Spider-Manlooms incongruously on a billboard above the new Sunset Strip farmers market, which opened last Thursday in a parking lot next to the ghosts of Tower Records and Spago Hollywood. No superheroes participated in the event's gestation — just Diana Rodgers, manager of the Mar Vista market, and the sponsor, the Sunset Strip Business Assn., which has assembled an all-star roster of 26 certified farmers and 16 prepared foods stalls.
Choosing the lineup for a new farmers market has elements of fantasy baseball, private investigation and jigsaw puzzle solving. Rodgers, who has the contacts and experience to avoid farmers market cheaters, has chosen vendors of high quality and unquestioned integrity, such as Bob Polito for citrus, John Tenerelli and John Hurley for stone fruit, and Sage Mountain, Givens and Shear Rock for vegetables. There's County Line Harvest for desert-grown melons, Pudwill for berries, Fat Uncle for almonds and Santa Barbara Pistachios. New to local farmers markets are Oasis Date Gardens, Dairy Goddess farmstead cheese of Lemoore and Garden Thyme Nursery of Lawndale.
Oasis is one of most respected names in Coachella date growing but only recently started selling at farmers markets when a neighboring farm, Flying Disc Ranch, temporarily withdrew from some markets as its supplies of the old crop wound down. Its saleswoman, Cara Tower, recruited Oasis to become certified so she could keep selling at farmers markets.
As befits the showbiz-oriented locale, musicians serenade the shoppers from a prominent soundstage. An hour is reserved before the official starting time for local chefs to shop, and each week a chef showcases a signature dish, often using market produce. Everleigh offered suckling pig the first night, and BLT Steak will take the spotlight next Thursday.
The cast, layout and production values are prime time, but the commute can be hellish at rush hour; six nearby lots offer a discounted $5 rate with validation.
Enthusiastic crowds thronged the opening, but many were just checking out the scene. Polito, Tenerelli and Hurley reported that their sales the first week were so-so, although they increased as the evening wore on; Jimenez Family Farm said their pies sold like gangbusters, but that meat sales were slow. It remains to be seen whether the local community will buy enough produce to keep top-notch farmers coming.
At the next market, John Hurley of Summer Harvest Farm will have the most delicious fruit in the world (no exaggeration): Snow Queen white nectarines from Dinuba, with dense, buttery flesh, an ideal balance of sweetness and acidity, and a rich, lingering, complex flavor. At its best, Snow Queen reigns supreme, but it is frustrating for farmers to grow and consumers to select: the pits split, the skin cracks and the flesh develops brown rot, while only some fruits display the palate-boggling intensity of which the variety is capable. Look for a creamy yellow ground color, leathery, speckled (not smooth red) skin and a rounded form, particularly a plump stem end, where a dusky rose color indicates perfection. Fully ripe specimens rapidly ferment, so the peak of quality is fleeting — but madly worth pursuing! Hurley will also be in Venice on Friday, Santa Monica (Pico and downtown) on Saturdays, and Beverly Hills, Mar Vista and Santa Monica on Sundays.
Sunset Strip farmers market, 5 to 9 p.m. Thursdays, 8755 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; sunsetstripmarket.com.