The City Hall Farmers' Market reopened on September 20, and this week I went to see what its eight new vendors are offering, as well as what the regulars have in store for shoppers this year.
The market boasts more than 35 vendors, many of which are organizations looking to spread the word about their work in the community and recruit volunteers or collect donations. There are a few produce stands, and several booths offer items such as essential oils or goats'-milk products. The majority of the vendors, however, sell prepared foods.
The location is part of what sets City Hall Farmers' Market apart from other markets in and around Houston. Because it sets up on the grounds of City Hall, its audience is professionals who work downtown and are looking to get out of the office for a quick bite during lunch break. The market is open from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., on Wednesdays only.
To adapt to the clientele, new vendor Airline Seafood brings different items to the City Hall Farmers' Market than it does to some of the other markets at which it sells. The company's Kirk "Mac" McMillan says it doesn't make sense to sell whole raw fish or crustaceans such as they do at Eastside, for example, because people who work downtown and shop during their lunch break don't have anywhere to keep a fish for hours before they head home. Instead, Airline serves packaged seafood dishes such as campechana (think seafood cocktail) or ceviche in perfectly portioned plastic containers.
Another new vendor is Blackbird Foods. Chef and owner Angela Rowley started out doing catering and making her family's special Cajun meat pies on the side. One day, she says, she brought some leftovers into The Hay Merchant during a manager meeting, and Chef Chris Shepherd happened to try one.
"He was like, 'They're going on the menu!'" Rowley says. "And he asked, what if we sell 700 a week, are you going to be able to keep up? And they sold1,500 the first week. So it's been really good."
Blackbird Pies doesn't yet have a storefront, so Rowley bakes all of the meat pies out of Kraftsmen Cafe in the Heights. She hopes to secure her own store soon, but for now you can find her pies at the City Hall Farmers' Market, The Hay Merchant and Underbelly's wine bar.
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Brenham Kitchens keeps things all in the family, with owner Brian Smith and his son Judson selling their gourmet mixed nuts, salsas and dips at markets all over Texas. The company is based in Brenham (hence the name), and the family is quick to remind me that Brenham is also home to Blue Bell Ice Cream. Perhaps a joint venture between the Smiths and Blue Bell is in order ...
One of Brenham Kitchens' most popular items is tomatillo white chocolate salsa verde, which isn't as easy to eat on-the-go as the fruit and nut mixes, but I hear it makes a great snack (along with some chips) for football games.
Other new vendors include Jazz Cafe, whose stand was cooking some wonderful-smelling fried food during my tour, and Ripe Cuisine, who sold out of their vegetarian sweet potato-and-black-bean enchiladas within an hour this week but continued to offer other veggie options to go. Cabrera Farms, Chef Ara's Catering and Sustainable Harvest are also new to the market, but I didn't see them during my rounds this week.
Let us know what you think of the meal-heavy, produce-light City Hall Farmers' Market this fall and where you've found the best lunchtime eats.