By Hudson Lindenberger
Most native Los Angelino’s know about The Original Farmers Market. The local institution has continually operated on the corner of Fairfax Avenue and West Third Street for 80 years, gradually morphing from a relaxed collection of vendor stalls in the middle of a dirt field to the gleaming showcase of Hollywood’s finest. With an impressive array of offerings the market could make the powers that be at Whole Foods jealous. The bazaar-like collection of specialty grocers, gift shops, clothing boutiques and restaurants feels more like a European marketplace than a Californian farmers market. Surrounded by the numerous offerings it’s hard to imagine that 100 years ago this was a booming oil field – my how the times have changed. White clapboard stalls, a dizzying array of colors and a plethora of scents make this oasis in the heart of the teeming city a must visit.
The Farmers Market’s Long History
The market was the brainchild of a down-on-his-luck businessman, Roger Dahlhjelm and his headline-grabbing partner, Fred Beck, a young advertising writer. The men partnered with E.B. Gilmore, the philanthropic Los Angeles oil executive, to open a small farmers market on Gilmore Island; an entertainment mecca (auto race track, professional baseball field, drive-in theater) that served the growing Los Angeles population. The market opened in the middle of the Great Depression in 1934 and quickly surpassed all objectives as locals and Hollywood royalty alike mingled amongst the wooden stalls. Due to its booming popularity, permanent stalls, plumbing and electricity were added, and in 1941 it’s iconic white clock tower announced the market was there to stay.
As you walk through a gate entering the market you are both intrigued and puzzled, surrounded by modern retail stores, CBS Television City and the Grove mall, you wonder if the market is a Hollywood production or the real thing? In a city where image is king and people work in the entertainment industry, can you trust the promise of a glimpse of LA’s past? Happily I can report yes, yes you can find a little bit of magic, a unique slice of times passed. The market is a wonderful blend of Seattle’s Pike Place Market, a Parisian street café and Los Angeles glitz, all topped with a touch of P.T Barnum’s salesmanship.
A Mélange of Restaurants Feature Foods from Around the World
One could easily spend several hours in the market just sampling the multitude of restaurants found throughout the 72 stalls spread amongst the oblong market. An astounding 33 are eateries offering a mélange of world cuisine ranging from Asian to Brazilian and all points between. A few not to miss are Du-par’s, Short Cake and The Gumbo Pot.
Du-par’s has been serving customers in the market since 1938, satisfying folks with definitive diner food; it is the perfect comfort-food spot in a town obsessed with figures. Their pancake recipe is what they hang their reputation on, it is rumored to be stored in a safe and was awarded the “Best Pancakes in the U.S” by Esquire magazine.
Short Cake is the brainchild of Spago veterans Amy Pressman and Nancy Silverton; two pastry chefs extraordinaire. The menu reminds one of a classic Parisian café loaded with top-line baked goods, quiches galore and fresh sandwiches. Order a croissant and espresso and feel yourself borne to the Left Bank.
The Gumbo Pot has been transporting Californians to the Bayou since 1986 with Frog Legs, Gator Gumbo, Jambalaya, Southern Fried Chicken and Red Beans and Rice. If you are looking to add some spice to your day look no further.
Extensive Offerings for Your Well-Stocked Kitchen
What I found somewhat humorous is that there are only two stalls offering fresh produce. They are well stocked, but don’t go expecting an enormous produce selection. The positive to this interesting offering is that they make up for that shortcoming by the extensive offerings amongst the rest of the stalls. Numerous bakeries, meat markets, seafood stands and candy stores guarantee your kitchen will remain well provisioned. A couple of my favorites are Light My Fire, Monsieur Marcel Gourmet Market, The Magic Nut & Candy Company and Huntington Meats & Sausage.
Light My Fire is a small shop dedicated to hot sauces, that’s it, but with more than 1,000 bottles you can easily get lost looking for the correct liquid fire. Boasting colorful names like Pete’s Insanity, Spank My Butt and Whoop Ass Hot Sauce you could spend awhile in here just perusing the labels. Don’t miss it.
Monsieur Marcels’ is a gourmand’s heaven with bountiful charcutier, unique cheeses and ingredients from across the globe; Julia Child would love this place.
The Magic Nut & Candy Company is pretty much what you would expect from the name, copious candies call at you from across the market. Huge lollypops from your childhood? Check. More gummies than Willie Wonka would envision? Check. A selection of Jawbreakers to make any dentist nervous? Check.
Lastly Huntington’s is a great old-fashioned butcher shop manned by Dan Vance and Jim Cascone. They hand butcher all of their meats, crank out delectable sausages and freely offer tips if you are stumped. They have won numerous awards for their meats and are consistently rated highly on Yelp.
The Barbershop Club might be one of the best-kept secrets in the whole market. This is the barbershop I remember from my youth – comfortable feel, zero pretentiousness and, best of all, a beer and wine list! A haircut will set you back $45 bucks, not bad for LA.
T (Tea Shoppe) offers a humongous selection of loose teas from across the globe and the knowledge to point you in the correct direction if you get lost.
If you are looking for spices head over to Dragunara Spice Bazaar, where owner Michael Khemlani scours the globe looking for new and exciting spices to transform your dishes into culinary masterpieces.
If you live in LA or are visiting for a few days, don’t miss this sensory spectacular. I bet you will come away with something unique. The Farmers Market is open seven days a week. For more info visit their website.