The new Farmer’s Market, at 900 Eighth Ave. N., officially opened Oct. 21, but it’s no secret that the produce and nursery vendors were at the new location by mid-June, offering their summer harvest of fresh tomatoes, corn, peaches, cantaloupes and yellow squash.
From my first visit, I was thrilled with the new Farmer’s Market. A paved parking lot boasting 270 spaces, five entrances, and large stalls lining both sides of two wide brick-and-concrete walkways, all under a tin roof. There are water fountains for the thirsty and strategically placed benches for the weary. Everything was impeccably clean.
All through the fall, my children and I kept peeking inside the big building that would eventually house the new market’s more esoteric tenants. I knew Mad Platter had leased space for a deli; I had heard that the hot-pepper guy was relocating from the arcade; I knew that one large space was reserved for the Afghanistani proprietors of Khan Market. It was all so exciting and cosmopolitan.
Meanwhile, I was shocked by the complaints of other Farmer’s Market shoppers. What in the world were they whining about? One Sunday afternoon my brother-in-law, a perfectly logical engineer, explained it to me. “There’s no place to park.” I said, “There are plenty of places to park.” He replied, “But you have to walk.” “Excuse me?” “You have to walk, with all your stuff.”
Balderdash. At the Farmer’s Market, you don’t have to pay for parking, and it is no more than a 100-foot walk from your car to any vendor on the lot. If you happen to be buying a 50-pound sack of potatoes or a dozen cantaloupes, you can drive through the gate and pick up your goods. Personally, I am relieved that I no longer have to worry about my kids being plowed down by a motorist scouting out the red peppers.
Although tarps have been lowered from the roof of the outdoor market and overhead heaters have been installed, few vendors seem willing to stand in the cold this time of year. As always, Maxwell Produce is open for business, and so is one of my summertime favorites, Howell Produce, still offering bacon, ham hocks, jams, preserves, nuts, Christmas candies, sweet potatoes, oranges and apples. (A 10-lb. bag of English walnuts in the shell is just $17.50.)
Don’t miss Betty Smith’s Nursery at the Capitol end of the market. Wreaths, cut Christmas trees (6- and 7-footers for $34.95), poinsettia plants ($5.99), and kitschy Christmas yard art starting at just $10.
Inside the Farmer’s Market, business is booming. As the garlic man pointed out to me, it’s a virtual United Nations of Food.
The best way to learn about the vendors inside the market is to profess complete ignorance. Each vendor is only too happy to explain his wares, help you make your selections, and even offer a recipe or two along the way.
At S.R. Smith Meat Market, I did find out more than I wanted to know about souse and liver cheese (liver pudding and pork, wrapped in pork fat, then sliced and sold by the pound). They sell 30 to 40 pounds of the stuff a week. Just imagine. Butterflied pork chops were selling for $3.99 a pound; pork spare ribs were going $1.89 a pound, and lamb loin chops were $6.49 a pound. We were wild for the plump and spicy Chicago Fire Dogs.
Smith’s also has a freezer case full of frozen vegetables and treats such as chicken nuggets, fish sticks and dinosaur french fries (which my kids, inexplicably, did not like). Everyone swears by the frozen biscuits at Smith’s. I popped them into a 375-degree oven for 17 minutes, and my husband, the biscuit aficionado, was immediately converted, vowing that they were only surpassed by The Pie Wagon’s; high praise indeed.
Next stop was Cinelli’s Chocolates, manned by the dreamy Joey Cinelli, who offers 40 flavors of fudgewe sampled the scrumptious Rocky Road, cranberry vanilla and peanut butter pecan. All chocolates are handmade daily and are sold at $6.50 per half-pound. The almond butter crunch, available in white, dark or milk chocolate, disappeared in a flash. By Christmas, the Cinellis (brother Charles Cinelli operates Cafe Elliston) will be selling specialty coffees, espresso, cappuccinos, lattes, coffee beans and homemade pastries.
The Oriental Farmer’s Market, owned and operated by a Korean family, has been open about a month. The neatly arranged shelves are stocked with products from Korea, Vietnam, Laos, China and Japancondiments, spices, herbs, a huge supply of rice and noodles, fresh bean sprouts, frozen dumplings, meatballs and fish cakes, frozen seafood, soup bases, dried roots and dried mushrooms. The helpful salesperson told me how to make cha-jang-myun, a noodle dish with pork and black bean paste. There are also plenty of mysterious Asian medicines for whatever ails you.
Everyone is raving about Gulf Pride Seafood, which operated for years out of a truck in the old Farmer’s Market and now claims a spacious corner in the new market. Call ahead (256-7773/255-0499) if you know what you want to order, but, on any given day, you can expect to find an ocean’s worth of fish, including four kinds of trout, amberjack, cherrystone clams, fresh crab meat (the real stuff), lobster tails (10 oz. for $13.50), alligator, jumbo shrimp for $14.99 a pound, and even soft-shell crab.
Khan Market occupies nearly a fourth of the inside market’s perimeter. I picked up some fabulously briny feta cheese, medjool dates ($2.95 pound), pistachio nuts, Arabian coffee beans, calamata olives and pita bread. Khan’s offers everything you need to make an Indian dinner, from the cookbook to basmati rice to yellow split peas to mint chutney. Coming soonspeciality meats, with an emphasis on lamb, and a gyro counter.
JB’s Hot Stuff delivers the heat, with spicy products ranging from the predictable salsa to hot sardines and hot peanut butter. For the brave soul who says nothing is too hot, try Dave’s Insanity Sauce, “The Hottest Sauce in the Universe.” Bruce Dobie, who hails from Lafayette, La., and uses Tabasco like it was ketchup, allowed as how Dave’s packed quite the wallop. He actually broke out in a sweat.
The products from D.L. Jardine’sespecially the jalapeño and mesquite mustard and the cactus and jalapeño jellywere big winners with our taste-testing group. JB’s also sells a terrific non-frozen andouille sausage for just $3.95 per package.
The Tennessee Stinking Rose is home to all things garlic, from pickled garlic in seven flavors to garlic jelly to, yes, garlic peanut butter.
Opening soon will be Jamaica Spice, selling island spices and condiments, seasonings and handmade meat pies; Mary Helena’s offers freshly made tortillas and Spanish groceries; Pam’s Pit and More will sell meat ’n’ three and barbecue; and the opening of The Mad Platter’s deli is swiftly approaching.
A demonstration kitchen is already in operation, indoor picnic tables are in place, and the entire location is available for private parties. Leadership Nashville staged a recent gathering in the market.
Diversity isn’t the first word that comes to mind when one thinks of Nashville, but it certainly is the hallmark of the new Farmer’s Market. You may have to walk a few feet, but it’s the most convenient and cheapest trip around the world you’ll ever take. Operating hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., though not all vendors comply with that schedule.