ins at a half-dozen Eighth Street eateries.
“We get 50-50 local to tourists,” Swedarsky estimated, adding, “foodies for sure.”
True to form, my tour group brought together a single woman from Manassas, Va., a pair of 30-something school teachers from King George, Va., and retiree couples hailing from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and Dallas.
Pitt marries recaps of the early days in Washington (“It was a backwater,” he repeatedly said) with modern tips. “This place has fried Oreos. They’re delicious,” he said as we passed DC-3. Likewise, when one of the out-of-towners fished for info about killer cupcakes, Pitt crowed about the Sweet Lobby’s Food Network win.