By Michele Deluca
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
NIAGARA FALLS —
It might not seem like soup can be used as a lure.
But, pair that soup — a cream of asparagus with savory tarragon and garlic whipped cream — with a perfectly matched Vizcarra Vineyard Riesling and the combination just might be the gastronomical chemistry needed to draw more tourists into the Niagara region.
That’s what planners were hoping when they put a “Taste of Niagara” on the agenda for the Pennsylvania Bus Associations annual retreat in Niagara Falls recently.
The 30 or so bus company owners and spouses were treated to a “100 Mile Radius Meal,” which is a specialty of Vizcarra Vineyards at Becker Farms during a three day visit to the area planned by the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp.
This early in the growing season, Chef Amanda Vizcarra had to stretch to come up with enough ingredients produced locally, but the luncheon, which started with the team of the creamy soup and the vineyard’s crisp Riesling, seem to impress the bus tour promoters.
The menu alone was enough to impress. Besides the soup, the meal included: Open-faced herb-roasted chicken sandwiches with carmelized onions and asparagus tips and swiss and mozzarella cheese, paired with the vineyard’s Pinot Grigio and a strawberry salad with balsamic dressing, and Perry’s vanilla ice cream in a phyllo cup with strawberry sauce and balsamic reduction, paired with Vizcarra’s Berry Patch Pink.
The “100 Mile Radius Meals” were created three years ago by the Vizcarras to answer those who told the family they hadn’t been to Becker Farms since their children were small. Once a “u-pick farm” with petting zoo, the farm offers a vineyard and brewery as well, and caters events with an experienced staff.
“We wanted to give people a reason to come back as adults,” said Mindy Vizcarra.
The “100 Mile” meals require the staff to get acquainted with farmers throughout the region, along with engaging in a trend that reduces fuel use, provides fresher foods and supports local farms.
The tour bus operators, who appeared to enjoy the lunch, were also going to be treated to a wide range of Niagara's best attractions.
“It’s much easier to sell something when you have first hand experience,” said Patrick Cole of Cole Transportation in Spring Mills, PA.
One bus company owner said many of her clients have expressed interest in the American side of Niagara Falls, simply because they don’t want to apply for passports.
The 181 bus association attendees alone will spend, according to travel research, about $200 a day learning about the region. If suitably impressed, the tour operators could bring thousands of bus travelers to the area each year.
The Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., funded in part by area hotel bed and casino taxes, typically runs such “fam tours” or familiarity tours, to entice tourist industry leaders to book tours to the area.
“Ideally, we shoot for two bookings from a ‘fam tour,’ ” said Elizabeth Davis of the NTCC. “But it’s safe to say we will get numerous bookings and a change in awareness from this tour because they will see new ideas for stops along the way.”
The next “100 Mile Radius Meal” at Becker Farms will be at 6:30 p.m. July 17. The dinners are usually a sell out and reservations are required as the dinners usually sell out. For more information call Becker Farms at 772-2211 or visit beckerfarms.com.