05 DEC 2016:  I meet Tara Jones, the Big Cheese of “Eat This Shoot That!”, in the Funk Zone of Santa Barbara for what I quickly discover was a fun and innovative approach to a foodie tour of a city. The Funk Zone, a 12-square-block mixed-use area near Santa Barbara’s waterfront, transformed from really sketchy to totally hip starting about four years ago. It was the perfect locale for a quirky, tasty tour with photo tips.

Jones, whose family background includes ranching, farming and wine making, studied photography in college. All these influences came together when she started her food, wine, and photo tip tours of Santa Barbara in June of 2012. As we ate and drank our way around the Funk Zone I learned how to take the type of food porn shots that excite on Instagram.

We started at Enterprise Fish Co with a puff pastry domed lobster bisque. It was so good that I vowed to return the next day for a full meal. (And when I did, my fresh fish, clam chowder and grilled artichoke were all equally delicious.) As Jones explained, “In Santa Barbara we don’t do frozen. We have the perfect weather to grow anything and have fresh fish right out of the ocean.”

She added that with about 450 restaurants in the county and a city population of under 100,000 (and less than half a million in the county), the eateries must be good to survive. As she gave me her first photo tip – shoot the food at eye level or from above – she continued with her titbits on Santa Barbara. I learned for example that 75 percent of the world’s sea urchins are harvested from the ocean around here making the area the globe’s number one supplier of uni.

As we walked to the next stop, she pointed out all the murals and graffiti art on the walls, sidewalks and even telephone poles. A lot of artists live in the area, she explained, and they try to outdo each other. As a result some new art pops up every day.

The old warehouses and manufacturing plants have become home to artists’ studios and galleries, wine-tasting rooms, craft breweries, artisanal shops and eateries. This area was not flattened during the huge earthquake of 1925 and so was not rebuilt in the Spanish Colonial style of the city’s core historic district. (Red tile roofs, white stucco walls, decorative wrought iron on windows, balconies and decorative tiles.)

This gives owners of these former warehouses by the railway tracks plenty of leeway to be as creative as they want. Lucky Penny restaurant, where we stop for a wood fired pizza, used 167,000 pennies to clad their outside walls – a frugal but attractive way to create siding. We dined there on a Milpas pizza, based on a breakfast burrito with fingerling potatoes, Mexican chorizo, sunny side up egg, spicy tomatillo marinara, cotija and cilantro.

Other stops included American Ale 2 (20 beers on tap) for a smoked bacon, chunky peanut butter and grape jelly burger and Mony’s Mexican for chicken tacos with a fun selection of salsas such as avocado, pistachio and mango. To slake our thirst, we popped into Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co which had an extensive selection of draught beers but also fresh brewed kombucha and root beer on tap. The featured kombucha which I sampled was a blood orange one from Whalebird which makes them all local, organic and small batch.

At Santa Barbara Wine Collective, we tasted two wines; Fess Parker Marcella’s White Rhone blend and Element Dolcetto, a sweet fruity red from Ca’ Del Grevino. These two wineries and three others share the same roof along with Helena Avenue Bakery. Thus my tasting “mini flight” was paired with breads and cheeses.

We ended the three and a half hour tour at Cutler’s Artisan Spirits, with a tasting led by owner and head distiller Ian Cutler.  I particularly liked his gin, made in the New World style – juniper forward but also with lots of citrus notes from local bergamot orange, pomelo, Pixi tangerine and lemon peels. His apple pie liqueur was a unique product with fresh apple juice, cinnamon and vanilla pod flavouring.

All along Jones gave me photo tips: show hands and forks in the shots, go in close and fade out the background, lock your close-up and adjust the light and much more. At the end I had a souvenir of my tour on my camera roll with shots I was proud of. Needless to say, I also had plenty of good food and drink.

Charmed by the area, I went back several times for wine by the glass at Les Marchands Wine Bar and for dinner at The Lark, super popular for their ambiance and dishes such as crispy brussels sprouts, hangar steak tartar and charcuterie platter.

While I didn’t have the time to go on the Eat This Shoot That wine tour of the El Paseo area of town, I did make my own way to the tasting rooms there by following the Urban Wine Trail. More on that later. www.eatthisshootthat.com

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Margaret Swaine

Margaret is a nationally published wine, spirits, food and travel writer, who has authored thousands of articles on these subjects for magazines and newspapers.

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