Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Farmers Outlet in Tierrasanta: A Surprise in the Suburbs

I moved to Tierrasanta about five years ago after almost a dozen years in a tiny Hillcrest apartment. Hillcrest, with its amazing Sunday Farmers Market, with Trader Joes and Whole Foods and fabulous restaurants. Tierrasanta had the potential for culinary letdown. However, before I even brought a box into my new house, I found a promising little market just off the 52 at Santo Road. The lettering on the outside just says "The Market." And it says it all. When I first discovered it, the place was filled with inexpensive produce, like the Boneys of old on University. It also had a counter that sold sandwiches, salads, cheese and olives--mostly Mediterranean fare. My first purchase was a tasty Greek salad filled with olives and peperoncini, and some fruit to take with me to the house, where I had to wait for the plumber to install a new water heater. Any doubts I had about moving to my new neighborhood were assuaged by this lovely little market. I still wish we had better restaurants but that's improving too.

Since that first encounter, the deli counter slid next door to what is now the Everyday Heroes sandwich shop. That was a disappointment but never mind. The owners more than made up for that once the grocery store strike began. All of a sudden new products started appearing on the shelves to complement the produce. Along with some dusty old Mexican staples, there were perplexing items from Iran and India. A wine section suddenly showed up. Organic flours. Pies from Julian Pie Company and, oh, the best for a former Hillcrest girl, fresh loaves from Bread and Cie.

So, what's to discover at The Market, or as their business card says, Farmers Outlet? Do shop the produce. It's good quality and a great price. But, grab a package of their Greek pita bread -- it's larger than most, with a lovely fluffiness. This is the kind of pita I brush with olive oil and lightly grill, then smother with humus, garlicky home-roasted red and yellow peppers or my favorite yogurt, Mediterranean cheese-style yogurt from Trader Joe's. A treat I picked up recently was a jar of jalapeno jelly. I'd seen it on the shelves but hadn't quite known what to do with it. Its melding of hot and sweet works well with cheese and crackers for something a little different. But, I discovered that if I thinned it out a little with lime juice, and added a little garlic and olive oil, I had the makings of a wonderful glaze for chicken, pork or fish. I've also started trying the various salsas made by a San Diego company called Oscar's that The Market sells in the refrigerated section. The Salsa Borracha is made with tomatoes, onions, Japanese peppers, water, salt, pepper and garlic. This is very very hot. Tasty but I'm going to have to incorporate it in other food combinations. If you can do intense heat, try it. My current favorite is the Salsa de Chipotle. It, too, is hot but not painfully so. The chipotles, combined with tomatoes, onions, vinegar, cilantro, sesame oil, salt and sugar, create a stunningly bright flavor that goes well with chips or as a condiment for grilled chicken or fish. Blend it with avocados for a unique guacamole.

The Market is at 5950 Santo Road just off the Santo Road exit on the 52 freeway in Tierrasanta.

A Passion for Food: Introducing San Diego Foodstuff

This coming Monday, the current contract for grocery store union workers expires. You probably remember the four-month strike back in 2003. Reluctant to cross picket lines, we found alternatives in markets like Henry's and Trader Joe's for our regular shopping--and we liked them. We've come to enjoy the diversity of produce available and discovered foodstuff we didn't even know existed. Perhaps since then you've broadened your sights and ventured into the local Asian market or found yourself sampling delicacies at a neighborhood farmers market.

San Diego Foodstuff isn't about the grocery store union workers or their contract. But the issue serves to remind us that while there will probably never be any replacing the major grocery chains, we have a lot of other fascinating choices in and around San Diego. And, that is what San Diego Foodstuff is about. If you love the magic of finding fresh, flavorful food, love cooking and entertaining friends and family or love discovering something locally that you enjoyed in your travels, check in with me here. San Diego Foodstuff will be a guide to foodstuff resources in and around the county. I'll introduce you to neighborhood ethnic markets, specialty shops and farmers markets. We'll check out the products they sell and how we can enjoy them.

If you have favorite places you want to shine a light on, join in the conversation. There is a restaurant truism I've found that can extend to markets and other culinary shops. Years ago, when I lived in New York and Los Angeles, if you found a fabulous restaurant, you made sure you kept it a secret because it could get too popular and you'd never be able to get in. In San Diego, if you find an equally fabulous restaurant, tell everyone. You want to make sure it stays in business. Let's do the same for our other food resources. Let's tell everyone so all of us can support and enjoy these vendors for years to come.