The Dishcrawl sounds a lot like a speed dating with restaurants. Over a three-hour period, spend just enough time to become acquainted with multiple places and enjoy small courses to get a representation of what they offer.
The concept is simple: Try new restaurants and meet new people. It’s power dining at its best. Listen, learn and eat, then move on.
Cincinnati’s Dishcrawl kicked off in February with a crawl called “The Hidden Delicacies of Pfeiffer Road” in Blue Ash, and it’s gearing up for its next event, hosted by Dishcrawl Cincinnati Ambassador Michael Belanger in May.
“Our objective is to get all of these foodies to get together and come out, meet the chef, enjoy their culinary creations,” Belanger says.
Belanger, who has worked in the restaurant industry for 45 years, is currently the corporate executive chef at the Pebble Creek Golf Course. He’s someone who ventures to new restaurants regularly and knows a lot of people in the local industry, making him a perfect candidate to supervise these culinary tours.
“I was looking to get out of kitchens,” Belanger says. “I’ve been doing this for 45 years. Pebble Creek is made up of three floors. At full capacity we’re feeding 650 people, and everyone wants to talk to the chef. My legs just aren’t what they used to be.”
So far it’s been a natural progression from cook to kitchen tour guide. Instead of cooking food, he gets to talk about it, and he’s delighted to tell you about the hidden gems in each neighborhood.
Belanger coordinates all of the Dishcrawls in Cincinnati, handpicking each restaurant.
The price points vary and are marked according to the value of each event. He picks three or four restaurants in one neighborhood that best fit the Dishcrawl business model. One important criterion is that the restaurants have to be in walking distance.
“We just have to be able to crawl — to walk,” Belanger said. “If not, then I’m going to have to find some other mode of transportation, and that’s not part of the business model. Where this was founded those are walking areas. They’re really tied in.”
The Dishcrawl began in San Jose, Calif., as a solution to bring together the hometown community. These types of culinary-inspired meet ups are now taking place in more than 40 cities.
Some of the local neighborhoods Belanger wants to visit are too big to adhere to the walkability standard. Belanger says he’s been brainstorming how to solve this problem, along with other obstacles like fighting the elements during Cincinnati’s hottest and coldest months. During the Blue Ash Dishcrawl, it was too cold to walk from restaurant to restaurant, so the group carpooled.
Belanger chooses restaurants that impress people with great food and service. The group ate at and toured City Barbeque and was even treated to see the restaurant’s smokers. At The Brown Dog Café, guests dined on smoked rabbit quesadillas.
“People just have to get out there and see what these chefs are doing,” Belanger says. “If they don’t get it in their mouth, they’ll never understand it.”
In each restaurant they tour, the chefs prepare three small courses that best reflect who they are. The chefs or restaurateurs have the opportunity at the beginning of the dinner to explain their concept and why they do what they do. The diners have about 40 minutes in each place to enjoy the meal, have a drink and then move on. As a courtesy, Belanger wants to make sure the last restaurant stays open later than the tour hours in case the guests decide to stay longer.
If all goes according to plan, Belanger will do three Dishcrawls per month plus one larger event called a Neighborfood. It’s like a go-at-your-own-pace Dishcrawl with more participating restaurants. Between Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, there are more than 50 neighborhoods that Belanger plans to walk or crawl, giving him plenty of dining options.
“There’s so much going on in Cincinnati, that’s why I’m so excited about this,” Belanger says.
The next Dishcrawl will take place May 7 and 8 and is themed: “Four of the Best in Downtown Cincy.” As per the Dishcrawl business model, they don’t reveal the restaurants to the ticket holders until 48 hours before the date of the event. It might be the best blind date in the city.
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