Despite the plethora of food courts dotted all over Manhattan, the Accidental Locavore has yet to find the perfect one. As my readers know, I’ve yet to find any one I’d like to return to, except in case of emergency (like needing a sandwich for the train). Even an attempt at the newest space — the Pennsy by Penn Station (always a decent food desert) — was a bust! They don’t even open until 11! So much for lunch to go.
When I heard about Boston’s new Public Market, I was intrigued enough to go check it out, but quite honestly, wasn’t setting my expectations too high. It’s down near the North End, a spot that has always had lively markets (although you always had to keep an eye out for less-than-perfect produce ending up in your bag). Nineteen years in the making, it opened last July with almost exclusively Massachusetts vendors.
The emphasis is on fresh food, meat, cheese, fish and produce. This is a good and a bad thing. Unless you’re a huge butternut squash or potato fan, you quickly realize that there are not a ton of fresh veggies in February. But that’s easily overlooked by some terrific-looking meats and a great selection of cheeses. I took the opportunity to introduce my friend Betty to raclette made with Jasper Hill Farm’s Alpha Tolman cheese, and we shared a tub of perfectly cooked potatoes covered in gooey, local raclette. She’s hooked.
There’s a local pastrami stand, dishing out some very nice pastrami. It’s a little more smoked than you’d find at a NY deli, but the prices will remind you of Katz’s. You’ll find teas, spices and flowers, maple syrup and a surprising amount of regional sodas, ciders and beers.
Two of the non-food purveyors are perhaps the most interesting stops in the market. American Stonecraft has a collection of beautiful stone slabs and bowls. What makes them particularly interesting is that Gerald Croteau, the owner, gathers the stones from farms in the area (it’s New England, so not exactly lacking in rocks), cuts them into slabs and polishes them. Each piece has its origin stamped on the back, so along with helping farmers clear their fields, you can have a stone slab for cheese that will put those Brooklyn slates to shame.
The other one is Peterman’s Boards and Bowls. This time, Spencer Peterman looks for rotting and fallen trees in the forests. He then turns them into incredible bowls, as well as cutting boards, utensils etc. I fell totally in love with an ebonized oak bowl—well actually I fell in love with a lot of the bowls, especially the ones made from burl, but there’s a limit to how much one wants to schlepp home on the train (which kept the American Stonecraft pieces from being too tempting).
Besides the availability of non-food items, the biggest difference between Boston Public Market and the Manhattan food halls is that in Boston, it’s primarily a food market with some prepared food to take home or find a spot to enjoy it in. The layout is better too, it’s open and airy (even on a cold, grey day) and while the seating is few and far between, it’s not just plopped in the middle of the space. If you happen to be in the Boston area, it’s definitely worth a trip!