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Ice cream tour delivers the scoop on L.A.

'Eat Your Way Through L.A.' excursions let an L.A. enthusiast serve up an inside look at his beloved hometown and its eclectic cuisine.

May 23, 2013|By Nita Lelyveld, Los Angeles Times
  • At Mateo's on Pico Boulevard, cups of ice cream in exotic flavors are served on fresh mango plates during the "Eat Your Way Through L.A." ice cream tour.
At Mateo's on Pico Boulevard, cups of ice cream in exotic flavors are… (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles…)

How early is too early for ice cream? How many scoops constitute too many scoops?

No doubt there are some who fret over such matters.

But none of them was on the big black bus that set forth on a warm Saturday.

It carried more than 40 people — the youngest 22 months old. In a seat near the middle beamed Olivia Melito, 13, who for the occasion had postponed a date to get braces.

PHOTOS: L.A. ice cream tour

They had come for the latest Secret City Tours outing in a series called "Eat Your Way Through LA." That the organizing principle was ice cream naturally made the mood merry.

So did the fresh-scooped joy of hosts John and Laura Bwarie, who welcomed everyone as cozily as if they had known them always — which in more than a few cases was so.

John's dad was on board, as was an aunt visiting from Michigan, and several of Laura's cousins and quite a few of her co-workers from Huntington Hospital. Some people knew John through his work in various L.A. City Council offices. Some were old friends and some newer ones — people who'd heard about the Bwaries through the grapevine or on Facebook and joined in their pursuit of potatoes, doughnuts, grilled cheese, bacon and gluten-free foods.

There were newcomers too, although they made themselves right at home. Not to worry that the bus' audio system was on the fritz. John stood midway down the aisle.

"So we are going to be sampling over a dozen different ice cream flavors today," he said to claps and cheers.

PHOTOS: L.A. ice cream tour

The group had gathered in the parking lot of the Universal City Metro stop. Soon the bus was lumbering through the Cahuenga Pass, and John was talking — not so much about chocolate chip or butter pecan but about Los Angeles, the city where he grew up.

Why do they spend their weekends taking dozens of people around the city?

John and Laura, 32 and 28, have demanding jobs. She's an occupational therapist. He works at the U.S. Geological Survey, translating and disseminating scientific information about natural hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis and landslides.

For now, the tours aren't moneymakers, John said. (They have to rent the bus and pay restaurants for food, and he can't exactly make his dad buy a ticket.)

But John has always been an L.A. enthusiast, he says, ever since he was a kid in Sherman Oaks. And it's his nature to want to share his discoveries.

"I want to give you a little bit about Los Angeles history," he told those on the bus, "because you go on a tour, you want to know what you're looking at."

Did everyone know, he asked them, that the Red Cars used to run right on this course and that, under the overpasses, you can still see the hooks that held their cables?

Did anyone remember Monkey Island, an animal theme park once located in the pass? And who knew that the coral tree was the official tree of Los Angeles, and that bandits were said to have long ago buried gold under coral trees right in this area?

The Bwaries have been married two years. She's from the Bay Area, and he wooed her by showing her his L.A.

They started the tours soon after they wed. They've done walks: secret gardens, the doors of downtown. They've done dinners: Taste of the Yucatan. They've taken people to eat in San Pedro and along Washington Boulevard. They try to introduce them to homegrown, mom-and-pop spots in the hopes that they'll help spread the word.

John does the talking. Laura hands out various goodies — buttons to identify tour members, stubby golf pencils to rate the food along the way, themed prizes (think ice-cream-cone-shaped erasers) for the first to answer quiz questions such as: What's America's most popular ice cream flavor? (Vanilla.)

The ice-cream journey traversed old and new, chic and simple, beginning with the first taste at 10:30 a.m., at the Addiction Bistro which opened specially an hour and a half early. The chef said he had chosen tiramisu for his Italian heritage, red velvet for his Southern roots.

An artisanal tour of Third Street followed — salted caramel and mint amid the baked and steamed doughnuts at Fonuts, creamy and lush scoops of strawberry buttermilk and Intelligentsia espresso at Carmela.

Noon was old school at the Original Farmers Market, where at Bennett's Ice Cream each person got to choose a baby scoop served up in a cone.

Then came a short break for savory lunchtime sustenance before the bus rolled on.

To Mateo's on Pico Boulevard, for cups of cactus fruit, smoked milk, passion fruit and tequila served on plates made of fresh mango.

To Scoops on Heliotrope Drive in East Hollywood for brown bread and black truffle caramel.

There could have been so many more stops, John said — Fosselman's in Alhambra, Paradis in Montrose. But you have to draw the line somewhere.

And this was a good place.

Four hours in, the bus was quieter as it returned to the Valley. Bellies full, people stared out the windows, leaned back in their seats and smiled.

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