Tour guides

A while back, Vancouverscape reviewed Taste Vancouver’s Gastown Food Tour. Since then, owner Jewel Taylor has added an excursion that cruises through culturally-diverse and vibrant Commercial Drive. 

Having close connections to this community helps explain why she’s the only food tour company in town offering culinary treks along this street. Dubbed the Little Italy Food Tour, guests are treated to ample samplings of Italian favourites that include cheese, wine, pasta, pizza and of course, cannoli! 

Fratelli bakery
[Fratelli Bakery]
Our expedition started outside Fratelli Bakery, where guides Brent and Michael put our small group of five at ease right away with their warmth and good humour. When not in the persona of “tour guide”, this dynamic duo are actors and perform improv at the Havana Theatre (also on The Drive). Throughout our walk they kept us entertained with morsels about the rich history of this neighbourhood.

LaGrotta Del Formaggio panini
Our first stop was La Grotta Del Formaggio Cheese Shop. Offering more than just cheese and deli items, the shop stocks everything needed to create a gourmet Italian feast. They also serve up one of the tastiest (and biggest) paninis in the city. Crispy, flavourful and grilled to perfection, our group eagerly devoured slice after slice. 

Falconetti exterior
We next trotted across the street to Falconetti’s East Side Grill. Started originally as a butcher shop by Falconetti Sr., the idea for a restaurant was the dream of Falconetti Jr. On a hot day, it boasts an enviable rooftop patio where patrons enjoy cool drinks while basking in sunshine. 

Falconetti tastings

In 2011, Falconetti’s was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and it was rumoured Guy Fieri spent two months filming there. Our tour group was treated to pitchers of delicious, refreshing sangria and a healthy serving of honey bratwurst in their patented “curved” bun. The bun lovingly hugs just the right curves of the sausage!

Liberty Wines
Sufficiently liquored-up, we headed off to Liberty Wine Merchants to sample a glass of pelaverga. This is one grape I’d not yet tried until now as it’s grown in very small quantities in Piemonte, Italy. A lighter-bodied red, pelaverga makes for a unique choice to pair with summer fare. 

Liberty Wines
Leaving the cool, calm confines of Liberty Wines we were engulfed by a joyous crowd gathered around Caffé Roma as the FIFA Women’s soccer match played on several TV screens. A sports fanatic himself, owner Frankie encourages everyone to this neighbourhood noshery to enjoy the game. 

Caffe Roma spaghetti

Prying himself from the action, Frankie came by to make introductions and serve up his classic spaghetti and meatballs. Al dente noodles and home-made goodness is why this dish is a staple at Caffé Roma. 

Famoso Pizza
Our next stop was Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria where we were promised a freshly made slice in 90 seconds! While we eagerly awaited the thin-crust delight, we were given an educational chat about the quality of the ingredients – both the Campania tomatoes and the Caputo ’00’ flour are imported from Naples. 

Famoso pizza

This restaurant is on my must-revisit list because the pizza, baked 90 seconds in a 900-degree brick oven, was magnificently simple yet amazingly delicious. Amidst the cool, modern interior, I would have been happy to hop off the tour here because Famoso also offers some terrific summer drink deals.

Santa Barbara cheese plate
[Cheese and charcuterie at Santa Barbara]
From pizzeria to grocery store, our next destination was the Santa Barbara Market. With local, in-season produce at extremely competitive prices, this minimart also houses a remarkable deli. We were treated to a charcuterie plate featuring fennel sausage, rosemary ham, smoked cheddar, Rainier cherries and other goodies. 

Santa Barbara deli counter, The Drive
[Santa Barbara deli counter]

One of the local secrets is their “deli sale” which takes place the last Wednesday to Sunday of each month. It might not be so secret anymore as we were told to come early and be prepared to take a number and wait.
As we started to head back, our palates turned to dessert. This craving was easily satisfied at Dolce Amore Gelateria. Inside we were accosted by a huge array of gelato flavours and other delectable ice cream treats. Photos documenting four generations of the Grippo family who started the gelateria proudly hang on the wall opposite the freezers.

Dolce Amore gelato

Passionate about making gelato as authentic as possible, Pappa Grippo sent his two eldest daughters back to Italy to learn the craft. Upon their return they passed through New York City. One of the daughters fell in love with the Big Apple and stayed behind to start her own gelateria. We sampled a heavenly hazelnut gelato that was chock-full of whole nuts and creamy deliciousness!

Continental Coffee
At our next stop, Continental Coffee, owner Anita gave us a history of her cafe. Started 36 years ago, this cosy java shop is her labour of love. She takes joy in being able to greet her regular customers daily. I couldn’t resist buying a pound of the aromatic Fazenda Ricci coffee that she freshly roasted for us to sample.

Continental Coffee
Our last stop was also our tour group’s starting point, Fratelli Italian Bakery. A neighbourhood staple since 1997, Fratelli’s offers a dizzying array of baked delights. As if pleasing customers with tasty confections wasn’t enough, they also regularly donate to local charities, such as Canuck Place Children’s Hospice. Our group was offered flaky, light and creamy cannolis to round off our afternoon tasting adventures. 

Fratelli cannoli
At the end of this two-and-a-half-hour food tour we’d hit a total of nine spots – not bad for the $49 (gratuities extra) price tag. Just in case you weren’t full enough by this time, you’ll also receive a sheet of coupons valid for a few of the spots on the tour.

Yummy for the tummy and for the pocketbook! If you love Italian food and want to sample a bit of everything, this tour should make your must-do list. Taste Vancouver’s Little Italy Tour runs every Saturday, rain or shine. Book your spot online.

Photos by Rob Plenert.

About Our Contributor Cora Li

Cora Li

Cora dabbles in arts, technology, food, and travel. She loves that Vancouver offers a vast playground for exploring all of her passions. Cora’s most memorable job to date was working with VANOC during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.