Monday, April 26, 2010

Vine Ripe Farmers Market: A New Look for an International Market

When I first started writing about local markets, Vine Ripe in La Mesa was on my list of places to check out. But I got distracted and by the time I was ready to make a visit, it had closed.

Then one of my "Twitterati," told me it was back. Sure enough, it turns out it had reopened in January with  two Palestinian businessmen as the new owners. I stopped by recently, wandered around, impressed with the variety of products under one roof.

The entrance is one of the most welcoming I've seen at a local market, with carts and stands covered by colorful umbrella and filled with beautiful produce and flowers.

But, it's hard to figure out the store's cultural groundings. Let's just call it "international." I had expected Middle Eastern, and, yes, there's that, from the beautiful display of Palestinian olives with oil and fresh Iraqi Gamar cheese to the dairy case filled with yogurt and labne.

But, well, then there's that display across from the yogurt case of Russian kvas, which were also alongside cans of Fanta, young coconut juice, and pomegranate juice.

And, while we're at it, there's the delightful array of products from India. Udad flour, moong dal, besan flour (made from garbanzo beans), chutneys, mango pickles, lime pickles, durum alta flour for chaptatti, parantha, puri.

In fact, it does seem that the primary ethnic groups being served at Vine Ripe are Middle Eastern, Russian, and Indian, which means that shoppers can choose from a crazy wonderful selection of exotic products and even some unusual produce, like the fresh green almonds that were sitting at the store's entrance or stalks of cardoons, Indian eggplants, Persian cucumbers, bitter melon, and lemongrass in the produce department.

Like one of my favorite local markets, Balboa International, there's an entire aisle dedicated to pickled everything--fruits and vegetables alike. There are jars and cans of black olives, green olives, Seville olives.

You can find endless varieties of beans and rice, an assortment of bulgur and other grains, an aisle of oils -- coconut, olive, almond, and even castor. Plus, ghee and even Crisco.

The deli counter is fascinating. You can pick up several types of halvah, several types of feta, hummus, tzaziki, baba ganoush, vinegar beet salad, dolmas, okra with lamb, and mixed torshi, a vibrantly colored dish of what looked like cauliflower, cabbage, and beets. It was all fushia and orange and yellow and red, a garish dish that I assume is the Iranian dish of pickled vegetables.

At the front of the store are two intriguing sections. On the right when you enter is what looks like an old-fashioned candy counter but with baskets of Russian candies on display, along with a coffee bar and shelves of dried fruits and nuts winding around.

Across from the candies is the bakery. I started up a conversation with a young man at the counter who turned out to be the son of one of the owners. Odeh Odeh explained that much of what is sold is made on the premises, from the baklavah and date fingers with sesame to the traditional flat breads. There was schawarma as well so you could get a delicious shaved chicken or beef sandwich with housemade pita or a pizza-like dish topped by zaatar, a blend of sumac, sesame seeds and herbs.

Vine Ripe is located at 8191 Fletcher Parkway in La Mesa. The phone number is 619-362-7800.

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  1. I love Vine Ripe. My only problem is that their produce prices are so low, that I'm always suspicious they are on the wrong side of ripe. A suspicion that has been borne out quite a few times. Nevertheless, if you're cooking today or tomorrow, this place can't be beat.

  2. It's a great place, especially if you're trying to cut down on your grocery budget or just experience some different foods - I'm particularly happy with the tea section, and as of a few weeks ago, they had giant boxes of UK PG Tips (about $18, but they last forever). The produce prices don't always mean the vegetables and fruit turn fast - I've bought 3 leeks for $1 there, and had them last for well over a week. But I would still be cautious anyway.