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Scrumptious Southern Stops

If you have a hankering to help your groups dive deeper into the places they travel, the solution may be through food. And there’s no better way to involve food than via local food and drink trails.

These trails are one spectacular way to get to know a destination. While a single meal can satiate an appetite, sampling multiple unique spins on that iconic meal at different destinations across a city or region — by way of a food trail — can satisfy the hunger to go deeper.

From sweet to savory, these food and beverage trails will inspire and equip you to incorporate a new and delicious layer to your next trip to the South. 

Athens Beer Trail 

Athens, Georgia

People come to Athens, Georgia, for football and the eclectic college vibe. Now, they may stay for the craft beer scene. 

 “We have everything from Terrapin, the largest brewer in Athens, to Normaltown, a very small brewery launched by a group of friends who just love making craft beer,” said Hannah Smith, director of communications at Visit Athens. 

Craft beer is unique for its ability to showcase a place’s culture and identity. To introduce thirsty visitors to the Classic City, Visit Athens worked hand-in-hand with the town’s six breweries to develop the Athens Beer Trail in 2021. 

Just like the various neighborhoods in Athens, each brewery has a distinct personality. Most offer free tours. Terrapin, the oldest of the Athenian breweries, launched and gained nationwide fame in one fell swoop in 2002. Planners can incorporate a tasting with live music at Southern Brewery or explore styles of beer that push the envelope at Creature Comforts Brewery, a beer revered by neighboring Atlantans for its famous sours. Authentic is another stop on the trail serving up easy-drinking beers. Last on the list is Akademia, a true brewpub. 

“This is a great option for planners who want to incorporate a meal,” Smith said. “They have a full menu and are open for lunch and dinner, and brunch on Sunday.” 

Groups should start at the Historic Athens Welcome Center to pick up their Field Guides — passports with maps and descriptions of the six breweries on the trail. If travelers stop at each location, they’ll win an Athens Beer Trail commemorative pilsner glass. 

Thursday and Friday evenings, visitors can enjoy the hop-on hop-off Beer Trail Trolley. The trolley is also available for group charters at other times of the week.

Kentucky Beer Cheese Trail 

Clark County, Kentucky

Clark County, Kentucky, is the birthplace of beer cheese. 

“The spread was first served at Allman’s Restaurant as early as the 1940s,” said Nancy Turner, executive director of Winchester-Clark County Tourism. “We have built a culture around beer cheese throughout the decades.”

The spread, the precise recipe of which is a closely guarded secret, is a staple around the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. Made of fresh or flat beer and typically a sharp cheddar, garlic and cayenne, beer cheese is traditionally served as an appetizer with carrots and celery. 

“Literally, one of my favorite things is to fantasize about what I can eat with beer cheese. It’s that good,” Turner said with a laugh, mentioning a seasonal beer cheese named “fetaveissen” at Winchester’s First Circle Market. 

“We are really blessed to have multiple restaurants that can accommodate more than 50 people,” Turner said. At Woody’s Sports Bar, groups can try beer cheese burgers and beer cheese with pretzels. DJ’s does a take on cheese nachos with beer cheese over hand-cut potato chips. Halls on the River makes a beer cheese soup. Winchester’s downtown opera house has been converted into a restaurant, Loma’s, with specialty beer cheese dressings and dishes. 

“They have a beer cheese vinaigrette that they serve with pork rinds,” Turner said. “And they have beer cheese grits, which are just unbelievable.” 

There are currently 13 stops on the Kentucky Beer Cheese trail. Planners can find the full list, as well as prizes for participating, on the CVB’s website.

Groups that really enjoy beer cheese can upgrade the trail experience by visiting during the Clark County’s Beer Cheese Festival, which takes place each year on the second Saturday in June. 

 “It is a delicious adventure,” Turner said.

Mississippi Seafood Trail 

You could say that oysters, shrimp and catfish built Mississippi’s coastal region — and you’d be right. The Mississippi Seafood Trail is a great way to feast on that history in the tri-county coastal region from Bay St. Louis to Pascagoula. Nearly two dozen restaurants featuring Mississippi Seafood can be found on a dedicated trail website. It’s a testament to the culture of the people — although battered by more than their fair share of disasters, natural and man-made, the people in Mississippi can always find something to celebrate through food. 

The trail, which got its start thanks to a BP grant to promote gulf seafood, has grown to a statewide list of restaurants that employ Gulf seafood in their cooking. 

What’s the best dish for a visitor to try? 

“That’s hard to say,” said Pat Fontaine, president of the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association. “I enjoy all Gulf seafood, from raw oysters to shrimp to crab meat to a lot of the fin fish, from redfish to speckled trout. There are not many items of Gulf seafood that people don’t enjoy.”

