Personal Food Favorites at the Issaquah Farmers Market

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.

Uriah Kallstrom, Kallstrom Sweet Corn

Kallstrom Farm trailer

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.

Michael Pinckney, Pinckney Cookie Café

Bing Bling! and Double Chocolate Espresso cookies

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.

WiseGuy Italian Street Food

Sausage and pepper hero

Italian meatball hero

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.

Joyce Behrendt, Ode to Joy Farm


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.

Dave, Seattle Pops

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).




Dahlia bouquet ($15)



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.

Darrell Westover, Westover Farm

Shishito peppers

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.

Eat Your Heart Out, Disney World—Gobble Express’ Smoked Turkey Legs

Gobble Express started showing up at the Issaquah Famers Market this year, swapping the sole food truck location every other week with Maximus/Minimus. As the name suggests, Gobble Express specializes in turkey, as does the brick-and-mortar operation, called Gobble Restaurant, in Woodinville. The truck has a more limited menu, including smoked turkey legs. The first time I ever ate one was at Disneyland two years ago, a transplant from Disney World where it has been a huge hit. My gnawing on it must’ve seemed like a Neanderthal moment to my family. In truth, I wasn’t so impressed, the leg meat being extremely chewy and stringy. So it was with a little trepidation that I took my first bite of Gobble Express’ drumstick. Not to worry, it was phenomenal, the meat succulent and smoky and burnished to a rich, dark brown.

Gobble’s motto is You buy, we’ll fly, referring to its flexible catering business. Its drollery and terse rhyme remind me of another local smokehouse, Caveman Kitchen in Kent, whose motto is You choke ’em, we smoke ’em, referring to its side business of smoking any meat you bring them. The similarity doesn’t end there because the skin of the turkey leg is like that of Caveman’s vaunted chicken, very smoky, leathery—and delicious. Gobble Express also sells sandwiches made with BBQ beef brisket, pulled pork and pulled turkey, but the turkey leg is its best seller (☆☆☆☆).

Riccarton Farmers Market (Christchurch, NZ)

I’m a sucker for farmers markets. It’s not only because they sell fresh local produce, but the fact that the produce may be native to the area and the prepared foods reflective of what the locals eat. Of those I’ve visited in the U.S., my personal favorite is not my city’s Pike Place Market, Seattle’s pride and joy and tourist destination, but Honolulu’s KCC Saturday Market. I love that you can get a great variety of tropical fruits and mind-boggling number of ono grindz there.

One of the largest on New Zealand’s South Island is Christchurch’s Riccarton Farmers Market, uniquely situated on a public reserve called Riccarton House & Bush. On Saturdays, farmers and food vendors line the area near the historic Riccarton House along the Avon River. Toward the northern end of the site is an ancient grove of kahikatea trees and throughout the grounds are trees planted over 150 years ago, including a tall, mature Tasmanian blue gum planted in 1857 that sits prominently next to Deans Cottage.

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Enjoying Young Coconut

One of my favorite dessert flavorings is coconut. Coconut muffins, coconut ice cream, coconut cookies, Ted’s chocolate-haupia cream pie, the list goes on. No bettah place to have than Hawaii, yeah?

At the KCC Farmers Market, one particular vendor has been selling young coconut for at least the last three of our visits. Chilled in ice water, one is pulled out when you pay your $5. With a sharp cleaver, the fellow cuts off one end just enough to expose the white flesh underneath, then with the corner of the knife, gouges out a little hole. The coconut juice is then sipped through a straw.

There’s quite a bit of liquid in there. When you’re done, you give the coconut back to the guy, who will then cleave it in half, scoop away the tender flesh and give a half shell back to you containing all the meat. The flesh itself is rather bland and has little of the concentrated flavor that desiccated coconut has, but the entire experience was very nice, especially drinking the chilled juice on a hot, muggy day.

Flower Power: Hmong Success Story

In the Seattle area, it’s impossible not to see stalls run by Hmong growers at the farmers markets. Say what you will about their omnipresence at Pike Place Market, but their cut flowers and arrangements bring incredible color to an already vibrant local attraction. The Hmong now have stalls at farmers markets throughout Puget Sound. For many shoppers, weekly purchases would not be complete without an arrangement or two. And why not? Starting at $5 and rarely exceeding $20, a beautiful bouquet can be had. Purchased at the Issaquah Farmers Market, the one pictured above now graces our home.

