The weekday Westchester Farmers Market is the perfect peaceful destination for hump day
By Richard Foss
Even though we were communicating via email, I could almost hear an acquaintance’s lip curl when I suggested a visit to the Westchester Farmers Market on a Wednesday. “Why not wait for the one on Sunday?” he asked. “It’s over twice the size.”
Yes, it is … and if I felt like not eating between Wednesday and Sunday, that might be a compelling argument. It also ignores the fact that sometimes I go to a market to browse, sometimes to buy. If I’m getting a few standard items rather than musing over whatever exotic Asian greens are in season, I’m just as happy with the small market as the big one.
I went with a friend and we found parking just a minute’s walk from the edge of the market. It took a few moments to get fixings for the evening’s dinner, after which we could attend to the business lunch. All farmers markets have at least a few food stalls, and on this particular day there were three. We were feeling omnivorous so decided to get something from each for a multicultural mixed grill.
Our first stop was at Dray’s Bar-B-Q, where a smoker that showed evidence of long use sat next to a pop-up tent emblazoned with cartoons of a happy cow, pig and chicken. The menu included all of these, so we ordered a side of pork ribs. While we waited a friendly employee offered tastes of the eggless mac-and-cheese and the lemon-pineapple cake.
I was curious about the distinction of the mac as eggless, since it had never occurred to me to include any when I make it. As it turns out, this didn’t need eggs or anything else. The pasta was done but not overcooked and coated in a creamy cheese sauce with a nice crust on top. I had been skeptical about the cake because I find most pineapple cakes overly sweet, but this one balanced tartness and citrus elegantly.
The sides at barbecue joints are often afterthoughts, but everything we tried was first-rate.
The next stand was The Tamale Guy, where we were not surprised to find a guy selling tamales. He had tacos too, and we considered getting one, but when he took off the lid to the tamale steamer and we inhaled the smell of steamed masa it sealed the deal. He should take the lid off any time somebody is walking by, because that smell is his best advertisement. We grabbed one made with beef in red sauce and kept on moving.
We were lucky enough to get to Pupusas Rita when the line was short, because this seems to be the most popular stand. Pupusas are a Salvadoran street food of corn dough wrapped around cheese and other items and then quickly fried — think of a quesadilla and you’re not far off conceptually, but the balance of flavors is different. The usual fillings alongside the cheese are beef, beans, pork, chicken and loroco, a Central-American vegetable similar to broccoli. We went for the loroco. This came with hot sauce and some Salvadoran coleslaw, and so laden we headed for a shady picnic table near a steel drum player laying down Caribbean rhythms.
We started with the ribs. Some barbecue places smoke their meat so aggressively that all you taste is smoke, but Dray’s has a light touch. The meat was unusually moist and very tender but didn’t have the slightly chewy crust that some barbecue fans love. The mild rub contributed to making these ribs perfect for people who like to taste their pork with a little smoke and seasoning, which will please some and put off others. There is a good sauce available, but you should first try these unadorned.
The tamale was next, its lightly spicy filling encased in soft, pillowy masa with a rich corn flavor. There was just a little of the stewed meat in a lot of masa, but that’s the way these are supposed to be made. The balance of flavors was just right, and though we might try the tacos someday it’s the tamales that will bring us back.
As for the pupusa, it was an enjoyable little snack to round out our meal. I liked it even more with the vinegary, spicy cabbage, carrot and onion mix, while my companion preferred the natural flavors of the vegetable and cheese in the soft fried corncake. While the pupusa and the tamale were both made with corn masa, the different flavors of the filling and textures created by steaming versus frying made them entirely different experiences.
If the same vendors are there when you visit the Wednesday market I’d heartily endorse replicating our meal. Lunch for two will set you back about 16 bucks, and the procession of flavors is hard to beat.
I can’t guarantee that the table in the shade will be available, but there are other places to sit and enjoy a meal while thinking over what you might create at home from the bounty of neighboring stands. You can do your shopping, have lunch, and be back to your car in under an hour.
It’s the farmers market experience in miniature, and no less enjoyable for that.
Westchester Farmers Market Wednesday Market in the Park 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Manchester Ave. at Lincoln Blvd., Westchester westchesterfarmersmkt.com