Going To Market!
Visited: March 2021 (Twice)
It had been quite some time since Tracy and I had visited the venerable Original Los Angeles Farmers Market, so on a rather chilly March morning we headed out to 3rd & Fairfax to visit this 87-year-old Los Angeles institution. Two weeks later, we made a return appearance on a very hot Saturday. I love L.A.!As a kid, my family spent many a lazy Sunday roaming the aisles, stores and shops of the Farmers Market. My first job out of college was at an advertising agency, which happened to be located just a couple of blocks away. I would eat lunch at its various restaurants, including the famed Du-Pars (more on it later).
Origins of the market date back to 1880, when A.F. Gilmore and his partner purchased a couple of Los Angeles area dairy farms. Ten years later, after splitting their holdings, Gilmore took charge of the 256-acre ranch located at 3rd & Fairfax. Twenty years later, in a Jed Clampett moment, Gilmore discovered oil while drilling for new water wells on the property … “Black gold .. California Tea!” Finally, “crude” took on a positive definition. Instead of dairy cows, oil derricks, which Gilmore also milked for all they were worth, dotted the landscape (historic photos courtesy Farmers Market).
After a few years, derricks on such a large a scale were prohibited, but a lot of oil was still being pumped. According to the Farmers Market website, “The Gilmore property remained largely vacant into the 1930s, when at the height of the Depression, two entrepreneurs, Fred Beck and Roger Dahlhjelm, approached A.F.’s son, Earl Bell (E.B.) Gilmore, with an idea.”
Beck and Dahlhjelm had a vision of a “village where local farmers could sell their fresh fare.” Gilmore signed on, and in July 1945 the Farmers Public Market was born. The word “Public” was discontinued shortly thereafter.
In just a few months, a plethora of vendors from farmers, merchants, restaurants and many others started moving into the market. Today it houses numerous restaurants, innovative shops and gourmet grocery purveyors.
Through the years, numerous Hollywood stars, from Ava Gardner to Frank Sinatra to Marilyn Monroe, frequented the market.
The website states, “Movie stars shared their affection with Farmers Market with other luminaries. President Dwight Eisenhower admired the peanut butter machine at Magee’s Nuts. A few years later, the Beatles visited the same shop (Ringo wrote a ‘Thank You’ note).” I believe George thought it was really Something, Paul wanted to Get Back as soon as he could, and John was happy they could all Come Together.
Arriving shortly before 11 a.m., the Farmers Market parking lot off Fairfax on Farmers Market Place was full with people frustratingly looking for a space, however we spied a virtually empty parking lot across the FMP (look for The Container Store) and it, too, is designated for Farmer’s Market parking … validated at Farmers Market shops. This little tip will save you much consternation if you arrive by 11:30 or soIt would turn out that even though the other nearby parking lot was full, the Farmers Market was not exceedingly crowded. That’s because, in 2002, The Grove, a 575,000-square-foot shopping center, opened adjacent to the historic Farmers Market with an open-air retail and entertainment center. It proved to be quite a hit. In its first year of operation it posted attendance that exceeded even those those of Disneyland. I still prefer the Original Farmers Market. I can go to the Apple Store in a lot of cities, but you can’t find a scrumptious candied apple just anywhere. In pre-Covid times, a tram ran around The Grove. Check and see. (photo courtesy of VisitTogether).
This nighttime view comes courtesy of the Farmers Market. On our last visit about eight years ago, Tracy and I had breakfast at Du-Pars. Steeped in history, the breakfasts are fine, but they do have great jam, and you are living a part of L.A. history. They also have very delicious pies that are popular to pick up for the holidays.
Du-Pars touts that Esquire Magazine called it’s “Legendary Buttermilk Hot Cakes” the “Best Pancakes in the U.S.” I invite Esquire over to my house for a Blueberry Pancake (recipe here) competition with me.I don’t know if they still hand out free souvenir menus that harken back to the days when bacon & eggs cost 50 cents and the pancakes were 40 cents. We did take a photo of the exterior with happy patrons on our recent visit.
