.Taste of the Town

“The story of this town is the story of a jailbreak,” says Brion Sprinsock, the owner of Santa Cruz Food Tours, which just celebrated its 200th event.
Sprinsock is sitting in the breakfast nook of the Hinds Victorian Guest House, which he owns, pointing out the window to the railroad tracks that run along Chestnut Street. When the rail line opened in the 1870s, tycoons could suddenly ship Santa Cruz’s natural supplies—namely lime, lumber and leather—with greater ease than ever, and Santa Cruz was never the same.
Sprinsock’s walking tours, which he leads on Fridays and Sundays, May through September, are split evenly between history, architecture and food.   
“What we do is we tell people the story of the place where they’re eating. It’s remarkable how much more people enjoy the food when they know exactly why it’s being made,” he says. “The Penny Ice Creamery is probably the best example. People from Santa Cruz go there, and they love it, and there are great flavors, and it tastes good, but they probably don’t know it’s an extremely rare experience to be able to buy that kind of ice cream here. It’s one of three tiny ice creameries in the entire state that does what they do.”
Sprinsock loves explaining to tour guests—most of whom are from the area— why and how the Penny makes its own ice cream base in-house.
Just two blocks away at Laili Restaurant, Sprinsock will break down the intricacies of powdered qurut yogurt, a treat that’s difficult to find in the United States. “There’s no refrigeration in a lot of parts of Afghanistan. So, they make fresh yogurt and then they dry it, and they powder it,” he says. “And when they want to re-use it, they reconstitute it with water.”
Sprinsock’s tour is a two-and-a-half mile walk over the course of nearly four hours, with six stops: Laili, the Penny, the True Olive Connection, Buttercup Cakes, Surfrider Café and Assembly. Everything moves quickly and smoothly, “like a Swiss watch,” he says.
“We arrive at a place. The people sit down. Three seconds later, the dishes come out,” Sprinsock says. “Everybody’s served. Everybody eats. We get up. We leave.”
Sometimes as Sprinsock passes through a restaurant with his customers, a server will stop him to mention how much they’ve learned simply from listening.  Normally, he says, it would be considered odd or rude if a server talked for five minutes about the history of a joint as a new patron gets ready to order, but with the right fast-talking guide, storytelling and dining can make for an interesting pairing.
“All of a sudden, it’s not just food. It’s a story. And they just love it. It’s really cool,” says Sprinsock. “Sometimes you go into a restaurant, and on the back of the menu there’s a story. But very few people ever read it, and it’s so much more fun to be told a story, especially while you’re eating.”

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