The annual Taste of Farmers Market, which will offer more than 50 samples from the international merchants inside the 81-year-old Original Farmers Market tonight, has long been on the calendars of many food lovers. But for the last few years, the Original Farmers Market has been overshadowed by L.A.'s other historic market, the newly revitalized, more upscale Grand Central Market downtown.
But why should Grand Central — home of Eggslut, Belcampo, Horse Thief and many more buzz-worthy joints — get all the love?
While Grand Central Market's always been a great place to grab a few sticks of jamoncillo, a pupusa, some fragrant chiles or a seat at the China Cafe, its owners swept clean the sawdust-covered floors a few years ago and brought in a slew of new vendors, elevating the market's status and making it virtually unrecognizable to anyone who ate there 10 years ago. Grand Central might now have a Mark Peel steam-bowl concept and square falafels at Madcapra (with more anticipated openings on the way, including Courage & Craft, Golden Road and the relocated Gorbals), but the Mid-City oasis that is the Original Farmers Market has always had enough interesting options to make it a staple in any Angeleno's diet.
In the Original Farmers Market's upper dining area, an often-empty hidden spot for breeze-swept eating, the walls are lined with black-and-white photos of past visitors, many of them celebrities (whom you might have a shot of running into, since the CBS Studios are next door), but many more just ordinary folks — including over a million tourists a year — who come to Third and Fairfax for everything from peanut butter to pastrami sandwiches.
The Original Farmers Market is an institution for both customers and employees, with second-, third- and even fourth-generation families working there. Empty spaces for newcomers don't appear often, and items including candy, nuts, fruit, vegetables, meat and fish are available from stalls whose tenants go back decades.
The market offers everything from breakfast options (doughnuts from Bob's, crepes from the French Crepe Co. and French toast, eggs and other staples at Charlie's) to midday eats (a European lunch on the Marmalade Cafe patio or Texas-style ribs from Bryan's Pit Barbecue) to the comfort food at Du-Par's, which has been at the market for more than 70 years. That's still not as long as Magee's Kitchen has been there (try their killer corned beef).
The Original Farmers Market isn’t entirely old-school, either. In late 2011, Amy Pressman and Nancy Silverton were the first big names to open concepts there — the high-end coffee and pastry shop Short Cake and casual burger joint Short Order. They were followed by Neal Fraser's Fritzi Dog in 2012. Debuting at this year's Taste will be Greenhouse, a new organic venture that has cocktail maker turned smoothie mixologist Jason Bran serving up virgin watermelon and mint mojitos.
Coming soon to the former Short Order space (it closed in April) will be Moruno, the latest from former Mozza general manager David Rosoff, chef de cuisine Chris Feldmeier and restaurateur Bill Chait — which will center on Spanish meat kebob-style snacks. Upstairs, they will open Bar Vermut, a wine bar focused on vermouth.
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Which brings us to a final point of comparison between L.A.'s two historic food halls — booze. There are currently far more places to get a tipple at the Original Farmers Market: the 326 Beer & Wine for domestic, E.B.’s for imports (and expats), Bavarian biergarten Ludwig, cocktail joint Mixology 101 and Monsieur Marcel for un peu Française. The Moruno team will also be opening a Bar Moruno at Grand Central Market, though, so the cross-town rivalry continues.