Tracy and I were getting hungry so we walked through one of the entrances adjacent to the Clock Tower (you never know who might run into) …… and the first business we saw was Fritzi Coop, which is truly poultry in motion. Famed celebrity chef Neal Fraser serves plates of chicken, chicken sandwiches and other delectable sounding dishes. On a wing and a prayer, we moved on before trying it out for thighs.
(By the way, if you get the opportunity, try to dine at Fraser’s excellent restaurant, Redbird, in downtown L.A. It’s located in the historic St. Vibiana Cathedral Rectory Building.)We nearly made Magee’s Kitchen our stop for lunch. Magee’s is the original Farmers Market restaurant, opening in 1934. It even was running its business before the entire Farmers Market was completed. Farmers would pull up to the market and, according to the website, “Blanche Magee thought they might like to have lunch, so she filled a picnic hamper and started feeding them.” One person was ordering a French Dip sandwich, but we decided to press on and take a look at some of the other eateries and stores before picking a place to dine.
Not a Japanese dance club, Sushi A Go Go, the smallest shop at the Farmers Market. serves up what many consider the finest shrimp sushi in town. Yes, we were on a roll, and not a Spicy Tuna one, either.
The colorful Magic Nut and Candy Store looked like a place my dentist would steer me clear of stopping, but we were certainly tempted by the sweets that could either be filling or cause me to have a cavity and need to get a few fillings. This is also the place that offers those tempting candied and caramel apples along with other sweet goodies. I had to turn away.
Well, it wouldn’t be the Farmers Market without produce.
Getting to the meat of the issue, Marconda’s Meats is a prime area for steaks, chops, roasts, sausages and more. You can learn more about this store on the Farmers Market website.Marconda’s also has a poultry market in another section of the market.We thought about coffee, but it was getting closer to wine time.
I had visited the French Crepe Company on a couple of occasions through the years, and its selections are quite tasty (foreshadowing alert). This is certainly the place where Tracy could have told me I was “full of hot air.”
One restaurant I miss at the Farmers Market is Loteria Grill. This Latin stalwart ended its 16 year run as a Farmers Market anchor in 2019. Oh, those handmade tortillas with meat would have made for a good lunch on this day, so we pressed on. (This photo was taken on a previous Farmers Market trip in 2012.)Speaking of pressing, nearby some fruit was just ready to be made into juice or smoothie.
Well, the time to hesitate was through, as we stopped by the doors of Light My Fire (Photo on left from previous visit), a store featuring literally hundreds of hot sauces from around the world.
We decided to break on through to the other side to enter (no interior photos), and those jars of hot and spicy delights virtually begged us to try them, screaming, “Touch Me.” However, my L.A. Woman Tracy said not this time, and that was The End of our visit to Light My Fire.
Next came the unexpected food experience that surprised me, and would be an event Tracy thought she’d never witness in her lifetime. Even though I had never met a pickle that I liked, Tracy wanted to stop by the Kaylin & Hobbs Pickles booth, which serves New York style pickles. Its owners, Scott Kaylin and Chris Hobson had been tired of not finding tasty pickles on the West Coast, so the Vancouver-based owners set up a booth here at the Farmers Market.
Tracy told the guy at the counter how much I hated pickles and that I probably wouldn’t even try one. He replied, “I’ve heard that a lot, but I think we have some here he’d like.” Now, I found myself in a pickle, and it was a real dill-y. I couldn’t resist the challenge.
Kaylin & Hobbs has many favored pickles, so I reluctantly tasted its Jalapeño pickle. I liked it. I also tried a Honey Mustard Pickle. I liked it. Finally, I tried a Horseradish pickle. I liked it, too! Suddenly, I felt like Mikey in those old Life Cereal commercials. We would return to buy a couple of jars before we left.
As we headed down the aisles we walked by Singapore’s Banana Leaf, offering “unique family recipes including chicken, fish and vegetarian dishes.” Many of these are served on a banana leaf, which looked very a-peel-ing.Rick’s colorful display stood out, but I didn’t have any letters of transit for safe passage to Lisbon, and I was shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here! Tracy said I had better get some food in me soon, because I was thinking of the wrong Rick’s. Rick’s Produce Market actually features locally grown fruits from their Fallbrook family farm, and to my knowledge does not have a roulette wheel on the premises.
