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Food Dude

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By Jim Duncan

Valley Junction Farmers Market

A longtime supporter of many area farmers markets, I resented the inclusion of non-farmers and phony farmers for years. Some “farmer” vendors are now selling produce that is covered with wax and stickers. Prepared food vendors at local markets rarely use farm fresh foods, as they are required to do in the real farmers markets around the country. Too often in Central Iowa, our real farmers are being exploited to promote the neighborhoods that host them — the purpose being to attract the biggest crowd possible, meaning people who don’t give a hoot about sustainable agriculture, heirloom tomatoes or free ranged pigs. Real farmers can get lost in this crowd. But how lost?

I visited three consecutive Valley Junction Farmers Markets at dinnertime and stood at the edges counting people who were walking away in the direction of parked cars. Each week I counted to 200 people while also counting the number who were carrying groceries. I even included people who were carrying nothing more than dry pasta that had been made by a wholesale company in Colorado. During those three weeks the secondary head counts averaged 20 people. So it seems that fewer than one out of 10 VJFM visitors actually buys something from farmers. For most people, VJFM is a food court on wheels. Based on three weeks of grazing, it’s still better than any mall food court around here.

Week one: I started with a bag of cheese curds from the much-praised Creamery from Van Buren County. These are made only from hand-milked cows on Amish farms and represent a way of life that would not exist were it not for the Creamery. (Modern dairies no longer pick up milk pails and the Amish won’t convert to new milking technologies.) For my entrée, I went with a brisket sandwich from Smokehouse of Dallas Center. It was specially cut as requested, and generous for $5. I sampled but rejected three very sweet sauces. Then I paired my brisket with a side of vegetarian lo mein from Roll ‘n’ Wok.

For dessert, I had Michael Leo’s (Salzburg Café) apple strudel with Bavarian cream. The Austrian pastry chef told us he’s hoping to be back in the brick and mortar food scene soon.

Week two: I began with some white cheddar from the Creamery and an expertly seasoned pork sandwich from Flying Mango, balanced with raw fresh asparagus, sold by real farmers. For dessert I had a mini gooseberry pie from Mom’s Best, Chloe Rodish’s kitchen in Cumming.

Week three: I began with appetizers from Stanhope Locker, buying some dried beef after sampling half a dozen other meats. I followed that with a wheat grass shot from Fresh Café and Market. Being a wheat grass virgin, I couldn’t judge it, but I felt really good about drinking it.

I looked at some Tavern pizza, but if I wanted pizza I would go indoors and order it fresh from their ovens. I considered Los Primos, but noticed their chef being indifferent to high flames scorching his chicken. I considered Greek House’s gyros, but meat was being sliced too fast before it achieved the kind of sear I want. La Bamba was busy providing generous $5 dinners, but tortillas looked stiff. So I settled on a seductive Cajun dog, slathered in Cajun grinder meat, from Simo’s. I paired it with a potato cutlet from Saloo’s, a familiar face at farmers markets for as long as I can remember. I also bought some pickled chutney from her and then finished with Uncle Wendell’s excellent raspberry pecan cream cake. I took home a whole strawberry-rhubarb pie from Mast Family Farms.

I enjoyed Tropical Sno’s snow cones, made with real cane sugar syrup, like soft drinks used to be. Several local wineries offered bottles of their product, mostly in the $10 to $13 range.

Side dishes

The hot new summer junk food on the fair circuit is a dill pickle marinated in Kool Aid… The Market at Jordan Creek offers a Middle Eastern cooking class at 6 p.m. on July 10. Reservations are $95 per person, $125 per couple. Call 309-1332. … The two local Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que’s are now smoke-free. CV

Past Food Dude Reviews
Amici Espresso (1-4-07) Bandana's (1-11-07)
Perry hotel (1-18-07) Beyond frozen (1-25-07)
Centro (2-1-07) KC BBQ (2-8-07)
Planet Sub (2-15-07) Trostel’s Greenbriar (2-22-07)
Acapulco (3-1-07) Aryana (3-8-07)
AJ's (3-15-07) Ban Thai (3-22-07)
Two Crop Palace(3-29-07) Mo Q x 2 (4-5-07)
What's In A Name?(4-12-07) Lemongrass (4-19-07)
Chef Joe's Place (5-3-07) Suburban Restaurant (5-10-07)
Gateway Market Café (5-17-07) Irina’s Restaurant Bar (5-24-07)
Trailer Tripe (5-31-07) Azalea (6-07-07)
Pho All Seasons (6-14-07)  

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