Groups looking for places to indulge in local seafood should check out The Reef in Biloxi or The Half Shell Oyster House’s many locations along the coast. They can also use an interactive map on the trail’s website to plan stops.

Moravian Culinary Trail 

Winston-Salem, North Carolina

How thin is a “whisper thin” cookie? And how can it tell the 300-year-old history of a town and its people? 

The answer can be found on the Moravian Culinary Trail. 

Winston-Salem, North Carolina, can trace its roots to the Moravians, a devout community of emigres from Eastern Europe. Their Moravian heritage can be seen, heard and tasted in the industry around the food that makes the area famous: whisper-thin Moravian cookies (billed as the world’s thinnest), Moravian sugar cake and Moravian chicken pie. The Moravian Culinary Trail memorializes these three old-world foods.

“It’s a virtual trail, so people can start anywhere and experience different destinations à la carte,” said Kay Calzolari, group tour and sales manager for Winston-Salem. 

Many groups start their journeys in the heart of Old Salem Museums and Gardens at Winkler Bakery, where the process to make the Moravian sugar cakes hasn’t changed, including the use of the fire-burning stove. The Spring House Restaurant just outside of downtown Winston-Salem is highly recommended for Moravian chicken pie. If there’s time (and well, even if there’s not), make plans for a quick jaunt outside the city center for a world-famous stop on the Moravian Culinary Trail: Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookie Factory. 

“No cookie journey is complete without a visit to Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookies,” Calzolari said. “It’s a seventh-generation family bakery where visitors can see the bakers roll, cut and pack the cookies by hand.”

During a factory tour, groups enjoy getting hands-on by rolling and cutting the cookies. 

“We can customize the experience based on how long a group might have in the area or their interests,” Calzolari said.

Greenville Taco Trail 

Greenville, South Carolina

As everyone knows, the word “taco” comes from the Latin for “satisfies everyone in your group.” No? It should. 

Greenville, South Carolina, is home to a bevy of taquerias, serving soft shell and hard shell tacos, that prove the city’s culinary diversity. 

“Tacos are a dish we have a lot of, and they get people excited,” said Brenda Cassabon, a representative of VisitGreenvilleSC. “We wanted to showcase some of the restaurants that best spotlighted the foodie landscape in Greenville, so we launched the Greenville Taco Trail on National Taco Day, just this past fall.”

With 12 destinations to choose from, groups can explore the restaurants that make Greenville part of a bustling food scene. Each stop on the trail makes for great group options. 

“You can do vegetarian; you can love meat — there’s an array of everything on the trail,” Cassabon said. “Variety was important to us when making the trail.” 

That variety extends to geographic variety, as well. 

“One of the nice things about the trail is it takes you all over the county,” Cassabon said. “If you’re staying on the perimeters like in Travelers Rest or Fountain Inn, you can still enjoy the trail no matter where you’re staying.” 

Visitors can pick up a Greenville Taco Trail Passport at the Visitors Center in City Hall or at participating restaurants. VisitGreenvilleSC runs seasonal activities with redeemable prizes for participants who collect enough stops on the trail.

“The taco is universal,” Cassabon said. “I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like them.”

Salty Southern Route 

Southeast Virginia

In Virginia, a group of localities that are serious about their food but don’t take themselves too seriously has created the Salty Southern Route.

The southeastern region of the state has long been known for its peanuts, salt-cured hams and other pork products. 

“We are all western tidewater localities that got together to figure out the exact thing we had in common,” said Judy Winslow, director of Smithfield and Isle of Wight Tourism. As it turns out, the thread that ties the Southampton, Isle of Wight, Sussex, Smithfield and Suffolk counties together is a salty one. 

“Pork and peanuts, that’s what the entire Salty Southern Route is centered around,” Winslow said. “So our fun tagline is ‘Drive the Route from Nuts to Snout.’” 

Two big names with outsize a history stand out on the Salty Southern Route: Smithfield Hams and Planters Peanuts. Smithfield County is famous for using peanuts to feed the hogs to create a more savory product. “The hams are not as sweet; they are salty,” Winslow said.

“On the peanut side of things, our soil produces a specialty peanut that is a bigger, gourmet snack peanut, with extra crunch and a lot of flavor,” said Ashley Convington, marketing and existing business manager at Franklin Southampton Economic Development said. “It makes them stand out.” 

Getting a taste of the trail is easy, too. 

“When we identified things that were clearly related to pork or peanuts, almost everything in our localities had some kind of tie-in,” Winslow said. “We tell people to go to and pick out the thing that is most interesting to their particular group.” 

Groups can learn to shuck peanuts at Hubs Vine or in Franklin, Virginia, or see the world’s oldest “pet” ham (the oldest known edible cured ham) at the Isle of Wight County Museum. The route features attractions, restaurants, storefronts, lodging facilities, visitor centers and events that connect visitors “from nuts to snout.”