Once we saw Monsieur Marcel Bistro, we knew where we wanted to go to lunch. However, before dining we remembered from our last visit that Monsieur Marcel also had a Gourmet Market adjacent to the restaurant.
Stepping inside, I knew I’d be getting my wallet out soon. From wine to cheese to jams to meat, plus a plethora of other food items, this European-inspired store is a veritable potpourri of food heaven.
The store also includes an eclectic variety of books, including two that benefit the drinkers and non-drinkers in your household.
Yes, Easter was around the corner.I can never shop here alone, or we’d be in debtors prison. I could have bought out the store. We also found an area that included tablecloths. It harkened us back to a couple of trips to France (Alsace Lorraine and Beaune) where we bought more than a few tablecloths. Of course, we had to purchase one here for our new outdoor table. I picked the wrong decade to semi-retire.
We made our way back to Monsieur Marcel rstaurant and plopped ourselves down for le déjeuner. Now that afternoon was upon us, we felt comfortable ordering a glass of champagne and vin rouge. Perhaps I was a little too comfortable. I almost forgot to take my mask off before taking a drink.
It was good to see them doing a brisk business, and it felt terrific to be back out dining again.
Tracy enjoyed her small green salad and a delicious bowl of Soupe à L’oignon Gratinée.
After picking up our pickles, we checked out a little more of the market, including a vintage gas station situated just outside the entrance. It seems that all that oil had paid off for the Gilmores, as the family had opened a chain of gas stations, which Earl called “Gas-a-terias.” No, I’m not going there!
Once again, the Farmers Market parking lot was nearly full when we arrived, while our parking across the street was virtually empty. It is certainly worth the “arduous” extra 50 steps to park there. Fortunately there were flowers to greet us. The floral business always knows how to petal their goods. They must have lots of stamen-a.
We had ostensibly returned to dine on some more delicious items at Monsieur Marcel, but instead opted for grazing at the various stalls situated throughout the market. Hey, someone has to do it. The results were mixed. First stop was back at Magee’s Kitchen. We wanted to see how Magee’s French Dips shaped up against some of the other L.A. historic establishments famous for this dish (Philippe’s and Cole’s, for example) invented in the City of the Angels.
Although fine, I would not put this in the company of the best French Dips we’ve ever eaten (maybe because there was no rare meat available at the time we ordered). Next time, I’m going to try the Open-Faced Turkey Sandwich with Mashed Potatoes that looked quite enticing.
Undaunted, we went in search of more food. Patsy D’amores Pizza has quite a history. First, they are “credited with selling L.A’s first pizza” and opening a few “ritzy Italian restaurants.” In 1949 they opened their stall in the Farmers Market (one of L.A.’s first slice slice counters). Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin reportedly were seen eating pizza here on occasion. As for the slice of pepperoni pizza we ate, it kind of tasted like it might have been one of those slices from 1949. Maybe we should have tried ordering a full one hot out of the old brick pizza oven, which was built more than 70 years ago.
Nearby are two market stalwarts. Bob’s Coffee & Doughnuts is one of the most famous doughnut shops in L.A. (I’ve had many through the years). Bob’s makes fresh doughnuts every day. They pride themselves on never selling day-old ones. “Never have … never will.” There is always a hefty line at Bob’s, so it’s good to know it is making lots of dough, although it kneads it. They’ve been doing this since 1970, and while I worked near here, I must admit I had doughnuts for lunch on more than one occasion. Ah, youth!
