Sunday, July 17, 2011

Taste of Farmers Market - 77th Anniversary Celebration of The Original Farmers Market

Ever wondered why there is a faux retro gas station in front of the Farmers Market at The Grove?  I've passed by it many times but just took it for granted that it was another 'set' piece to add to the ambience.

It wasn't until this past Tuesday that I learned some of the history behind the market, while attending the Taste of Farmers Market event in celebration of its 77th anniversary.  Yes, it all started back in 1934 - and is a great story of imagination, possibility and happy happenstance.  The Gilmore family had landed the property on 3rd and Fairfax through a drawing of straws, used it as a dairy farm until they discovered oil when drilling for water for the herds, and over time allowed a pair of entrepreneurial spirits to make use of a vacant lot nearby to have local farmers come to sell fresh produce off the backs of their trucks.  Farmers would pay just 50 cents back then to rent a space to park their truck and sell their wares to local shoppers.  The concept was an instant hit, and within months they were building structures to house merchants and facilitate visits from the crowds. 

Thus, the faux gas station (a detailed replica of a 1936 service station) is a nodd to the Gilmore family, Gilmore Gas and its place in Western American history - and the great journey of seemingly unrelated circumstances that came together to create the market and turn it into what it is today.  The market of course wouldn't be what it is now without the diverse mix of food vendors - and like the place itself, the whole food service side of the business is steeped in history.  And all started with an idea - an idea that came from one enterprising lady, Blanche Magee. Blanche thought that farmers at the market might want to eat lunch -  so she would fill a picnic hamper with sandwiches and trek to the market selling them to the farmers.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Seventy-seven years later, and the Magee family still operates two food stands at the market, Magee's, which serves - you guessed it - sandwiches (and salads and special plates), and nuts.  
Ulysses' Voyage Greek Restaurant

I've always enjoyed The Original Farmers Market - with its laid back and authentic vibe in contrast to the relative opulence of The Grove next door.  Part of the charm of the place is its no-fuss atmosphere, and welcoming of people from any and all walks of life.  It's sort of the great equalizing space in the midst of the ostensibly higher-end stores at The Grove.  And that applies to both vendors and patrons - on any given day you can take your pick of anything from Spanish to Singaporean to French to Italian to Greek to Brazilian.  You can arrive in your suit or your flip flops - and feel equally at home.  Is it fine dining?  No, and that's not the point of the market (see origins of food stalls noted above).

The Taste of Farmers Market event on July 12th offered the public the rare chance to sample from almost all of the vendors at the market, AYCE style, for one price ($35 per person for unlimited tastings, $45pp to add 2 wine/beer tickets). It had been a challenging day at work, and I arrived with only an hour left to go in the event (the event ran 5-9pm and I got there at 8pm!) - so I was grateful when the organizers were kind enough to provide a media pass.

Some of the highlights from the event reflects the diversity of the offerings of the market:  Loukoumades fried dough balls drizzled with honey, from Ulysses' Voyage,  turkey or nutella crepes from The French Crepe Company, Chicken Mole Taco from Loteria Grill, Patatas Bravas from Little Spain, Brazilian sausage, sirloin cap and plantains from Pampas, Pain a la Tomate, and Chocolate Mousse with Glazed Raspberry from Monsieur Marcel (one of my fav spots in the market) and english toffee from Littlejohn's English Toffee.  I missed but would have liked to sample the gumbo and cornbread from The Gumbo Pot.

Gourmet hand-crafted frozen pastas
I had actually rarely ventured to the back aisle of the market, and was excited on this night to see that the Singapore Banana Leaf stall serves Laksa - they were not sampling that dish that night, so I made a note to return the next time I'm at the market. 

The market also offers dry/frozen goods including an interesting stall called Paparadelle's Pasta, a company based out of Colorado that offers hand-crafted gourmet pastas that are frozen to maintain freshness.  Some of the mouth-watering and original pastas I saw there included Spicy Red Hot Thai Curry Orzo and Sweet Potato Paparadelle (8 oz bag for $5).  And of course, the chocolate pasta that they sampled at the event, which was made into a 'pasta sundae' with whipped cream.  It's a concept with flavors and textures that take getting used to, but I respected the risk-taking and envelope-pushing.  They also sampled and orzo salad which was delicious. 
As one of the vendors that have been there it seems, forever, Bennett's Ice Cream is made fresh on the premises and has been a staple at the market since it opened.  For the event, they offered two scoops with any flavor of your choice.  I opted for the Chocolate Junkie and Fancy Nancy (coffee banana and caramel) - both were smooth and 'real' - like only old-fashioned hand-crafted ice cream can taste. A charming thing about Bennett's is that you can actually watch them mix their ice creams through the window into the open kitchen. 

In addition to tried and true staples, the market occasionally introduces its fans to newcomers - and at last Tuesday's event, they previewed a vendor that will be coming soon to the market:  Short Order, a partnership between Nancy Silverton (of Mozza fame) and Amy Pressman, which will be focused on burgers.  Short Order easily had the best savory food sample at the event in my opinion, with a Mac 'N' Cheese Burger - a little slider served with a side of watermelon rind pickles.  They actually ran out of mac n' cheese by the time I got there, so I didn't get to try that topping, but the slider itself was still delicious - served at just the right temperature, with a tender, juicy patty embraced by the fluffiest hot brioche buns - it may have been a small bite, but it was packed with lots of promise for the upcoming launch of the gourmet casual restaurant (the girls at the table said September!).  Sign up at their teaser website to receive info on the upcoming opening!

In addition to the samples from food vendors, the market also offered samples to take home from stickers to treats for four-legged friends from Three Dogs Bakery (I picked up some cool "pup-cakes" for my friend 'Designer's fav pal, Stella).

All in all, a great event that invited people to break out of their comfort zone and give all vendors at the market a chance - while some definitely stood out more than others, it was a great way to check out the wide range offerings at Farmers Market in one night, so that you can come back another time to get a fuller experience at the places that you liked.

And just think - each time you dine at the Farmers Market you are not just fueling up, but partaking in a piece of LA history as well. It also doesn't hurt, of course, that it's also a good alternative to the pricier options next door - and serves as a great pit stop on the way to the movies or shopping excursions through The Grove, and/or a destination in itself for those on a budget, especially on Thursday/Friday nights during summer when free live music is offered from 7-9pm on the West Patio.

[Feast on more photos from the Taste of Farmers Market event, as well as from other fantastic farmers' market finds around town at my Facebook page!]


The Original Farmers' Market 
Mon–Fri 9am-9pm, Sat 9am– 8pm, Sun 10am – 7pm
6333 West 3rd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Ph: 323.933.9211

Parking: FM lot - 2 hours free with validation; $3 for 3rd hour, $1 for each additional 20 minutes $15 max. Without Validation $2 each 20 minutes, $20 max
The Grove: 1 hour free. 2 hour validations from select Grove merchants



  1. I didn't know the history of the place - thanks for sharing!

  2. I never attend this Framer Market Event..I really like this post..Thanx for sharing your experience..



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