At first, I thought I’d misheard him. So I asked Tim Stark, of Eckerton Hill Farm, to clarify. “You mean fava beans, right?”
I was wrong. Tim really meant fava blossoms. We were standing at his stall at the Union Square Greenmarket, talking about the market’s evolution since he’d started coming years ago.
Mike Anthony, newly-crowned Best Chef of NYC by the James Beard Foundation, had contacted Tim the day before with this surprise order.
When the chef of a Michelin-starred restaurant in New York City calls up an organic farmer out in rural Pennsylvania for all the fava stalks -- with blossoms attached -- he can haul to New York on a Saturday morning at 4 am, you know the local food system is flourishing.
I was at the market last weekend with a mission.
I set out with a fork, a bottle of water, and a fistful of dollars to eat my way through some of New York City’s open-air food and farmers’ markets.
Pushing aside a mild hangover, I started with Union Square’s Greenmarket, which runs from 8 am to 6 pm on Saturdays (as well as on Monday, Wednesday and Friday). Tourists, chefs and home cooks alike mill about, intent on photographing or buying (rarely both) as many ripe red strawberries, local cheeses, freshly-caught fish and (dare I say the word for fear of starting a stampede) ramps as they can carry home.
With Tim’s tasty French Breakfast radishes to keep me company, I sped over the Brooklyn Bridge to the Williamsburg waterfront at North 6th Street where Smorgasburg holds court from 11 am to 6 pm each Saturday. Its hours are a giveaway: come here for lunch, or even an early dinner.
If Kickstarter and Whole Foods had a love child, it might be Smorgasburg. The market is an impressive sandbox for serious food artisans as they grow up: Where cold brew coffee, beef jerky, raw chocolate and kale chips mingle with freshly-shucked oysters, wood-fired pizza and smoked brisket sandwiches.
I was instantly overwhelmed. Fish taco or schnitzel? Ice cream cone or donut? Pizza or grilled cheese? Life is hard when you have food-ADD.
Although it was 12 noon, I decided to start with breakfast. Which meant, locally-made Pop Tarts.
A homemade pop tart is a treat. Spoon fruit-laden jam onto buttery puff pastry. Bake. Ice. Eat. The result bears little resemblance to the Kellogg's packaged standards, and that's a good thing.
After breakfast came lunch, and we wasted no time.
I can't resist a good wood-fired pizza, so I was drawn to the booth with the portable brick oven. In all of six minutes, the following happened:
Ordered a margherita pizza. Dough stretched. Pizza flew into oven. Pizza flew out of oven. EVOO drizzled over piping hot pizza. Pepperoncino dusted over it, too. Lunch is served.
Day two, I woke up hungover. Again. But this time, it was food-induced.
Around noon, I headed down to another corner of town to the New Amsterdam Market, held in front of the former Fulton Street Fish Market on South Street at Peck Slip from 11 am to 4 pm on Sundays. The overpass provides a natural cover - protecting vendors and customers alike from rain and sunshine.
While I go to the Greenmarket to pick up ingredients amongst all walks of cooks and Smorgasburg to eat amongst foodies, families, strollers and even dogs, New Amsterdam falls somewhere in between. There’s produce as well as cured meat, fresh fish, jams and freshly-baked bread. Moreover, there’s a sense of building community, with composting and bicycle programs.
Feeling less indulgent after yesterday's full plate, I skipped breakfast and went straight for lunch.
I can never resist a good lobster roll (yes, there are many foods I can't resist) so of course I ordered one. In less than five minutes, a buttery crustacean-filled sandwich arrived with claw meat piled high.
The beauty of New Amsterdam Market is that one can eat lunch and forage for dinner all in the same place.
After lunch, I picked up enough produce and meat to make Julia Child proud. After all, I was planning to make beef bourguignon for supper. And with breads made from ale, Chardonnay and all sorts of whole grains, as well as Mexican chocolate and freshly-baked pies, I probably could have picked up enough food for the rest of the week. That is, if I could carry all the bags.
And if I'd wanted to pair the stew with American hard cider, I would have been able to purchase it there, too.
My recommendation, wicked hangover or dire hunger or neither or both? Don't miss any of these markets if you’re in New York.
If not? Find your local farmers’ market. The trip is worth getting out of bed on a weekend morning to eat a local meal or buy some locally-produced food. The time is ripe.