Eastern Market is in some ways the town center of the Capitol Hill neighborhood. During the week (not Monday), friends, coworkers and neighbors can often be seen dashing in on their lunch breaks or after work to grab some fresh produce, meat, seafood, cheese or prepared foods. I love dropping by for a big box of fluffy macaroons from the bakery to bring to a potluck or some fancy fresh pasta for the occasional treat. But I can never stay long – I have places to go and the hours are pretty tight.
On weekends though, we get to stroll the market and linger. Artists and crafts people sell their wares and many bargains can be found both at the tables outside the market and across the street at the flea market. Almost every weekend we go by at least once. There’s always a mix of neighbors and friends, area artists and folks in from other parts of town for some local flavor.
I love to see the Cake Lady, offering up pre-sliced pieces of layer cake, or the people from Uncle Brutha’s who sell kicky marinades and sauces. Towards the north end of the outside market, lined with flowers, produce, and garden vendors is a sprawling stand bursting with greens and pinks and purples. On a sunny day, the colors reflect with a fantastic intensity. Near this stand, is where you can find the magic lettuce.
One of several market shepards, the mother of a friend who has lived in the area for years, told me of the magic lettuce. It lives in a cooler by some of the flowers (usually) and I was told it lasted a long time. I kid you not, when I bought the magic lettuce, it was fresh for just under two weeks. And it tasted good to boot!
We started our visit today with lunch at Tortilla Café. In an area dotted with Mexican and Salvadoran restaurants, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd. But Tortilla Café’s well-seasoned meats and well-considered approach to standards like Tacos al Carbon, pupusas, and more, are memorable and worthy of return trips.
But on to the market! Here’s some of our booty from today’s visit. . .
Valencia Oranges for Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
You have your pick of several farmers and stands when looking for a particular fruit or vegetable. Today, we were on the hunt for oranges so we could take our new juicer on another spin. Lately it’s been used for a lot of mojitos, so doing a tried and true OJ test seemed like a good idea.
At the stand just inside the center doors, passed the ATM, a scruffy and eager guy helped me find oranges that made the best orange juice I’ve had in a long time. Valencia oranges make a rich goldish-orange juice with deep and super sweet taste. Ten oranges cost about $3.00. Each orange produced about 3 ounces of juice so keep that in mind when planning to have enough to serve brunch to your friends. One glass will not be enough!
Pre-peeled Garlic and HUGE Basil Bunches for Pesto
My guy loves the pre-peeled garlic. No, it’s not cut up and sitting in oil or spring water or whatever they do at the store. It’s just freshly peeled garlic ready to roast, chop, mince, press, slice, dice, or pop into the food processor.
We tend to be selective food purists—making our own crusts, tortillas, sauces, fillings, etc. but pre-peeled garlic tastes great and really does save kitchen mess and time. Hours, I tell you! Just kidding, but it does help.
The garlic is great, but the basil is just astounding. I love walking by the stands with large amounts of basil piled high. A relatively ginornmous bunch was just a buck fifty and we took home several.
I could smell it all the way home. It was so fresh and lush, especially compared to the withery pre-packaged basil containers I see at the store sometimes for twice the price. The scent encouraged me to have visions of capturing the essence of basil so I could have a house that smelled like basil on my herbal spray wielding whims.
I’ve made baba ghanouj and to be honest, mine is pretty damn good. But the baba ghanouj I pick up inside the market from the deli case (inside the south door and up about four cases on the left) is a very close second to mine which has a bit more kick to it. But for $3.00 for an amount that will feed two snackers for a sitting, I’m quite pleased. Baba Ghanouj, for me, is mostly about the texture being right. The taste of the eggplant, the temperature it is served, etc. are vital as well, but I think most can do this pretty well. But the texture matters. Too milky is just unappealing, and to thick is as bad. Somewhere in the middle there is a soft, light and deeply tasty texture that I love and this place gets it right. Kudos! They also have hummus, dolmades, fresh pasta, marinated peppers, red pepper dip, pestos of their own and more.
The same folks that run the Tortilla Café also offer up a sandwich and meat counter that seems very popular. Today I bought some two kinds of empanadas – chicken with raisins and spinach. Tonight’s bite of the chicken one was wonderful. Shredded chicken is densely stuffed into delicious buttery dough accompanied by plum raisins and some gentle spicing. I highly recommend them!
Eastern Market really provides folks in the area with a chance to feel like part of a community and I think there aren't too many places that feel that way. Even at 97 degrees with oppressive humidity, Eastern Market is pretty damn cool.