Join us on our Wander New Mexico food tour

Food tours are a great way to learn about a city’s culinary scene. We’ve only been on a few of them but what we’ve noticed that each one takes a unique approach. Wander New Mexico designs food tours that focus on the food and on the people behind it. They want to convey a sense of the people who run or work at the food establishments and their unique personalities. “What would otherwise just be a dish,” he says, “has story and family behind it.”

The group meets up in the Plaza

Wonder New Mexico Food Tour - Joe Griffith talking to the group assembled in the Plaza , photo Steve Collins

Joe Griffith talking to the group assembled in the Plaza, photo/Steve Collins

On an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon we head for the Santa Fe Plaza to meet Joe Griffith, owner of Wander New Mexico for his Sip and Savor culinary tour of the historic Plaza area. Besides us, there are six others in the group. Joe starts with an icebreaker. He asks each member of the group to give their name, where they hail from and to share a fun fact about themselves. It lets us get to know the people we’ll be spending the next three hours with a little bit. It turns out to be a convivial group.

Besides introducing his tour groups to the people behind the food, Joe wants to give participants a sense of the history, architecture and food in Santa Fe, which he calls “one of his favorite cities in the world.” He also wants his groups to have a good time. Sometimes, he tells us, friendships emerge from the tour.

Off we go on our Wander New Mexico food tour

We learn the history of the Palace of the Governors as we leave the Plaza photo Steve Collins

We learn the history of the Palace of the Governors as we leave the Plaza, photo/Steve Collins

Joe tells us a bit about himself we set off. Wander New Mexico started in October of 2016 and gave its first tour in December. Before moving to Santa Fe he worked in the financial industry, spending his days hunched over a computer in a cube in San Francisco. His significant other, now his wife (they were married in 2016), hailed from Santa Fe. Joe fell in love with the city on visits here and the duo moved here last year. Why the tour business? When he lived in San Francisco, he’d get emails from friends planning to visit the city asking for suggestions on what to do there.  “I’d always loved showing people around and telling them where to go,” he shared. The tour business was a natural for him. Wander New Mexico allows him to do that several times a week. It was a natural fit.

Our first stop: Cheesemongers

Wander New Mexico Food Tour - Cheese sampling platter at Cheesemonger, photo Billie Frank

Cheese sampling platter at Cheesemonger, photo/Billie Frank

We head up Lincoln Avenue on the way to Cheesemongers on Marcy Street, our first stop as we walk Joe tells the group a bit about Santa Fe’s history and what we’ll experience at the cheese shop.  “I bet when you come to Santa Fe you don’t really think of cheese,” he says. Cheese, he tells us, has been made in New Mexico since the Spanish arrived. It’s surprising that serious cheese mongers live in Santa Fe. People often head here for the quality of life and the great outdoors. Sasha, who shares her passion for fine cheeses with us during our visit is no exception. She’d worked at Murray’s Cheese in New York City, one of the top purveyors of cheese in the US. We discover through a wonderful anecdote, how she met her husband there. We’re introduced to Lily, an acknowledged expert in plating. She won first place at last year’s Cheesemongers Invitational, held in San Francisco. She’ll represent the US at an upcoming international cheese competition. Besides artisanal cheeses, Cheesemongers sells a range of products that go from breads and pastas to jams and even knives “If you can put it with cheese,” Sasha tells us, “we sell it.”  We learn about (and taste) three cheeses, each paired with something to enhance the tasting. It’s a fascinating half-hour.

Our second stop: El Callejon

Wander New Mexico Food Tour - Tacos and salsas at El Callejon, photo/Billie Frank

Tacos and salsas at El Callejon, photo/Billie Frank

Next the group is off to El Callejon, a family owned and run Mexican restaurant specializing in tacos, which opened in September 2016. We’re greeted by LiAnn Morales, who runs the restaurant with her husband, Raul. Both LiAnn and Raul have long backgrounds in the Santa Fe food industry. “The executive chef who’s my brother-in-law,” LiAnn tells us, “put together the dishes on this menu.” The Morales family hails from Aguascalientes (in the state of Aguascalientes in the middle of Mexico) about 1,200 miles south of Santa Fe. The cuisine there is based on flavor rather than heat. “The menu is infused with the best of Central Mexico home cooking recipes,” LiAnn shares. Many are old favorites from her husband’s family. Plates with two soft tacos each arrive at the long table. The tacos are el pastor (pork) and barbacoa (shredded braised beef), the two I would have ordered if on my own. They’re delicious!

Our third stop: Gruet Tasting Room

Wander New Mexico Food Tour - Wine tasting on the pation at the Gruet Tasting Room, photo Billie Frank

Wine tasting on the pation at the Gruet Tasting Room, photo/Billie Frank

From here we head to the Gruet Winery Tasting Room, headquartered in the Hotel St. Francis. Because the weather is warm for March we sit out on the small, but charming outdoor patio where we taste four of the sparkling wines Gruet is known for. The family emigrated from France where they made Champagne before establishing vineyards in New Mexico. They’re expert in their craft.. Our server tells us about each wine in detail before we sample it. There’s time allowed to buy wine if anyone wants before we leave for our next stop, Sazón.

Our last stop: Sazón

Wander New Mexico Food Tour - We picked up our mole platters in Sazon's kitchen, photo Billie Frank

We picked up our mole platters in Sazon’s kitchen, photo/Billie Frank

Sazón, the last stop on our tour, is an upscale eatery where Chef/owner Fernando Olea, an old friend of ours, serves what he calls “inspired New World Cuisine.” “I don’t know of another chef who is cooking really cooking from the heart and has so much passion about the food he’s cooking,” Joe remarks on the way over. That really nails it! We’re there for a mezcal and mole tasting. Olea, a master of moles and it turns out, quite knowledgable about mezcal, welcomes the group. We’re each served an ice cold glass of the agave liquor, which is made from the same plant as tequila, but produced by a different method. Oleaa briefly explains how mezcal is made, how it differs from tequila and the best way to sip the potent drink: put it under your tongue and hold it there for a moment before swallowing. He tells us to say “Stigibeu” a traditional Zapotec toast meaning “to your health, to the health of your ancestors and the planet Earth” before sipping. The appropriate response” “Bakeen,” which like “salud” means to your health. Next we head to the kitchen to pick up slate slabs holing moles along with tiny tortillas to taste them on. There are four moles: Coloradito, poblano, blanco and verde. Olea explains each to us and we dig in. They’re delicious! Full of food, knowledge and good cheer, we leave Sazón and head for home reflecting on our enjoyable afternoon.

If you go

Paul, my Santa Fe Pedicab driver, photo Billie Frank

Paul, my Santa Fe Pedicab driver, photo/Billie Frank

A few things to know about the 3½ hour Wander New Mexico Sip and Savor tour:
Dress appropriately for the weather as you’ll be walking.
If someone in your group is unable to walk distances, Joe will arrange for a pedicab to take them to the next stop. I actually rode one from Cheesemongers to El Callejon. The chatty driver, an ex-New Yorker, regaled me with his history.
Tours are always evolving so you may visit different establishments and have different tasting experiences.
If you enjoy your tour, tip your guide, it’s always appreciated.

Currently, Wander New Mexico also offers the Sip and Savor Tour and the Santa Fe Railyard Food Tour. Joe is working on a new tour that  will involve sampling Santa Fe-made fermented beverages. It should be a winner. You can also arrange customized private tours.

Disclosure: We were guests of Wander New Mexico for the Sip and Savor Tour. All opinions are our own.

 

 

 

 

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