As the season for the Issaquah Farmers Market draws to a close in two weeks, I wanted to write about my favorite food vendors. These are businesses that I consider to be first among equals, so to speak, businesses that sell uncompromisingly good food that I look forward to every time I’m visiting the market. Summertime would not be the same without these Saturday visits.
Kallstrom Sweet Corn sells corn, and only corn. Grown in fields between George and Ephrata (in eastern Washington), they are the best, very sweet and tender and—almost unheard of in this day and age—non-GMO. Their familiar covered trailer is always found at the northwest corner of the market. When they didn’t show up one week, loyal customers (including my wife and I) were alarmed, making worried inquiries at the market’s information booth, going to their Facebook page or website for clues about their absence. Even if my family doesn’t eat corn much during the rest of the year, we eat it weekly during the season, and we get it only here. Kallstrom has a devoted following. The corn is as good as it gets. Candy on a cob.
I don’t know how Michael Pinckney does it, but all his cookies (Pinckney Cookie Cafe) are out-of-this-world. I prefer chewy cookies, and he obliges. None of them is crispy. He also doesn’t use artificial ingredients. The line-up includes at least eight kinds. Every week, he features a cookie-of-the-day. I am partial to the Bing Bling!, an alchemical mix of coconut, chocolate and dried Bing cherries. The Double Chocolate Espresso is another home-run, as deep a spiritual chocolate-espresso experience as I will ever get. And this year, he added a cookie made with Woodinville Whiskey Company’s bourbon. The cookie is tasty and surprisingly non-boozy, clearly on its way to becoming one of the best sellers. I buy only 2-3 cookies per visit to hold the lust in check during the week.
Next door to Pinckney’s (this year, anyway) is WiseGuy Italian Street Food that sells the best Italian meatball sandwich that I’ve eaten in a long time. And equally delicious is the sausage and bell pepper hero. It took us until this year to ‘discover’ them after they’d been doing business at the market for years. What makes the sandwiches so irresistible are the light, crispy bread that WiseGuy sources from Le Panier and an outstanding, zesty marinara. The cauldrons of simmering meatball and sausages-pepper fillings are like siren calls. Resistance is futile.
I’ve been motivated to buy farm fresh eggs whenever possible ever since stories emerged that what you buy at the supermarket might have been in storage for months and can come from anywhere in the world. Even organic eggs. At the market, I buy fresh eggs from Ode to Joy Farm. The hens are pasture-raised in Enumclaw and eat grass, bugs and organic feed. Every now and then, a lovely pastel green egg will appear among the otherwise brown dozen. The stall also sells duck eggs and poultry.
Mouth-watering treats that showed up at the market this year are popsicles made by Seattle Pops (Facebook page). They’re made with the freshest ingredients, including fruits in season. The fruit pop line-up includes strawberry, lime, blueberry and watermelon. Their cream-based pops use chocolate, raspberry, peach and banana. In the latter category, the two that my wife and I had to have without hesitation were Coconut Cream (☆☆☆☆) and Kona Coffee (☆☆☆☆). Holy moly! We have never had popsicles this good, inspired by Mexican canelas. The dairy cream is ridiculously rich. The addition of toasted, shredded dried coconuts elevate the coconut pop to another level. The Kona pop has an incredibly deep coffee flavor. Unfortunately, we haven’t tried any of the other flavors, so enamored are we with those two. Several of their pops are seasonal; upcoming are Pumpkin Pie and Cranberry.
I described Gobble Express in my previous post, but the vendor apparently has to alternate appearances with other food trucks. In that sense, it doesn’t qualify as a purveyor I can even look forward to every week. But, oh, that smoked turkey leg is enough for me to be on the lookout whenever I go marketing.
Though this has nothing to do with food, I had to put in a plug for the Hmong flower stalls. They sell beautifully arranged bouquets throughout the market season at very reasonable prices. My favorite times are late spring (when peonies are abundant) and late summer (for the spectacular variety of dahlias).
One vendor we dearly miss is Westover Farm. Darrell Westover sold uncommon produce, like lemon cucumbers, corno di toro bell peppers, kamo eggplants, Ailsa Craig onions, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and shishito peppers. Not only were they freshly picked but were a great value. For health reasons, Darrell no longer drives out to Issaquah on Saturdays but still continues to sell his hydroponically grown produce at his farm in Maple Valley. I was very disappointed (but understanding) that he didn’t show up this season.
Farmers markets are reminders of the plenty we have available locally. It takes dedication and lots of hard work by the people who grow and make things. A few of them travel long distances to sell at the market. Though it lasts five months, the season is all too short.