Wednesday, July 25, 2007

From the Depressing to the Sublime

For the first time this summer, I decided to head to the downtown Farmer's Market to pick up some fresh fruit and veg along with the festivities I often see advertised. I figured I'd pick up lunch at the City Market while I was there. I did get lunch, but not before noting what an entirely depressing venue the once interesting food hall has become.

First the sublime. Stands for the vendors of the weekly farmer's market were shady and cool. With the street blocked off, it's a perfect fit for the number of vendors with everything from honey and baked goods to roasted corn and fruit. It's even a little shady because of the trees on one side and the tents and umbrellas from the vendors. I picked up fresh berries, corn, beans, cucumbers, and home-grown tomatillos. The street was crowded with people taking their lunch breaks. People carried fresh flowers and fruit! There were families, mom and kids and strollers, people on bicycles, mixing in with the suited office workers. The goat cheese from the Capriole stand was so warm it seemed fluffy on its sample of baguette. Fantastic.

In contrast, the City Market building is grim. Of the two sections that are open, both have a limited number of greasy food court style stands serving shiny, oily Chinese food, grocery store sushi, greasy burgers, and sad-looking slices of pizza. (Not to mention the sad-looking Judge's BBQ.) The whole operation is thoroughly depressing. Ironically, the stands with the longest lines were the ones with the greasiest, heat-lamp congealed food especially the pizza. Everything looked like the worst a mall food court could offer. I chose Middle Eastern -- still not good, but it at least looked somewhat fresh and original.

Connecting the two areas that are open, the central hall still stands empty except for one vendor who'd set up a table inside. No visible work was going on and if they're still going for an August opening, it might be hard with no build outs, tables or chairs. Even so, if the quality of food stands coming back to City Market is the same as the quality there now, it won't be much of a destination, no different than the food court at Circle City Mall. There is no information I could find on their website about when the central hall will be open again.

When I first experienced the City Market several years ago, it had potential. Compare to the best of the international food courts I'd seen, it still had some growing to do, but the model works. Food courts with local restaurants and vendors can be more than impromptu affairs used to fill space especially if stand after stand is fresh and simple American and international food. One city market-style food court across the street from my office in Emeryville featured 20-25 food vendors. My favorites were the Indian food with rich, savoury gravies, Vietnamese food with fresh spring rolls and bahn mi sandwiches, a creperie, burgers, Korean BBQ, a deli, and Thai with the chefs tossing pad thai fresh in super-hot woks and a variety of curries.

But here, the current stands (and my guess is many of the returnees) go for the greasy, fatty, heat-lamp friendly choices. (Yes, I've seen the list of vendors they list as restaurants here, but most of them aren't actually there yet and many don't look like they'll be that different. Many returning businesses aren't even food vendors.) Sadly, it's missed opportunity for fresh and ethnic food vendors to introduced downtowners to the joys of simple and fresh lunch fare. Wouldn't you rather have a fresh vegetable spring roll with shrimp or a hot yellow Thai curry? Or Pho or glass noodle soup in winter? I refuse to believe that downtowners only want a greasy, nasty mess.

With no seating in the comfortably air-conditioned but empty main hall, I wandered outside to eat my greasy chicken schwarma (with bulk-jar dill pickles slices) on a superheated bench on the superheated patio. No umbrellas, no shade, and no relief. The funky, slightly funny, folk group on stage was in the only shade. Finished and driven back inside, I looked for a bakery. I wanted a baguette or loaf of fresh bread to go with my goat cheese. No luck. I made another pass through the farmer's market (much cooler on the street), and sadly, had to stop at O'Malia's for a baguette on my way home. That says so much about the state of our City Market downtown. It's depressing. But the Farmer's Market? Pretty sublime.

Downtown Farmer's Market
Every Wednesday through October
10:00 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
On Market Street between Alabama and Delaware


Kevin said...

The shining star of the Market is Cafe Olivia in the east end. Other than that I usually struggle to find something tasty. And I agree that they need to have umbrellas at the outside tables.

Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...

Maybe you missed the report that they've run out of money to finish the main hall?

CorrND said...

WOW. I knew they were late and over budget but I had no idea they were out of money and the work had stopped. What a clusterf*ck.

Mike said...

Considering that a lot of the old tenants didn't want the remodel anyway, I'd agree - What a clusterf*ck.

braingirl said...

I had missed that also. Agree. What a complete mess. And even more sad since people have lost and are losing their businesses over it.

Sitting on the board of a couple of non-profits, myself, the whole business about the board blowing off meetings is even worse.

Anonymous said...

Nikki Longsworth was an absoulte waste of a city market director. She left the place in ruins.