Last week I was in Cleveland, Ohio with a group of fellow travel writers, all members of SATW (Society of American Travel Writers), and decided to go up a day early to take in some of the attractions and restaurants in nearby Canton. The first thing that likely comes to mind when you say “Canton, Ohio,” at least to the male members of the human race, would be the NFL Hall of Fame, and admittedly, that is a HUGE deal in Canton. Who knew, then, that there was such a great foodie culture in this town of 71,000, give or take a few hundred or so?
The Evening Hall of Fame City Food Tour costs $63 per person and includes a walking tour of downtown blocks showcasing important buildings, lively public art, lots of Canton fun facts and trivia and the culinary offerings of at least 4 participating restaurants. With a minimum of two courses at each eatery, the amount adds up to an abundance of food. For that reason, the walking involved is actually a very good thing. Plus, it’s the best way to get the vibe of the neighborhood. And, don’t worry if you’re not in top physical condition. The area is only about 4 blocks running north and south and 2 blocks running east and west. Very doable. I promise.
Cathy Wyatt was our tour guide. I found her to be extremely knowledgeable, attractive and enthusiastic. She also generously allowed us to visit her apartment at Onesto Lofts for a birds’eye view of downtown. Cathy is heavily involved in the civic happenings of Canton and owns Carpe Diem Coffee Shop right in the heart of the action.
Cathy educated us about the connections between President William McKinley and Canton, primarily through his wife Ida Saxton McKinley who was born and died in Canton. She pointed out the murals in progress depicting the 11 most important events in the history of the National Football League. We saw the Stark County Courthouse with its 11-foot high angels adorning the top and several examples of sculptures. Even the trash receptacles are painted with an array of themes.
But, most of the time, we ate . . . and ate . . . and ate.
Our first stop was to Benders Tavern (circa 1902). There we had a sampling of Turtle Soup, which was a flavorful mix of snapping turtle morsels, celery, carrots, red pepper, sherry and herbs in a tomato base. Great start! That was followed by Sauteed Perch, straight from nearby Lake Erie, with homemade hummus and green beans with charmoula sauce.
Street Side Mexican Cantina is a new place which just opened in January of 2018. In addition to a collection of vintage signs on the walls, there was a deer head over the bar decorated for football. Street Side features fresh Mexican cuisine. We were served homemade tortilla chips with four sauces: queso, guacamole, salsa and fresco. All were good, but the queso was the crowd favorite. Next came small servings of BBQ beef tacos and Pork Belly Tacos with housemade quick pickles. New twists on old favorites.
George’s Lounge (1959) came next. Very much sporting the atmosphere of the iconic Cheers television show, George’s is known for its crazy-good burgers and live music. They feature a Burger of the Month and a Shake of the Month. We had samples of each. First, the burger topped with a fried green tomato, pimento cheese and jalapeno/pear jam, then a small portion of a brown butter peach cobbler shake. It’s a good thing the portions were small. Wow. Yummy!
Our last stop was at Basil Asian Bistro. We were served a Sushi Platter and a cooked sushi creation designed to look like its name “Shaggy Dog.” Fun AND delicious. The two entrees were served family style, so we all got to taste Pad Thai and Green Mango Grouper. Basil is a family business. The parents are Chinese who grew up in Vietnam. The present owner is a first generation American. The menu is a mix of Korean, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese and Burmese. Very interesting.
All four restaurants are popular, and our service was outstanding. I’m glad Food Tours are popping up in more cities. They are great ways to sample regional specialties while learning fun facts about the area. The Canton Food Tour is very well-done, and I highly recommend it. If you’re lucky enough to have Cathy for your guide, you’ll be in for an extra-special treat.