“Farmers’ Market.” There was a time when the phrase would invoke an image of your quirky middle school physics teacher heading into town on a tandem bike carrying empty hemp-knit bags to pick up his weekly stock of unpronounceable root vegetables. That era has passed.
Today, farmers’ markets are a refuge of terminally hip foodies. The same crowd that waits hours amidst snowdrifts and yappy, purebred dogs at famed Parisian macaron maker Ladurée’s new Upper East Side outpost also arises early and adjusts brunch plans on the weekends in order to hit up the farmers’ market. You’re just as likely to see artisan lattes (more about that later) at a farmers’ market as you are to see a back-to-the land love child in a tie-dyed muumuu. So naturally, our fair city of Palo Alto has not one, but two every week.
Although the Downtown Palo Alto Farmers’ Market has its merits, the California Avenue Farmers’ Market is certainly the more rarefied of our local options—and therefore much more interesting to write about. It’s become a Sunday staple for many Stanford students, most notably the type who wears sundresses and posts photos to Instagram of salted, caramel-flavored cupcakes (guilty as charged).
True to farmers’ markets’ new image, California Ave. on Sunday mornings is a literal smorgasbord of the Bay Area’s trendiest artisan producers. Every week, you’ll find a huge array of local produce, obscure ethnic snack foods and fresh-baked goods. This past week, I counted no fewer than ten different orange varieties for sale from just as many family-owned organic farms within a hundred-mile radius of the Stanford campus. Point Reyes-based Cowgirl Creamer always operates a small tent to sell some seriously high-quality cheeses; my personal favorite is the perfectly balanced, triple-cream Mt. Tam (unfortunately, it costs about twenty dollars a pound).
Another must is Bay Bread’s stand, which sells fresh baguettes, quiches and other pastries—the same stuff you’ll find at a string of completely yummy cafes throughout San Francisco (Boulange, Café Rigolo, etc). A dedicated kitchen manager to my sorority house, I picked up a bag of chocolate croissants and a boule of walnut bread this past week for everyone; everything was gone within thirty minutes. Equally popular were the two rotisserie chickens I brought back from RoliRoti, a gourmet food truck equipped to cook chickens on slowly rotating spits. And while they may have been every sorority-girl-before-Cabo’s worst nightmare, the rosemary potatoes cooked in grease drippings from the chicken spits now hold a very special place in my heart. Sadly, the girls in my house will never know how wonderful the artfully adorned lattes from ZombieRunner (yes, a running store) taste—I had drunk the last drop within minutes of purchase.
Every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., the California Avenue Farmers’ Market is an absolute must on any serious (or semi-serious) tour of the Palo Alto food scene. It isn’t the sort of farmers’ market you would have found in Jerry Garcia’s Palo Alto, but frankly that’s a huge improvement.