Food,art and history come together in Canton Food Tours

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Forty-five dollars seemed like a high price to wander around downtown Canton and sample some food. But 3 1/2 hours later, I was a Canton Food Tours believer.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Forty-five dollars seemed like a high price to wander around downtown Canton and sample some food. But 3 1/2 hours later, I was a Canton Food Tours believer.

The Warehouse District Tour I took with about a dozen other people one Thursday evening, guided by the knowledgeable and endearing Barbara Abbott, was a light-hearted, fast-paced adventure that spotlighted local history, local creative arts and local chefs. We ate turtle soup and seared sea scallops; smoked duck breast with mushroom confit, fruit compote, frisée salad and pecans; cheese and horseradish dipping sauce from local producers; fish tacos with ahi tuna and salmon; and a slab of nutty, dark-chocolate pie. We tasted potently flavorful martinis and sipped white wine.

As we walked from one tour stop to another, or rode in a passenger van, Barbara regaled us with anecdotes of architecture and Canton lore.

We visited furniture and fashion studios off the beaten path, a basement bar and an ornate dining spot high atop the city (Note: Tour stops and food offerings can vary per tour.)

Canton Food Tours seems a perfect outlet for Abbott, who describes herself as “a big fan of downtown, the arts and Canton history.” Her civic enthusiasm is infectious. In addition to the Warehouse District Tour, Abbott offers a Presidential Plate Food Tour at 11 a.m. Fridays in addition to private, customized tours.

THE START

Canton Food Tour guide Barbara Abbott has a way of sharing just the right amount of historical information while strolling from one stop to the next. Among her casually informative tidbits: The first vacuum cleaner was invented in Canton (and not by a Hoover). The towering Renkert building, Canton’s first skyscraper, was built from paving bricks.The Canton Club originally was in downtown’s Cortland Hotel, whose arched entranceway is all that remains.

FIRST COURSE

In a private dining room at Bender’s Tavern, a downtown landmark in its 110th year, the food tourists sampled the signature turtle soup, flavored with sherry, molasses, carrots and tomatoes; seared sea scallops on a bed of creamy polenta; and Ravenswood chardonnay. Abbott shared stories with the tour about the history of Bender’s as well as the building it occupies. She passed around the original deed for the building as guests chuckled at the plain description: “A very good two-story buidling.”

CANTON’S HISTORY

Did you know that pro football has roots at the site of downtown Canton’s Frank T. Bow building? Abbott explained that the American Professional Football Association, a precursor to the NFL, was founded during a meeting at a car dealership here on Sept. 17, 1920. A plaque, with the busts of Ralph Hay and Jim Thorpe at the top, signifies the spot on the side of the building. The same two men can be seen sharing a laugh in the black and white photo below.

MORE FOOD

At the handsomely appointed Canton Club, with its expansive views of the city, the genial (and award-winning) executive chef Kent Walsh prepared a lovely plate of lavishly garnished smoked duck breast that could have come from the pages of Bon Appetit magazine.The tour group was served at elegantly set tables for four, each under a chandelier.Walsh previously owned Table in Millersburg, and is currently relocating that eatery to the former 16,000-squarefoot Belden Lodge in Southgate Park in Green.Walsh’s culinary philosophy is “farm-to-table, field-to-fork,” and he plans to grow much of his own food for the restaurant.

SIP AND SNACK

At Picciano’s Martini Lounge, bartender Correen McMahan served up two signature martinis — one chocolate and one called the Secret Locket, featuring fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. These were accompanied by two Stark County products, Brewster Dairy Swiss cheese and Dick’s Homemade Horseradish mustard.

BREAK FOR ART

At Elemental Arts on Walnut Avenue NE, tour members viewed the modern furniture showroom of Canton-based designer John Strauss (in white shirt at right). Strauss explained to tour members that all of the items on display at Elemental Arts are local, sustainable and handmade. The store contains a range of Strauss’ creations, which are both artistic and functional. There are beds, end tables, folding screens, chests of drawers, chairs and ottomans in a variety of woods and grains, constructed with an attention to quality and aesthetics. He builds the furniture in his workshop nearby. Strauss’ wife, Dominica Sanchez, is also an artist, with drawings and a studio space at the front of the store. The tour continued upstairs, where visitors browsed through the
stylish creations of local fashion designer Colette Wasdahl, who also offers racks of carefully chosen vintage attire for both men and women. Wasdahl enjoys remaking clothing to better suit her clients. She also teaches sewing and design to students there.

WHAT ONCE WAS OLD IS NEW AGAIN

Located on the outskirts of downtown, in a three-story brick building on Second Street SE that once was the Canton Power Plant, is ArtiCulture Unlimited. As we drove up to the seemingly deserted building, Abbott mentioned that it was designed by Thomas Edison, with legal work done by then-attorney William McKinley. Once you pull around to the back of the building, it’s easy to see the new life that is being breathed into the space. In this vast work space, Ross Ensign (plaid shirt at left) creates coffee tables, carts, hall trees, mirrors, clocks and other home accessories from wooden foundry patterns and weathered industrial discards. He said he likes to interpret the past into the present by putting a new spin on an old item. “We tell people they are buying a piece of history,” he said. His wife, Shannon, (center, lower left) greeted visitors and served wine.

FINAL STOP — AND DESSERT

The basement bar at Tozzi’s Downtown was the restful final stop on this evening’s Canton Food Tour. Served first was a sliced fish taco roll-up, with salmon and ahi tuna and two flavorful sauces. And then dessert, a Best of Both Worlds pie from local baker Rachel’s Ugly Pies that salutes the area’s multiple chocolate and nut merchants. Abbott explained that she held a dessert contest to identify the flavor of Canton to kick off the opening of Canton Food Tours. This combination of flavors took the prize and now provides a sweet ending to the tour. Goody bags were distributed with downtown-related menus, coupons and brochures — plus a cookie and shares from a recent harvest of the community garden in Canton. For more details about the tour or and to make reservations, visit www.cantonfoodtours.com or call 330-495-0929.