Natchitoches, Louisiana is famous for its meat pies. It's also where the movie Steel Magnolias was filmed.
We've been excited to see of a growing number of states promoting tourism through culinary trails. These tours offer a "taste" of each region's recipes, and are quickly cropping up across the country.
In Indiana, a state where both Wonder Bread was born (in 1921) and Johnny Appleseed was known to roam, you can dine like a local on the Hoosier Pie Trail, one of several trails sponsored by the Indiana Foodways Alliance. Lancaster County in Pennsylvania Dutch Country has the Ale Trail and the Sweet n' Salty Trail, among others, and Canandaigua, New York, jumped on the bandwagon with a tour of local wineries and farmer's markets. Madison, Wisconsin, is planning eight culinary trails, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. And the International Culinary Tourism Association will hold a symposium in New England this April, with the planning of regional and state food trails a major goal of the meeting. We could go on and on. And we will. Because frankly, this is exciting.
After its restaurant scene made an impressive, post-Katrina comeback, Louisiana is planning a culinary trail, reports CNN. "We're having a ball with it," J. Gary Ellis told IT. An ICTA board member and president of Compass Marketing, Ellis was one of the architects of the Louisiana trails program. The food tours will include "culinary assets from all over the state," from five-star restaurants to roadside po'boy stands, says Ellis. Louisiana will partner with Foodtrekker.com, a new site sponsored by the ICTA that's currently in Beta and will launch officially in March.
And it's not just tourism boards that are offering resources for foodie travelers: SustainableTable.org's Eat Well Guided Tour Across America visited farms, markets, and restaurants that "serve local, in-season, sustainably-produced food all across the country." Highlights include the delectable-sounding Pie Across America project.
Sure, as with any fad, some of the trails might be the result of hollow marketing spin, plugging only the restaurants that can pay to be listed. But we have a feeling that many of them will highlight under-the-radar places like Cricket's Tavern off I-69 in the Northwest Indiana town of Auburn. Here, pork shanks are served up in an 1890 saloon with tin ceilings and a down home atmosphere. Probably not the kind of place you might find on your own. If organized with care and attention to regional heritage, these culinary trails could lead to authentic travel experiences that give visitors a true flavor of local life. Stay tuned.
Photo: The Louisiana Office of Tourism