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Roaming Table tastefully pairs Lewiston's history, food

by jmaloni
Sat, Sep 9th 2017 10:00 am
Chef Carmelo Raimondi serves a Roaming Tour tasting to Karen Merkel inside Carmelo's Restaurant in Lewiston.
Chef Carmelo Raimondi serves a Roaming Tour tasting to Karen Merkel inside Carmelo's Restaurant in Lewiston.
Roaming Table tour includes 6 eateries, 2 monuments
By Joshua Maloni
Managing Editor
Lewiston has long been known for its history but, in recent years, it's made national headlines for its culinary offerings.
About five years ago, two residents had the good sense to combine these two things into an excursion they named "The Roaming Table."
Lewiston's food tasting and historical walking tour is a veritable smorgasbord of culinary delights, complete with a recounting of olden days and anecdotal tales from the village's storied past. Guests relish the unique opportunity to learn about the heroes and villains of yesteryear, the inspiration for two monuments, and the incredible efforts to free slaves.
Oh, and trust us, they're stuffed by the end of the three-hour trek.
The Roaming Table was created by Christopher Tepas, a school teacher, and his wife, Alicia, who works at a local hospital.
"It was a dream of ours to start a small business," she said. "We went to Denver, Colorado, just for vacation. And while we were there, my husband, Chris, asked me to pick a restaurant for dinner. Well, I couldn't decide, because there were so many great ones. He goes, 'Well, there's this food tour thing. You can try like six restaurants.' And I had never heard of a food tour. So, I said, 'OK. Let's do it.' So, we took it, and we fell in love with the idea.
"I was like, 'You know what? This would be amazing in Lewiston.' We have, what, 36-37 restaurants in a half-mile radius? And the history, this is such a historical area here."
"In Lewiston, a lot of the restaurants are chef-owned, and they're so unique," she added. "You don't see chain restaurants here. ... The people and the restaurants are such a part of the village. It makes it so special."
After a year of planning, The Roaming Table debuted in 2014.
Tepas said she and her husband had to be strategic in selecting participating restaurants.
"It was really challenging to pick, but I knew right off the bat that I wanted tastings that were unique to Lewiston - things you could only get here," she said.
The couple was mindful of walking distances, and sought to find eateries that could accommodate a post-lunch-pre-dinner tour (1-4 p.m., so as to not interfere with busy dining hours).
They also had to convince the restaurants the tour was worthwhile.
"When we approached them ... food tours you didn't really hear too much about," Tepas said. "Doing it in a small town was kind of unusual to see. And so, a lot of (the restaurant owners) thought we were trying to pull a fast one on them."
However, "Once we started doing it, people started getting the idea. 'Oh, OK, you're bringing people to us. We can show off our restaurant,' " Tepas said. "Every single one that started out with us five years ago is still on the tour today, unless they've closed down or moved. I think that shows how well it works for them."
As The Roaming Table's slogan states, "Your table is waiting at six restaurants." Tastings (not full meals) are offered at each stop on the tour and, in total, roughly equate to one extra-large plate of food.
Patrons start the excursion at The Silo Restaurant on Water Street, head up Barton Hill to Center Street, jaunt down to the southside historic district, go back up to The Orange Cat Coffee Co., and then back down toward the waterfront after a stop at The Village Bake Shoppe.
This writer took the tour last week Thursday, accompanied by two out-of-towners: "huge foodie" Karen Merkel, who works in corporate communications for a major utility company, and her guest, Greg Devlin, a Western New York bar/eatery proprietor. The guide that day was Rita Geiben, the wife of Town of Lewiston Councilman Bill Geiben.
Rita recently retired from Niagara University, and jumped at the chance to educate others about her hometown. She said her goal for each tour she leads is that guests will be entertained, learn about Lewiston (and tell a friend), and be satisfied with the day's offerings.
Plus, Geiben offers coupons.
A four-page handout is given to tour attendees. It includes the addresses, contact information and hours of operation for each partaking restaurant, as well as the addresses of Lewiston's other eateries; a map; and tickets for 10 percent off future purchases at Roaming Table eateries.
On this tour, participants were treated to a miniature version of The Silo's "Haystack," plus a mound of information about the former coal silo and its Great Gorge Railroad-era caboose.
From there, the tour headed to the Freedom Crossing Monument. On Friday and Saturday, the second food stop is at Water Street Landing.
Heading to Center Street, guests learned more about Lewiston's involvement in the War of 1812.
The Roaming Table's third destination was The Brickyard Pub & B.B.Q. There, participants learned more about Ken Bryan and Eric Matthews, the restaurateurs behind The Brickyard, the new Brickyard Brewing Co., Center Cut and Tin Pan Alley. Inside the restaurant, this writer, Merkel and Devlin snacked on sweet potato fries, smoked wings and a house brew.
Next up: Stops outside of the Lewiston Museum, the 200-year-old First Presbyterian Church (and adjoining Lewiston Cemetery) and the Frontier House.
A cookie and coffee break followed, with treats at DiCamillo Bakery and a beverage at The Orange Cat.
The "gem" of the tour, as we were told, was a stop inside Carmelo's Restaurant (Wednesday and Thursday only). A private seating took place just ahead of normal dinner hours. The tasting included a Swiss chard pancake with fresh-picked herbs - all fixed, plated and presented by chef and owner Carmelo Raimondi.
"It gives people that don't normally go out to these places an opportunity to try different flavors, because the village is so diverse with restaurants," Raimondi said of The Roaming Table. "It gives the person that is going through the tour the opportunity to try different foods. I think, all in all, it's great for the tourists."
Finally, guests were treated to a from-scratch miniature version of the "Mile-High Apple Pie" at The Village Bake Shoppe.
At the conclusion of the tour, Devlin said he enjoyed the variety.
"You didn't have a duplicate tasting or sampling," he said.
"Any one I would go back to," Devlin added.
"I thought they were all great, but I think the personal touch having Carmelo serve the dinner, I mean, not only was that food outstanding, but the fact that he took the time to serve it, and talk to you, and you got to know a little bit about him and his family, I just thought that was incredible," Merkel said.
She added, "I loved the food, but I liked, too, the history of Lewiston. ... I thought that was neat how that was ingrained into the tour, and I think it adds a little bit. Something you're not just eating. I thought that was great, too."
The Roaming Table continues through September, and then resumes in May 2018. For more information, or for tickets (regularly priced at $49), call 1-800-656-0713 or visit www.theroamingtable.com.
Rita Geiben shows Karen Merkel and Greg Devlin the final resting place of Josiah Tryon.

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