Ain’t It Grand!
Visited: February 5, 2016
Los Angeles has so many cool spots to visit, and last week I had some time before a business meeting to check out a venerable old establishment that has undergone a recent transformation from past to present, without losing its sense of history. I believe this ever-changing dynamic will make this always-popular place even more of a destination for locals and visitors alike.
One of the great downtown Los Angeles institutions, the Grand Central Market opened 99 years ago in 1917. As the ethnicity and population of Los Angeles has changed, so has the evolution of the Grand Central Market.
Back in the 1920s, so says the website, “our ninety-plus vendors included multiple green grocers, fishmongers, Jewish delis, and butchers, as well as stalls for dry goods, baked goods, flowers, coffee, cheese, notions—and even one vendor who sold nothing but eggs.”
In the mid 1920s, it has been stated that the Grand Central Market accommodated up to 40,000 people per day. A Los Angeles Times article in the mid 1920s quoted a customer who said, “Mountains of head lettuce, watercress, spinach, beets, shiny carrots, red radishes, and fresh young onions intermingled with splashes of brighter colors from floral and fruit booths, overcrowded aisles and a seething mass of elbowing, pushing humanity, laden down with shopping bags-that is a bird’s eye description of one of the largest markets in the world, the Grand Central Market of Los Angeles, which feeds millions of people annually.”
In the 1960s, a quarter of a million people visited the Grand Central Market each week. By the 1970s, that total was about 180,000, and with demographics changing, according to a KCET article, “half of those visitors were of Latino descent.” The Grand Central Market had been and continued to be a melting pot for many cultures, with ethnic stores and restaurants located throughout.
Ira Yellin bought the market back in 1984, and his widow, Adele, has run it since his death in 2002. In the past five years, as Bob Dylan said, “The Times They Are a-Changin” at the Grand Central Market. Although there are still plenty of ethnic markets and restaurants around, the Grand Central Market has become a mini-mecca for the hip and trendy as the revitalization of downtown Los Angeles keeps expanding. As always, “gentrification” has its supporters and its detractors, but one thing is for sure, this place is always crowded, and there is no going back now as some well known chefs are putting some of their restaurant creations here.
I recently paid a visit to the Grand Central Market to check out some of these relatively new arrivals (as well as some of the old standbys). The Grand Central Market stretches from 317 Broadway…next to the Million Dollar Theater…
…to South Hill Street (across the street from historic Angel’s Flight, which has been shut down for a few years because the city can’t figure out how to keep a railway that runs 298 feet from potentially killing its riders).
After grabbing a coffee there, one of the first places I ran into was The China Cafe, which opened at the market in 1959. Outside of a few changes, the menu has remained the same as has its popularity. Just look for the neon pagoda. Don’t miss the house wonton soup. Oh yeah…cash only!
Produce has been a staple at Grand Central Market since its inception. According to an Orange County Register story a couple of years ago, Minerva and Alejandro Torres, who have owned Torres Produce since 2011, seemed worried. Minerva said, “We used to have two stands, but (management) told us they needed the space, so now we have this one.”
One of those new places with young entrepreneurs is Olio Wood Fired Pizza, known for its individual sized artisanal wood-fired pizzas and focaccia salads. I was getting hungry, but I pressed on.
Need a deli fix? Wexler’s Deli opened at Grand Central Market and became an immediate hit with customers. As Wexler’s website says, “Our pickles don’t come from a jar; we barrel ferment them in salt brine. This is the real Jewish soul food. Just ask our family.” I love the sandwiches…but please, hold the pickles!
Walk a few more feet, and you are transported from bagels and lox to Double Peanut Butter Chip and Salted Caramel Chip. Here’s the scoop…you’re now at McConnell’s Ice Cream. McConnell’s ice cream history can be traced back more than 70 years to its Santa Barbara origin. I can’t believe I had the will power to carry on.
For those who read my installments (and I KNOW you do), you know that my 2015 “MaiTaiTom Restaurant Of The Year” was Union in Pasadena. in January 2106, Union owner and chef, Bruce Kalman, opened Knead & Co., a space that occupies a little more than 700 square feet along the southwestern wall.
This is essentially a pasta bar with handmade pasta and porchetta dip sandwiches, and our friends who have already tried it are giving it overwhelmingly rave reviews. I will be back soon to give it a try.
Nearby Knead & Co. is Courage & Craft, a boutique shop for artisanal spirits, beer, wine and cocktail accoutrements that looks like it is just opening up. This might be a place for me to pick up some essential Manhattan ingredients.
The most popular place in the Grand Central Market also has my favorite name…Eggslut. We have been downtown in the morning on many occasions, but the line is always too long for me to wait. Today was no “eggsception.”
Supposedly their dishes are “eggscellent.” This is one place I could actually get away with saying, “I’d like to pick up a slut,” because a “Slut” at Eggslut is “a coddled egg on top of a smooth potato purée, poached in a glass jar, topped with gray salt and chives, served with slices of baguette.”
You can wash down that Slut at the Press Brothers Juicery located right next to Eggslut. According to the Press Brothers website, its juice “is designed to quickly replenish the immune and digestive systems depleted by all the wear and tear of a normal diet and the occasional not-so-healthy choices we all indulge in from time to time.” Like eating lots of eggs and ice cream.
By the time I reached Belcampo Meat Company (a full-service butcher shop presenting organic, grass-fed meats that have been raised on a 10,000 acre ranch near Mount Shasta), I was so hungry I could have eaten an entire cow…no bull.
For your ethnic restaurant choices, when you’re in downtown Los Angeles, scope out the Grand Central Market. Your taste buds will thank you.
Grand Central Market
317 South Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Hours: Sunday – Wednesday 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. • Thursday – Saturday 8 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Parking: Athena Parking Garage|Grand Central Square, 308 S Hill Street and other expensive lots nearby.
Metro: Take Red or Purple line to Pershing Square (6 minute walk to market)