Right next door to Bob’s is Bennett’s Ice Cream, located here since 1963. Bennett’s is one of the last to create their own ice cream from fresh ingredients before your very eyes (peek through the window to check it out). Bennett’s Ice Cream made for a nice finish to my doughnut lunches back in the day. It’s amazing I’m still among the living.Walking for a bit, we window shopped at LittleJohn’s English Toffee House & Fine Candies. After more than a quarter century, the Littlejohn’s opened their Farmers market stand in 1946. Michael Graves bought it in the mid 1980s, and its selection of English toffee and other sweets looked more than inviting. I’ve been here more than a few times, and I can say that eating sweets at Littlejohn’s can make one a Merry Man. I only wish they had put in a Robinhood’s next door.
However, something across the aisle smelled appetizing, and we decided to go on an Argentinian route instead. Nonna’s Empanadas is said to have “one of the largest selections of baked empanadas in Los Angeles,” and true to its slogan, there were a vast selection of empanadas that looked great.After a great deal of pondering, Tracy ordered a chicken salsa verde empanada, while I tried the carne asada variety. Both were very, very good, but we felt the carne asada rated a notch above. Nonna’s also offers a number of sweet empanada options ranging from apple to guava to banana to many more. We’ll be back here to be sure for a little empanada take-out.
Let’s see, we’ve had a French Dip, a slice of pizza and empanadas. What more could we possibly eat? We had now flung ourselves into full bore debauchery.
For my final foray into excessive eating, I chose to go back to The French Crêpe Company. I had choices of quiches, waffles, soups, salads and sandwiches. But wait, it’s called The French Crêpe Company, why not order a Sweet Crêpe to end my morning of gluttony? I decided on a Crêpe Suzette; Grand Marnier, butter and sugar. This lifted my calorie count for the morning to my weekly allowance, forcing me to stop after inhaling this delightful crepe. Just a little more Grand Marnier would have made this perfect, but I’m not complaining. For a moment, I felt like I was in Paris, except for the fact that everyone was speaking English and Spanish.
Meanwhile. Tracy had ventured to the stand directly across from The French Crêpe Company for a taco from an owner you’ve probably seen in a film or two. Trejo’s Tacos is owned by perennial “bad-guy” actor Danny Trejo. Trejo has quite the story, from being addicted to heroin at age 12 to being sent to prison on more than one occasion.
He rehabilitated his life as an actor, usually as a tough guy, and in recent years as a taco entrepreneur. Tracy decided upon the Baja Fish Taco; beer battered cod, pineapple salsa chipotle slaw, avocado cream, served on a flour tortilla. The taco was fantastic as well as the chips and guacamole.Now fully filled (Tracy’s Baja Fish Taco made her stuffed to the gills), we made our way past other food stands that also looked good. We have friends who swear by Phil’s Deli & Grill as a great place to stop in for breakfast or lunch. However, a deli sandwich at this juncture of the day might have put us both in the emergency room.
We walked by some other unique shops like The Shaving Octopus Barbershop, an establishment that turned down my idea of its motto being, “We’d love to get our tentacles on your hair.”Sticker Planet has been around for 28 years. I never knew stickers were so popular with kids (that’s why we have dogs and a cat). If you don’t find what you need right away, stick to it and you’ll find what you need. By the way, the prices looked reasonable, so no worries about sticker shock.
Since we had tried the DASH Diet, Tracy said she’d be interested in Moishe’s restaurant that promises the “best Mediterranean food anywhere.” I hear this restaurant attracts shawarmas of people. Don’t worry, it’s almost over.
Our last stop was at The Bakery For Dogs, a place we should take Frankie and Remi to visit. Perhaps we’ll pick up birthday treats for them. As our corgis like to say, “Bone Appetit.”
As you can see, there is virtually something for everybody to enjoy when walking around the Original Farmers Market.
Whether living in Southern California or visiting from afar, this little piece of Los Angeles Americana is a fun (and filling) spot to spend a couple of relaxing hours exploring its historical past while savoring the present.
Original Farmers Market
6333 West 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Sunday – Thursday 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Friday/Saturday 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Parking Rates WITH Validation
90 minutes free validation with purchase from a Farmers Market merchant OR 2 hours free with validation from select grocers.
$3 for first 15 minutes after 90 minute validation period.
$1 for each additional 15 minutes thereafter
Parking Rates WITHOUT Validation
$2 for each 15 minutes