What's your favorite food at the farmers market? Apples or oranges? Strawberries or zucchini? How about ribs? In fact, it's quite possible that two of the best barbecue restaurants in Southern California can be found only at farmers markets.
And some of the best pizza comes from a wood-burning oven hitched to a trailer that visits the Manhattan Beach farmers market every week.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, May 22, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Farmers markets: In a listing of farmers markets in Wednesday's Food section, the address for the Westchester market was incorrect. It is at 7000 W. Manchester Ave., Los Angeles, across from the Otis College of Art and Design.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, May 27, 2009 Home Edition Food Part E Page 2 Features Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Farmers market: In a May 20 listing of farmers markets, the address for the Westchester market was incorrect. It is at 7000 W. Manchester Ave., Los Angeles, across from the Otis College of Art and Design.
While most of the action at the markets quite appropriately centers around the farmers and their fruits and vegetables, there's some great hot food to be had as well, if you know where to look. In fact, at some markets -- the ones in Torrance on Saturday and Hollywood on Sunday leap to mind -- the hot food may be almost as much of a draw.
You know you're in for a treat when you're at the Dray's Bar-B-Que stand in Westchester, gnawing a thick, moist pork rib, and smoke-master Andre Weathersby's wife, Diana, offers you a slice of the best sweet potato pie you can imagine, saying, "I'm gonna give you a taste because I know you're gonna want some."
And it's a good sign when you see pizzaiolo Bradford Kent wearing a Caputo Tipo 00 Pizza Flour T-shirt, stoking the fire for his wood-burning oven with California olive wood.
Barbecue and pizza are just the start of the prepared foods that are available at local farmers markets. To get an overview, we visited more than a dozen markets, sampling as widely as we could whatever looked good.
We found a lot: ribs and brisket, tamales and tri-tip, roasted chicken, pupusas, empanadas, crepes, even aebleskivers (those melt-in-your-mouth Danish pastries that look like spherical pancakes).
Prepared foods sold at farmers markets must be made in local health department-certified kitchens. Furthermore, the individual booths must have a hand-washing area as well as access to running water.
Still, their presence is not without controversy. Some purists object to markets offering anything but farm-grown produce. But Mary Lou Weiss, founding manager of the Torrance farmers markets, where food has been sold since the early 1990s, says it has become an integral part of the market experience.
"It's helped our market become a community event every Saturday," Weiss says. "People can have their breakfast and shop, or they can shop and then have lunch. We used to think people would come to a farmers market and be in and out in under an hour. Now we think they spend more time because there's more for them to do. They can see their friends and talk and listen to good music while they're enjoying good food. And then they can go shop."
Indeed, the food court end of the Torrance market resembles nothing so much as a festival in full swing. Booths selling hot food surround a tent where diners sit at crowded tables and listen to live music. Farmers market food doesn't mean just Kettle Korn anymore.
Acadie Crepes: There's nothing instant about this. Order a crepe and watch the batter being poured, spread and cooked before being filled. You can get them basic (butter and cinnamon sugar) or elaborate (banana, toasted almonds, sour cream and honey).
Crepes from $3.50 to $8. Torrance, Saturday; and Santa Monica (Ocean Park), Sunday.
Aebleskivers: Puffy little dough balls hot from the pan, sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with strawberry jam. What could be better?
Three for $2.75. Torrance, Saturday; and Hollywood, Sunday.
Ara's Kitchen: One of the standouts among the big, thick pupusas at Ara's Kitchen are the ones stuffed with cheese and loroco, an edible Central American flower. (You'll see a photo of a pile of the green buds taped to the booth.) And don't forget the aguas frescas. Recently on offer: watermelon, pineapple-mango-green-apple and horchata -- a version made with seeds from the Calabash gourd.
Pupusas, $4. Aguas frescas, $2.50 to $5. Downtown L.A. (Little Tokyo), Thursday; Eagle Rock, Friday; Encino, Sunday.
Bigmista's Barbecue: Bigmista-mania is all over the Internet and there's a good reason why -- Neil Strawder really knows how to smoke meat. His pork ribs are lean and dense with just the perfect balance of smoke and sweet. And about that brisket? Take your choice: The lean side is mostly about the smoke, the fatty side is rich and beefy, almost like Kobe barbecue.
Sandwiches, $4 to $7; meat a la carte, $5 to $12; sides, $1 to $6. Atwater Village, Sunday; Torrance, Tuesday; El Segundo, Thursday; and Watts, Saturday.
Corn Maiden Tamales: Pascal Dropsy started his company by selling gourmet tamales only at farmers markets and was so successful that they're now sold in supermarkets. But you can still find them at a dozen markets every week.
Tamales, $3.50 (also available by the dozen, $30 to $34). Culver City, Tuesday; downtown L.A. (Figueroa), downtown L.A. (Little Tokyo), Westwood and South Pasadena, Thursday; Torrance, Calabasas and La Canada, Saturday; and Hollywood, Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica and Studio City, Sunday.