Hmong flower stall at Pike Place Market (August 2013)

Hmong flower stall at Pike Place Market (August 2013)

Westover Farm at the Issaquah Farmers Market

Though he sells his produce from a walker, his boundless enthusiasm outshines any disability. He cheerily chats with customers and greets returning ones with equal aplomb. Darrell Westover, with help from his wife and other helpers, sells things he grows (hydroponically, as it turns out) on his farm in Maple Valley at the Issaquah Farmers Market, which operates on the Eastside in summer-early fall. While most fruit and vegetable vendors have large canopies, his is tiny by comparison. Most stands at the market sell produce that you can get at any supermarket, except of course that it’s all freshly picked, (at some places) organic, farm-to-table. What makes Westover’s unique are the uncommon items he sells—and at very fair prices. Jovial, gracious and faultlessly honest, he is enthusiastic about everything he sells and even gives you suggestions on how to cook them.

For example, he sells Japanese shishito peppers that I’ve seen only at Uwajimaya. Dark green in early summer and brilliant red by early fall, they make a wonderful snack when sautéed in oil until blistered and sprinkled with coarse salt. It isn’t any wonder Westover’s peppers won first place at the Washington State Fair.

His bell peppers are an Italian variety known as corno di toro (bull’s horn), which are narrower and more flavorful than regular bell peppers. These are terrific when simply roasted in a hot oven with sliced Isernio Italian sausages, all tossed with olive oil, until the pepper edges start charring. Earlier in the summer, there were lemon cucumbers, tiny ( about 1″) and resembling minuscule watermelons, that have a lemony tang and unbelievable crunch. His late-summer cherry tomatoes, whose varieties I failed to note, were so sweet and intensely flavored, they were like candy.

The kamo eggplant, highly prized in Japan, is also available throughout most of the season. Usually dark purple like most eggplants, Westover’s are still green with light purplish highlights and round, but they are no less full-flavored. His suggestion to cut them in half and fry them on the cut sides in sesame oil until browned, then steamed with a bit of water, covered, until soft, finally continued frying in the residual oil, results in a wonderful recipe of creamy succulence, appreciated either as is or sprinkled with soy sauce.

Today, I noticed for the first time British heirloom Ailsa Craig onions that are supposed to be sweeter than Walla Walla onions. I haven’t tasted them yet, but tonight we plan to simply slice them up thickly, paired with slices of Westover’s tomatoes, drizzled with EVOO and coarse salt and pepper and enjoyed with crusty bread.

Shishito peppers

Shishito peppers

Ailsa Craig onions

Ailsa Craig onions

Corno di toro peppers

Corno di toro peppers

For now, Darrell Westover sells only at the Issaquah Farmers Market. With good fortune, he’ll be able to shed his walker soon. I consider myself lucky that he’s there so close to home. Alas, the last Saturday for the market is next week.

Peony Season

A sure sign of impending summer is the long-awaited appearance of the peony. It is greatly admired and revered in China and has unofficially been regarded as its national flower. More than ever, peonies have been popping up for sale here in the Seattle area (and I imagine elsewhere). When Costco and Trader Joe’s begin to sell it, you know that it has gone mainstream. We have four plants in our yard that have yet to flower in four seasons, doubtless a problem of not enough sun exposure and improper soil amendment, though the plants have gotten taller and the root balls bigger. So we have to rely on enjoying these beauties at gardens and purchasing them from sellers.

At the many Hmong flower stalls at farmers markets here, peonies are currently the centerpiece of most arrangements. Today at the Issaquah Farmers Market, there were peonies in all the flower stalls and one astonishing variety (pictured above) sold exclusively at a vegetable stand. The pictures below illustrate some of the many arrangements we saw today.

Barbecued Abalone at the Saturday Farmers’ Market (Honolulu, HI)

Last time, we missed out on the grilled abalone at the Saturday Farmers’ Market. How is it that a mollusk long banned from fishing can make an appearance here in Hawaii? It turns out they are farmed off the coast by Big Island Abalone, which cultivates a Japanese species primarily for export. I was (am) a big fan of abalone, having had it as a kid at family meals (sliced and dipped in soy sauce) and later as an adult in the form of abalone steaks that used to be sold in Southern California restaurants, but its disappearance from the market left me longing for it. So, by the time I discovered that they were selling it at the Saturday Market back in 2010, they were already sold out. This year, I was bent on not missing out. My wife and I headed to the booth as soon as we got to the market. There were only a half dozen people in front of us, so it didn’t take long. We ordered one apiece, setting us back $6 each and sized almost 3 inches long, not very big by California abalone standards back in the day. Several sauces were offered for flavoring, including shoyu-ponzu, lemon juice, and butter spray.


