A wonderful new Foodie experience is now available in LA: The MeltingPotTours. Two ladies (sisters) who have extensive backgrounds in the food industry have started offering intriguing tours with Food themes. Yes, tourists would love them, but really it is the locals who could most benefit. I saw they were offering a tour of the Farmer’s Market at 3rd and Fairfax and we had to check it out.
A small group (in our case 8) met them at the market, and they gave us an insider’s look at the history behind the market and the surrounding area. We then visited many of the vendors both in the market as well as some famous stores in the immediate 3rd and Fairfax vicinity. All-in-all, it was a 3 hour walking tour with many, many, many stops for some of the best tastes of the market and brief meetings with the proprietors. Think of it as a grazing lunch. It was quite carb heavy…lots of delectable breads, noodles, desserts and pastries, but also a number of other surprises. Other foodie-themed stores were included as well, which added interest.
The tone was light and interesting…little nuggets of information and trivia and great suggestions for future purchases and consumption. I am not going to give away all the secrets, you should check it out yourself.
While the tour was a great experience, I have to comment on the state of the Farmer’s Market itself, which I found a little bit sad. I don’t get there much these days since the Grove went up. Traffic, crowds, difficult parking make it less than appealing. Still, in my memories this was a fabulous way to spend a few hours and I remember lots of great ethnic experiences. So I was looking forward to both the tour and the visit that would follow. So yes, there were some highlights. Fabulous hummus at Moishe’s comes to mind. And the toffee at LittleJohn’s English Toffee House (mmm) And the vibe is still very urban hip, and it is a cool place to hang out.
But, it is just not the same. It has been invaded by Starbucks, Panda Chinese, and Pinkberry. The Gumbo Pot, which was my favorite place to eat, has been horribly cheapened and completely ruined. Yes they still had the crawfish, but it was boiled without seasoning and served cold with a so-called remoulade sauce that tasted of vinegar and not much else. They were obviously made in batches the prior day. The seafood gumbo was all canned tomato, okra, and frozen mealy shrimp. The crawfish etouffee was a brown greasy mess. It was accompanied by a stale piece of overly sweet cornbread. The only decent thing were the “East coast”oysters on the half-shell. At 99 cents each, this was a good value. We ate the crawfish and the oysters and threw all the hot food out – it was inedible.
But the saddest thing of all was the produce. I think our guide put it best when she shared an anecdote about someone who once approached her during a tour and asked her for directions to the actual farmer’s market. There are now only two produce vendors. We visited them and while the produce looked ok, we were horrified to discover that while it is California sourced (sortof) none of it is from local farms. The oranges were even stamped “Sunkist.” Very little was even labeled organic. I saw no difference between what I saw there and my local Pavillions market.
I did want to mention there is a great butcher there (Huntington Meats) who can source almost anything you can imagine. Most of their meat is prime, and their prices are great; much cheaper than Gelsons, Whole Foods and Bristol Farms. He can even get “Kobe.” They have a huge selection of homemade sausages made on the premises. Their meats are all sourced from Harris Ranch, which is located in central CA, so that is something. But certainly this market is no longer a “Farmer’s Market” in the way most LA natives have come to view markets like the one in Santa Monica. There is no local representation, no vendors that come in from small farms, and very little that is truly local.
Oh, and it cost us $15 to park on the Grove side WITH validation.
Farmers Market (3rd and Fairfax)
6333 West 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90036