Sunday, August 16, 2009

Saturday Brunch at the Market

I used to consider eating prepared food at the Farmers' Market a cheat. After all, I was there to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and other ingredients for the week. I should just go home and make something!

After three out of four of my last restaurant dining experiences ended in a stomach ache and not so pleasant case of what I can only assume was mild food poisoning, I have come to appreciate Brunch at the Market. It is a delicious dining experience that works for both body and soul.

The Alemany Farmers' Market now has Food Row. I like the new arrangement, with all the food carts, coaches and booths along the South side of the market and tables at both ends, much better than the previously haphazard placement with all of it sort of piled in the middle. There is something for everyone among the various and tasty delights available, and now you can see them.

Here are some of my favorites:

All Star Tamales (fondly known to us as The Tamale Guys)

These are by far the best tamales at any Farmers' Market. I know there are folks out there with flashy marketing selling at the fancy market, but let me tell you, their tamales Pale in comparison to All Star's.

I eat the Vegan Tamale. The masa is perfect and not too thick. The ample stuffing is made up of black beans, green beans, carrots, cauliflower, corn, roasted red peppers, and spinach. This tamale does not need cheese. You can taste all the vegetables and the roasted pepper imparts a little smokiness with each bite. The tamale is wonderful by itself or with a squirt of the green salsa. I am not a big fan of hot, so I stick to the mild.

The Tamale Guys serve 14 different kinds of tamales from traditional to unusual. They are made with NO lard and are available either cold, to take home and eat later, or hot to be eaten on the spot. They have green salsa and a couple of kinds of red salsa, varying from mild to burning hot, to add as you see fit. I recommend you try a few bites without adding anything just so you can appreciate the variety of flavors in these truly delicious tamales.

OK, so I haven't actually eaten from this booth, but they have the most beautiful breads I've ever seen! Ralphie, the owner, and his crew, supply bread for over 200 restaurants and hotels in the Bay Area. In addition, they also have been vending bread at the Alemany Market for the past fifteen years.

While I was chatting with Ralphie and Mr. Green was taking pictures, a young woman with a threeish-year-old child walked up. Ralphie turned to me and said, "See?" "I've know her since she was a teen!" "Now look at her!" "She has a husband and this beautiful child!" The woman smiled and said "I'm here almost every week." I could see and feel the connection. Beautiful.

Panorama is also at the Alemany location on Sunday during the Flea Market. I'll be trying their bread soon!

Spring Hill has a lot of different kinds of organic cheese. And when I say a lot, I mean it. It is all from their cows who live in Petaluma so it is Estate Cheese. The ingredients are simple: Grade A milk, enzymes and salt. That's it. And their rennet is vegetable rennet. Since I'm not a cheese maker, I'm not sure exactly what that means, but I can tell you that all the cheeses I've tasted are good.

My favorite, so far, (one can only eat so many samples of cheese at once) is the Yellow Jersey Cheddar. It's smooth, tart and creamy. Not hard, not squishy, just firm and palatable. I thought for sure I would love the Garlic Cheddar or the White Cheddar, but not so much. The basic Yellow Cheddar is the one. I have no idea what the difference between yellow and white is. To be honest, I've always thought it was food coloring, but it must be something else, because the white cheddar and the yellow cheddar taste totally different.

The other item that Spring Hill has is Butter. This is butter that is meant to be enjoyed on a cracker or on a breadstick or on a slice of your best homemade bread while it's still warm. It's sweet and delicious and so good that you could serve it on a whole grain cracker as an hors d' oeuvre! There are samples. just ask for a taste. Now that I think of it, this butter on a slice of Panorama bread would be perfect!

Estrallita's Pupusas

Ahhhh. . . the Pupusas! A Salvadorian treat! These are delicious and so worth the wait. Cooked as they are ordered, these maize flour dough wonders are grilled to perfection, then served plain or with a pile of cold slaw on top and a ladle of mild or hot sauce.

The best way to understand what they are is to watch them being made. The woman who makes them takes a little ball of dough and flattens it out on her palm by patting it and turning it. then she puts a generous amount of filling in the middle, gathers the edges up and seals them, then flattens the whole thing out again and puts it on the grill.

The result is a savory mix of flavors with the smoothness of a mild white cheese all nestled in a browned crust that is heavenly. A perfect example of umami. Deliciousness that can't be described. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it. I like the mushroom and cheese and I get it "with everything".

