Market Forces

Photo courtesy of Robert Peyton
The Green Plate Special tent at the Crescent City Farmers Market features recipes from Emeril's Test Kitchen in conjunction with the release of his latest book.

The Crescent City Farmers Market operates on Saturdays at 700 Magazine St. at the corner of Girod; on Thursdays at the American Can Co. building at 3700 Orleans Ave.; and on Tuesdays at 200 Broadway St., along the River Road side of the shopping center that I still call Uptown Square’s parking lot.

The Saturday market is the original and has the added convenience of having the option of a covered space nearby in the event of inclement weather. Vendors start business at 8 a.m. and continue until noon. The Thursday market  was a casualty of Katrina, but Jon “Prince of White Castle” Smith, whose wine shop Cork & Bottle is housed in the American Can Co. building, worked to bring the market back to Mid-City. That market runs from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and while it’s not quite as large as the others, it’s absolutely worth visiting.

This week I had a chance to stop off at the Tuesday market, which runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and rivals the Saturday market for the number of vendors offering their wares. The Uptown market differs from the others in at least two respects. First, there’s the Green Plate Special, where local restaurants, caterers and others offer a lunch prepared largely from the bounty of the market.

As of the past two months, you can also check out A Fork in the Road. It’s a small red school bus that Donna Fazzari has converted into a portable kitchen, and it serves sandwiches, salads and a few heartier offerings on Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in a space a few yards from the market. Fazzari spent 20 years as a talent agent in Los Angeles and is from New York City originally. While in Los Angeles, she began working with a chef in a catering operation and began indulging her love of food and cooking.

Although her operation is not formally associated with the market, she sources most of her ingredients locally, and everything is homemade. Salads include a Caesar that goes for $6, with the option of adding meat or cheese for another buck; a mixed bean salad with romaine, tomato and a sweet-tangy dressing; and a pasta salad that changes pretty frequently. Sandwiches also change, with hamburgers available from time to time, but the Who Dat Reuben (turkey with sauerkraut, provolone and homemade dressing) is a regular, as is The Bird, which is turkey breast, provolone, lettuce, tomato, garden pepper mix, Italian dressing, mayo and mustard on French bread. The Hammy Cheese Melt I had the other day was very good, with excellent ham, pepper jack cheese, a semisweet mustard vinaigrette, and a few peppers pressed panini-style to melt the cheese. Sandwiches are $5.50 for a 6-inch, and $7.50 for a foot-long.

I only ate half of the sandwich from the red bus because I also stopped by the Green Plate Special tent to sample what Emeril’s Test Kitchen was cooking. Emeril has a new cookbook out, Farm to Fork, and this month his various local restaurants will be responsible for the Green Plates. This past week the offerings included a salad of local greens with roasted beets and pecans; an herb and blue cheese quiche; chilled green pea soup; and zucchini bread with cream cheese. The salad was good, and the quiche was nice too, but the soup was outstanding. It was bright-green with a bit of heat, a bit of sweetness and a little mint.

Farm to Fork was released on June 1, and in addition to cooking at the Tuesday market, Delmonico, Emeril’s and NOLA will feature special menus based on recipes from the book all month. At Emeril’s, for example, chef David Slater will serve a salad of pig trotters with pickled vegetables, a coddled farm egg, cilantro and sweet soy, with greens from Nguyen Farms. Chef Spencer Minch of Delmonico is presenting fried chicken with purple hull peas, mustard greens and milk gravy, with chickens from local producer James Shoop, and slow-roasted pulled pork with Silver Queen corn, cheddar macaroni and Creole tomato barbecue sauce, with pork from Henry Fudge’s Family Farms. Call the restaurants for more details, or stop by Emeril’s Web site if you prefer.

Clara Gerica of Gerica Seafood is one of the market’s regular vendors, selling crab, fish and shrimp caught by her husband 3 miles out in the Gulf, west of the Mississippi. She told me that they’re seeing more pressure in that area from fishermen displaced from other areas by the oil, but so far the catch is what they’re used to. Prices are a bit higher, but Clara’s real concern is the number of customers who’ve told her they just don’t want to eat seafood from the Gulf right now. Her sales are off by around half, she says, and the increase in prices hasn’t offset that loss in business. By the time I visited the market, she’d sold out of crabs but had an ample supply of beautiful jumbo shrimp.

Stories like Clara’s highlight the importance of continuing to eat local seafood. I had a discussion recently with a friend who thinks that going ahead with the Oyster Festival this weekend sends the wrong message to the rest of the country. I couldn’t disagree more. I think it sends precisely the right message: Our seafood is safe and as good as ever. We are taking extraordinary measures to ensure that the seafood we serve is not contaminated by petroleum products, and we ought to make sure that as many people get that message as possible.

Let’s not let the damage already done by the oil to our waters and coast inflict even more damage to the reputation of our seafood. Eventually, we’ll clean up the oil, but it’s a lot harder to clean a reputation.
 

Categories: Haute Plates, Restaurants

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