Grilled abalone

While the abalone was not without merit, we were both disappointed with the flavor, or lack thereof. It was too mild, not having the signature assertive abalone taste that I remembered from years ago. It’s like the difference between eating a steamer clam and a Northwest razor clam, both are good but the razor is unique and extraordinary. Today’s was a case of an expectation unfulfilled.

Meanwhile, the rest of the market experience was as great as ever—so much food and so little time.

International Market Place Farmers Market (Honolulu, HI)—CLOSED

Tourists buy inexpensive souvenirs (and lots of crappy stuff) at the International Market Place, strategically situated in Waikiki on Kalakaua. The most enduring sight here is the giant 100-year-old banyan tree that seems to cover the entire open-air market like an enormous umbrella. Every time we’re in Waikiki, we find ourselves walking through here, not because it’s a destination, but because it’s along the way on several of our walks in the area. We’ve never purchased anything here, but we did have cocktails and snacks at a restaurant bar back in 2009.

Late this afternoon, as we were making our way past the vendors’ carts and tourist shops, we noticed a roped-off area that seemed to be preparing for some kind of food bazaar. Then, it occurred to me that this must be the Thursday afternoon farmers market. Sure enough, it was.

The usual island fruits made their appearance: papayas, mangoes, bananas, pineapples. One man was skillfully slicing up pineapples into chunks that were packaged into plastic tubs. Some containers had the fruit sprinkled with li hing mui powder. The foods were of a different sort than you would find at the KCC Farmers Market—snack foods, mostly deep-fried, and many that are comfort food to the locals, who seemed to make up most of the shoppers. A people’s market. Instead of going out to dinner somewhere, we made a decision to purchase a few snacks here to take back to the condo, including li hing pineapples. All of it was pretty good food, but ones that you don’t want to make a habit of eating often.

Update: The International Market Place has been demolished to make way for yet another shopping mall, this one with Sak’s Fifth Avenue and Macy’s. Eh what? Despite how tourists may have seen it as an open-air market of trinket shops and stalls, it was too valuable a piece of property not to be claimed by developers eager to cash in on the big-spending Asians (Japan, Korea and China) who are ever desirous of labels that can be bought cheaper in Honolulu than back at home. These small shops were at least owned and operated by locals. Gone, too, is the Farmers Market with all its ethnic food.

Honolulu Saturday Market

The Honolulu Saturday Market is, without doubt, one of the best farmers markets in the country for foodies. It has its share of produce stalls; they mainly benefit the locals who come here for fresh fruits and vegetables. But, I’ll wager that the vast majority of visitors come here for the incredible selection of prepared foods. We’re talking about food beloved on the islands. The merging of cooking influences (mostly from Asia) is reflected in the offerings. While the food may not be the best examples, it is still good. The variety alone in an open-air market setting is exciting.

After contemplating for a while, at approximately 10:15 am (45 minutes before the market closed) we decided on a salmon fried rice and grilled kasu cod, grilled corn flavored with shoyu butter and furikake, and a mango and ginger drink. Our plan was also to get grilled abalone that were selling for $5 a small pair, but they had all sold out. It was amazing that this hard-to-get shellfish was being sold at all. We almost lost out on the corn; I managed to get one of the last ones. I did get the last fried rice combination, too. The moral of the story is that it’s best to get what you want early, even if it isn’t quite the lunch hour.

As for the food itself, the kasu cod was delicious, though somewhat overly charred. The salmon fried rice tasted less interesting than it sounded, though it wasn’t bad. The corn was over-grilled to the point of getting dried out and the furikake made it too salty. Any drink from the PacifiCool booth is always refreshing, although the large amounts of ice cubes tend to dilute the drink if left too long. The ginger syrup they sell is really good stuff. For dessert, we snagged a couple of shave ices, one topped with lilikoi syrup, the other with ginger syrup which was also sprinkled with dried ginger flakes.

Kasu cod

Kasu cod

Furikake corn

Furikake corn

PacifiKool ginger drink with mango

PacifiKool ginger drink with mango

Shave ice

Shave ice

Saturday Farmers Market
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