Another successful day of farmers marketing yesterday. Mimi (my mom) and I departed her house at approximately 9:00 am (only an hour later than our designated departure time, which for us is not bad at all) and hopped on the PA Turnpike for an hour-ish ride to Reading. Our destination – The Fairgrounds Farmers Market.
I did a little research (no, I did not simply throw a dart at the map) early in the week about PA farmers markets and the Fairgrounds Market sounded interesting. Someone commented on yelp that it is, “not the prettiest or the most eclectic, but for quality of food, it’s the best.” That review had me expecting a dumpy place – and while it certainly wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as Lancaster’s Central Market or the Ardmore Farmers Market, it was decent-looking. It seemed clean and was well laid out with wide aisles and good lighting.
As for quality of food, I’d say there were some very nice stands; but I’ve seen better quality (and I’ve seen worse quality) at farmers markets. If you live in the Reading area it is certainly a good option (especially depending on how far you are willing to travel). There were a few “stands” that I was surprised to see at a farmers market – including one stand that advertised, “we buy gold” and a barber shop.
I think both my mom and I were more focused this trip than we typically are – we both had things we were hoping to find. Usually we go with no expectations and meander. I’m not saying it’s better to be more focused; I’m simply making an observation.
Although it was not on my list, the mushroom spinach pizza looked too good to pass up – so I purchased a piece for Jeff and I to have for dinner. If you enter the market via the main entrance, the stand from which I purchased the pizza is on the far right end in the middle (next to the cajun stand and across from the soft pretzels). I was remiss in getting vendor names – I’ve been spoiled and can usually find them on a vendor map online. Try as I might, I was unable to locate a vendor map online for the Fairgrounds Farmers Market.
Speaking of soft pretzels – the stand to which I just referred is called Fisher’s Soft Pretzels. Mimi and I tried a sample of their chicken bacon ranch pretzel and all I can say is, “holy cow!” It was terrific. They had an interesting selection of stuffed soft pretzels. Worth a try if you like ’em. Very creative.
We also discovered a terrific place for bulk herbs and spices. I think it was called “Lbs and Oz.” I was looking for cinnamon and was intrigued when I saw the shelf of options. I never realized there are cinnamons with different oil contents and that the higher the oil content, the cinnamonier the cinnamon. You really DO learn something new every day – at least I do! We also bought ground rosemary, culinary lavender, SMOKED ground black pepper (I cannot wait to try this) and granulated tapioca, among other things.
At other stands we purchased beef short ribs, pork ribs, pork loin, granny smith apples and half a watermelon – yes, watermelon. The prices were very reasonable and what we bought looks very good. There was one meat stand at which I asked mom, “do you think they put red food coloring on their meats?” She said she was wondering the same thing. Their meats looked to be a completely different color than the meats at other stands.
Our indulgent purchase du jour – made as a result of high praise from another shopper – was organic, gluten-free gingerbread from Melanie’s Organic Farm Bakery. The small loaf cost $9.00 – pretty pricey in my opinion; but we decided to be daring and give it a try. We split the loaf. Jeff and I will have some for breakfast before church tomorrow and I’ll let you know if it was money well spent!
After our market adventure, we headed to a chowhound recommended restaurant for lunch – Judy’s on Cherry – A Hearth-Fired Euro Cafe, which could also be called Judy’s on Cheery as the interior of the restaurant is decorated in funky colors with bright cheery artwork. We were seated by Judy and spent a little time talking with her toward the end of our meal. Our server, Claudia, was pleasant and efficient and helped break some menu item ties. She did not steer us wrong!
We shared a glass of pinot grigio, the Mediterranean Mezze Tasting Plate, and the Cowboy Ciao salad. Mmm mmm mmm! Our wine arrived with some warm breads from the hearth and we could have ended there and been perfectly content….but, of course, we did not!
While we waited for our food, we checked out the decor and speculated on what used to be in the building. Interestingly enough, I learned today that the building used to house a farmers market. How appropriate for our adventure!
The Mediterranean Mezze Tasting Plate included hummus, fig and black olive tapenade, roasted red peppers and a spread made with garlic, yogurt and ground almonds – Judy did tell us the name, but I cannot remember it. Crispy flatbread accompanied the spreads. Mimi and I both agreed that we could skip the crispy flatbread, which was a touch greasy, and instead have the bread fresh from the hearth! I really enjoyed the hummus – it had a bright fresh taste and I loved the yogurt spread! I am not a fan of black olives, so I was skeptical about the fig and black olive tapenade. Although it did not taste like black olives, it was my least favorite of all the things on the plate.
On the plate were smoked salmon, roasted corn, chopped arugula, Israeli couscous, marinated tomatoes, nuts and dried fruit and a small pitcher of pesto buttermilk dressing. When mixed together it was heaven on a fork. The textures and flavors wonderfully complimented one another.
We finished lunch with a good cup of coffee, a shared piece of pie and some conversation with Joey Bags, who was celebrating his birthday with friends. The pie – Bourbon Brown Butter Pecan Pie – was terrific and beautifully presented. A great ending to a great meal.
The only thing missing from our day was Aunt Pam. Since we planned the trip at the last-minute and invited her only the day before, she was unable to join us for this adventure; but rest assured she will be part of our future market trips!!!