Eastern Market, oh how I love thee! I remember in college spending Saturday mornings boarding the metro to discover new wonders at the bustling farmers market. Over the years, the only change in the market is that it has gotten bigger in volume. Thirteen merchants make up the South Hall Market with everything from flowers to food. Eastern Market is comprised of four areas: South Hall Market, North Hall Events Space, Weekend Farmers’ Line and Weekend Outdoor Market.
The South Hall Market is open Tuesday to Sunday and is the best destination for gourmet grocery shopping. There are butchers supplying all kinds of meats from ostrich to lamb. While I’m not a fan of pigs’ feet, Canales Quality Meats did have a nice display of chicken sausages and prosciutto. If you are stuck for dinner, head here where there is a fantastic selection of prepared foods at reasonable prices. Fresh made guacamole, soups, and quiche to heat and serve crab cakes for $4.95 a piece, tamales for $4.50, spicy seviche and meatballs in Sunday sauce. I never did get to find out what defines Sunday sauce, but wished I lived closer because they looked scrumptious paired with fresh, handmade pasta at a nearby vendor.
Just think you can get everything for a party at Eastern Market. Choose a vibrant bouquet at Blue Iris Flowers and Brie from Bowers Fancy Dairy Products where samplings are a plenty! The produce vendors here weren’t overly impressive, but I did appreciate seeing avocados and Asian pears. When buying a single banana for my child, it was given to her for free by East Market Grocery the lady simply saying “happy birthday.” I thought it was funny because we wanted to pay for the item, but also because we were visiting the market a few days before her actual birthday. Our last stop indoors was to Fine Sweet Shop where their varied selection of baked goods made it hard to choose only one thing. Five buttermilk biscuits or blueberry scones will set you back $3.75, or indulge in an aromatic rosemary focaccia loaf. Italian ladyfingers, hot cross buns and several flavors of cupcakes for $1.50. We ended up with a yummy pineapple upside down cake and apple strudel.
If you choose to dine in, there’s the Market Lunch counter serving up their famous blueberry buckwheat pancakes, burgers and soft shell crabs. The line stretched so far at 10am for breakfast that we unfortunately had to skip the pancakes. Enjoy your food at tables in the North Hall alongside a sprinkling of arts and crafts vendors. The other option is to grab a quality sandwich to go from Canales Delicatessen.
Outside is the open air Weekend Farmers’ Line and Weekend Outdoor Market where samples are encouraged by pedestrian traffic. The majority of the farmers grow their produce locally in a sustainable environment. We saw samples of iced tea, cider, apples, and jam. Wisteria Gardens offered delicious fresh salsa and black bean dip with tri-colored tortilla chips. Long Meadow Farms in the Shenandoah Valley had the best selection of local produce with shiitake mushrooms and butterhead lettuce. While several stands carried apples, they had six kinds with unfamiliar varieties such as Gold Rush and Kiku. Look for the vendor from West Virginia who sells pickling cucumbers for $2.59 a pound or the booth scooping up small batches of roasted nuts. Rocky Branch Farm stocks heirloom tomatoes, honey, and an assortment of jams like gooseberry and peach jalapeno. I was disappointed at some of the prices: a small container of grapes for $4 and organic free range eggs at $4.85. These items are the same if not cheaper in the grocery store.
Nestled among the farmers line are arts and crafts enthusiasts selling hand knit Peruvian children’s clothing, stuffed animals made from recycled sweaters, fragrant candles layered in brilliant colors, charcoal goat milk soap, jewelry, and original works of art. My daughter wanted a flying dragon toy that we saw and luckily, we passed because the same one was a fraction of the cost at a neighboring booth. It pays to shop around for items because sometimes you don’t know if you are getting a good deal. The same venue where we got her bobbing dragon also sold adorable knit hats featuring Hello Kitty and Sock Monkey.
The farmers were all pleasant and shared knowledge about their products. For some of the vendors selling non-food items, it was hit and miss. Some vendors acted like they could care less if you bought their item. Another weird thing I noticed was a table selling Ferrari sunglasses. Not sure how that fit in with the scene as it would have been better placed at the flea market across the street.
In the Hine school parking lot sits the Capitol Hill flea market where you can stumble upon vintage suitcases, furniture, letter printing blocks, alpaca finger puppets, and pottery. We even found a US Army trunk with a soldier’s name and the various places he was stationed while in the service. There is a kettle corn and a coffee stand here, along with an Indian food truck. Beware of resellers and items that are knock-offs. The flea market is open Saturday from 8am to 4pm March to December.
Eastern Market is open year-round. Hours of operation are Tuesdays to Fridays from 7am to 7pm, Saturdays, 7am to 6pm and Sundays 9am to 5pm. However, the farmers market and outdoor market are only open on the weekends. Bring cash as not all vendors accept credit cards. Most products, especially dairy and bakery items, sell out early in the morning. Restrooms have changing facilities and located near Market Lunch and Southern Maryland Seafood.
Eastern Market is a labor of love going back to its opening in 1837. It has and always will be my favorite farmers market. While we were shocked to find a coveted parking spot, I cannot emphasize enough to take metro. The Eastern Market stop is one block from the metro station. After the market, stop into the neighboring kid-friendly businesses: Dawn Price Baby, Monkey’s Uncle, and The Fairy Godmother. If staying in the area, make a day of it and hit up the Playseum on Barracks Row.