At the checkout line in the Hollywood Gelson’s, a woman in front of me watched the checker scan her small plastic tub containing four or five pieces of watermelon. It came to six dollars. The well-heeled woman appeared placid while the checker’s jaw dropped.
“Holy crap,” he said, shaking his head. “Six bucks for this?” (Good thing for him that the manager wasn’t around.)
I stopped buying fruit at Gelson’s when Fuji apples hit $2.99 a pound, which would lead one to believe that we’re living in prewar Germany. The plummeting value of the dollar may yet bring us to that, but until then, all you have to do to get affordable fresh fruit is to visit Farm Fresh Ranch Market, on Sunset Boulevard near Western Avenue. Though its cavernous façade is uninviting and the interior is equally unprepossessing, under new ownership (Pay Less Foods) the place has been cleaned up considerably, and two sections are without parallel: the produce aisles and the bakery.
Farm Fresh serves immigrant communities from Mexico, Central and South America, Armenia and Russia. The produce comes via the wholesale market downtown from locales as varied as Central California and Ecuador. Not long ago at Farm Fresh, Fuji apples were presented in a large tub, individually wrapped in Styrofoam netting, for 69 cents a pound. Last week, bananas (89 cents a pound at Gelson’s) were going for 33 cents a pound. The market is stocked from what’s available, and selection may not be comprehensive. The manager told me that he rarely gets organic produce. Also, you need to check on the quality of the fruit that comes in cold storage and may be bruised. It’s a bit like a treasure hunt. Fresh herbs are soaked hourly — mint, tarragon, basil, lavender. The shelves are also stocked with fresh cactus leaves and cactus pears, yucca root and banana leaves, along with dried fruits and roots, such as mango and sugared ginger. The dried-herb section contains a dozen varieties of chiles, and they were pushing dried mango peppered with chili — labeled “hot mango” on the plastic wrapper. Sweet breads and pastries are baked on-site. Farm Fresh Ranch Market offers a taste of where Los Angeles came from, which is likely to be the prevailing tastes of its future.