And, by the way, pupusas are by far the best prepared food buy at the market. For only $2.50 each, they are a steal of a meal and a generous gourmet treat.

Malaysian Lacy Crepes

Azalina, the owner and chef at Malaysian Lacy Crepes has been working as a public and private chef for over fifteen years. She is from Malaysia and has been living in the states for seven years.

These crepes are different than the typical thin pancake with stuff inside. The crepe is actually lacy and full of holes and ends up on the bottom of the container with the "filling" on top. I love this because it makes the filling the feature - as it should be.

I tried the vegetable curry, which is completely different than Indian curry. Malaysian curry is mild which meant I could taste the vegetables, including pumpkin, which I love. The combination of sweet and savory is wonderful in this dish, and the pieces of crepe are the perfect, slightly spongy, accompaniment for the vegetable mixture.

The other item that is absolutely To Die For that Azalina makes is Chai Banana Fritters. These deep-fried blobs of heaven are the best dessert at the market. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, the dough is the flavor of mild chai spice and is enhanced by the pieces of warm banana nestled inside. Amazingly tasty!

After I tasted mine, a woman was debating with her friend about whether to get some or not. I said I highly recommend them. I saw her later and she thanked me profusely and referred to them as "phenomenal".

Azalina and her husband are new at the market and are educating people about Malaysian food. As soon as people figure out how good it is, there will be a huge line!

The Hummus Guy

Mohamed is the Hummus Guy! He is from Tunisia. He is friendly and honest about who makes the hummus. His sister and his mom do. He gives them full credit for all the delicious flavors. He says he's just the sales guy - and he's good at it. His favorite flavor is Artichoke. Mine is Garlic and Chive. He says I won't get any kisses eating that and I better get Mr. Green to try some, too! The plain is also good.

I love this hummus because it doesn't have any weird unpronounceable ingredients. Just garbanzos, olive oil, tahini, garlic, lemon & the herbs or veggies that makes each kind special. It's great on toast. It's great on carrot sticks. It's great on a spoon! And, of course, it's great on pita, which the Hummus Guy also sells.

OK, so I haven't eaten at this booth, but I love the idea of Grilled Watermelon! I also love the thought of a delicious pulled pork sandwich for breakfast. I'll be trying it soon for two reasons. First, because the smell of the meat cooking on their grill is scrumptious and second, because all the people I asked who were eating from Good Foods said it was "Fantastic".

Their food display was such a beautiful pile of comfort food, I couldn't not include them.

These guys drag a 1700 pound real wood-fired brick oven to the market each week (slightly crazy!). And the make amazing pizza! The oven itself is a reason to stop by. It's a functional work of art. Beautiful on the outside and hot on the inside. Their pizzas cook in two minutes!

I love thin crust pizza and this one is a good one. The owner, Tom, gets his flour from Giusto's, which is an organic flour mill located here, in San Francisco. The pizza crust is perfect. Crispy on the outside and slightly chewy toward the center of the slices.

I have eaten this pizza twice and enjoyed it both times. The sauce tastes fresh, slightly tart, and has a good hint of basil in it. It's light and just tomatoey enough to show off the flavors of the toppings, whether you choose traditional meats or a variety of veggies.

Uncomplicated is how to order this pizza, which is why the menu recommends two toppings. You want to be able to experience all the flavors from the crust to the cheese without muddying it up with too much on the top. There are a variety of topping options available. I like roasted garlic and mushroom or spinach and tomato. Mr. Green enjoyed the pepperoni.

Of course, what makes this pizza is the oven. Pizza cooked in a wood-fired brick oven has a taste that you just can't get with a conventional oven. The crust finishes slightly smokey and brown, as does the cheese. Delicious!

Tom uses as many local ingredients as he can find. He also makes and sells these ovens and will bring one to your place and cater. How fun would that be?!

I love brunch at the market! There are so many great food choices. There are many more choices than the ones I have written about. These are just the ones I like best. I dine first and then shop for produce. It's a wonderful way to start my Saturday.

To be honest, I would like it more if I could get it on a real plate with a real fork. I'm seriously considering taking these items with me. And maybe a cloth napkin. And possibly a split of champagne with a stemmed glass. That, and a seat at one of the tables, would make my Saturday Morning dining experience complete!

To view the rest of the pictures we took of the food vendors, see Mr. Green's photo album.

Thank you so much to Mr. Green for being my photographer, technical whiz and fellow foodie. . . kisses.

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