I tend to heavily research my road-trip food stops. I’ll spend hours poring over Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews and Googling for dining nuggets. I end up with a script that guides me for a month of gorging and guzzling over, say, a 5,000-mile swath of the southwest U.S.
But sometimes it’s nice to just follow my nose and, hopefully, discover gems off the beaten path. It helps tremendously, in this regard, to find a local savant or two, with similar sensibilities, who can steer you to some unpublicized standouts.
So when we’ve got three days to spend in Walla Walla, Washington and no agenda to pursue, I’m happy to solicit and accept spontaneous suggestions. These leads come primarily from two winery servers, who are sharp as tacks and more than willing to be impromptu tour guides.
At L’Ecole No. 41, west of town, we are putty in red-bearded Christopher’s hands. When we ask about places to eat, he pulls out a binder of possibilities. Besides steering us to the higher-end, outstanding Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen, he’s also got our cheap, colourful hole-in-the-wall requests covered: Dora’s Deli (aka the Worm Ranch) and Tommy’s Dutch Lunch. Definitely not places you’ll find upscale wine tourists, but perfect for us. He even provides a quick list of competing wineries worth visiting.
Southeast of town, we wander into funky Sleight of Hand Cellars and straight into the rock-climber handshake of dynamo tasting room manager Traci Garrett. In two minutes, she gives us a concise, unexpurgated history of Walla Walla—boasting the state’s second-largest prison and harbouring, ironically, a considerable Seventh Day Adventist population in a booming wine-producing area.
While she’s pouring wine samples, Traci rattles off names of nearby dining and drinking nuggets: two tiny Mexican joints with $1 tacos and a microbrewery, Dragon’s Gate Brewery, out in a farmer’s field. As we trail her around the winery’s property, Granny’s Tamales pulls up in a van and offers us free, hot samples.
All these suggestions from two mavens lead us to fabulous places (run by tremendous people) we never would have found on our own. Days that began with no expectations yielded rich experiences, just because we were willing to be blown by the wind.
Isn’t that what traveling is all about?