Writer Mary Fagnano is contributing a regular series “The Heart of Downtown” giving a look into what’s pumping life into the nine key districts that make up the center of our city.
Thursday night is the perfect evening to head to Downtown LA‘s Grand Central Market if you want to avoid the crowds and maybe snag one of the six seats at Belcampo Meat Co.’s counter.
Grand Central Market has been attracting lots of new purveyors lately serving some of the best quality and most interesting foods in Los Angeles. “Think globally, eat locally” is one of the Market’s slogans and it captures Grand Central Market’s rich history that has being re-created for a new generation of food explorers. The Market is located just north of 4th Street between Broadway and Hill. Parking is easy–there’s a multi-level lot you can enter at 308 South Hill Street.
Not all the stalls are open on Thursday nights but that’s part of the attraction because there are still plenty of good choices for a culinary adventure and there’s more time to chat with the purveyors to discover the behind-the-scene stories that make this place so special.
Belcampo Meat Co. is truly a throw-back to the prairie days of raising treasured livestock where there was an appreciation for the care it took to breed and raise the animal and put every part to use when butchered. All the meat sold at Belcampo is raised on the Belcampo farm in Northern California. Whatever beautiful cuts of meat or poultry parts that aren’t sold from the butcher case on any given day are put on the menu that evening or the next day, giving some of the most delicious meat or poultry preparations imaginable to diners at night. Duck breast happened to be one of the specialties this Thursday, served with a creamy celery root puree and charred crisp green onions. Brent Thomas, the Assistant General Manager, said they had just finished plucking the last of the feathers before it was prepared. The duck was almost silky in texture and full of delicate flavors. For those looking for something in the comfort food category, the hamburger is a staple on the menu and it’s got to be one of the top three burgers in L.A.
When asked what one should order if they could only come to Belcampo once, Brent says, hands down, it’s the deep fried head cheese. For the less adventurous he highly recommends the steak frites.
Brent came to L.A. from Nashville, NC where he worked as a sous chef. After a stint with Whole Foods in CA, Brent said he’s found his dream job working at Belcampo. “I love this place,” he says, explaining that being involved in a top quality meat company with a focus on sustainability has combined his passions. He said that Grand Central Market has done an outstanding job of bringing more awareness to the Market and business has been consistently strong. Brent said his proudest day was when Belcampo was recently written up in Bon Appétit magazine.
Belcampo also has a well-thought out narrow offering of tap beers – the Lagunitas California IPA is always available and they just introduced a selection of wines. For those on a tighter budget, Belcampo serves a $4.00 100% grass-fed beef hotdog in a specialty bun with house made pickles served with house made ketchup. If you’re lucky enough to get a place at the counter to eat your hotdog you will be given a lovely starched linen napkin to dab the mustard off your fingers and chin. Head butcher and General Manager Jared Standing is also happy to talk about everything you might want to know about meat, sustainability, and what it’s like bridging the world of a farm at the foot of Mt. Shasta with the center of downtown L.A life.
Valeria’s Chiles and Spices is one of the older stalls, and an anchor of the market for generations. Valeria’s specializes in all types of dried chiles as well as bulk fresh spices including cumin, curry, cloves and pepper.
Maria Yepez bought Valeria’s in 2001 while her husband Ruben, and two brother-in-laws were working in the stall. One brother, Angel, is still at Valeria’s. The other one, according to Ruben, fell in love and moved to Mexico. Ruben has been working at Valeria’s for 26 years and the family tradition continues: their two children, Valeria (17) and Ruben (16) also work in the family business. He said that business lately has really picked up and he attributes it to more publicity about Grand Central Market and more tourists visiting Los Angeles. Among Ruben’s best customers is LA Specialty, one of the top specialty food distributors serving high end restaurants throughout the L.A. area.
Valeria’s also offers a variety of specialty canned and packaged food items artfully arrayed on the shelves behind those famous chile bins!
Ivan Carmona at La Huerta Candy, Dried Fruits and Nuts insists we try a gummy mix chamoy. The fresh, chewy, tart gummy rings are covered with a mixture of colored sugar, chile powder, lemon and salt. The flavor is 3 layers deep with the sweet, the sour and the little bit of spice making these totally addictive.
Ivan has worked at La Huerta for 14 years. He came just one year after the stall opened in 1999. One of the big draws to La Huerta is the large glass jar with bright red mango slices marinating in a chamoy-seasoned blend of orange juice, apricot juice, chile powder, lemon and salt. There’s a wide assortment of nuts and dried fruit at La Huerta and they don’t get any fresher than this—nor is the price better elsewhere. A half pound of flavorful, soft , dried apricot halves, a pound of raisins, a half pound of slivered almonds and a few of those (hard to resist) rings of gummy mix chamoy came to just $8.74.
After a meal and some grazing through a few of the stalls you may think you want to call it a night – that is until you stumble upon McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream.
This specialty ice cream company from Santa Barbara was established in 1949 and was bought in 2012 by winemaker Michael Palmer and his wife, Eva, a chef. The ice cream is still made in Santa Barbara and delivered regularly to this new Grand Central Market location.
Churros Con Leche is the most popular flavor but there’s no easy choice to make. Salted Carmel Chip and Toasted Coconut Almond Chip make a pretty good combination. When you ask for a taste at McConnell’s you’ll get a small silver spoon that makes the ice cream taste all the better! Another plus for Thursday nights…any other day of the week there’s a long line at McConnell’s, but on Thursday you can pretty much walk right up to the counter and not feel guilty about asking for a taste of a couple of extra flavors.
Grand Central Market is open until 9 pm only on Thursday-Saturday. All other days the Market closes at 6pm. Not all stalls are open during the evening hours but since Friday and Saturday evenings tend to be pretty busy, Thursday evenings give you a chance to take your time walking the open aisles and seeing everything this thriving market has to offer.
The menu for each restaurant is on display so you can really take your time to study them and then decide who you want to come back to visit next time. When it’s crowded it can be a little intimidating so consider Thursday a research night. It is a perfect way to get introduced to all that Grand Central Market has to offer: you’ll feel like a pro when you come back again on a busy Saturday.Grand Central Market 317 S. BROADWAY LOS ANGELES, CA 90013
TEL (213) 624-2378 HOURS: Sun-Wed 8am- 6pm, Thurs – Sat 8am – 9pm PARKING: 308 S Hill St, LA, CA 90013 (1 hour free validation with $10 purchase)