Alameda: Park Street Marketplace
Four of us (two fellow escapees from the gourmet wasteland that epitomizes Castro Valley, my daughter and I) headed over to Alameda's Park Street Marketplace Saturday morning. The freeways were near empty and street parking a breeze at 10:00 a.m. The indoor market has limited off street parking next door to it, but overflow is available down the block off of Buena Vista.
My companions started our journey with a cup of coffee and croissants at the Beanery, which holds court to the left and at the entrance of the building. Quite a throng. My daughter asked for and I sheepishly indulged her with a Marshmellow Italian Soda. The coffee got a thumbs up, as did the soda, but no comment on the croissants.
The jewel in the Marketplace crown has to be Farmstead Cheeses & Wine, our next destination. Staffed with knowledgable, friendly and seemingly endlessly patient employees, this store is chock full of interesting--as its name says--cheeses and wines, but also crackers (like Panzanella), nuts (Marcona), and chocolates (curry, ginger, etc. infused). The Italian and Spanish cheeses are housed in the larger of the two refrigerated bins; the French and Greek (and others) grace the unit closer to the check out area. After five or six (or maybe more...) samples (which the staff were happy to obige us with), I settled on two goat cheeses: the Queso de Beyos from Spain and the Billygoat Blue. My friend likened the QdB to a creamy Parmesan; the BGB's blue was tangy but not at all overpowering. I paired those two with some Marcona Almonds (FS stocks both the smoked and the regular kinds) and black pepper La Panzanella Croccantini. Along with some bread at my next stop, a wonderful first course for dinner that night. I also purchased Bufalo di Mozzarella that came in the night before. Creamy and not too salty.
I struck off on my own (as my companions continued their cheese daze) to Feel Good Bakery down the hall and to the left at one end of the marketplace. After a two year drought, the bakery was serving a sourdough whole wheat baguette encrusted with all sorts of different seeds. A nice foundation for my two cheeses that evening.
Next door to the bakery is Season to Taste, a deli serving salads and sandwiches, hot and cold. Too early in the day for me, but a crowd was forming. I was lucky enough to snare a sample of their (housemade?) potato chips. My two friends had emerged licking their lips from their Famstead experience and joined me there. The chips were nicely salted (my salthound friend said they needed a bit more) but a little too thin and just a tad stale.
I also planned seafood lettuce wraps for dinner that evening, so walked down to JP Seafood Company, next to the Sushi King. The jumbo shrimp looked fresh and after marinated in rice wine, sesame seed oil and ginger and then grilled with a squeeze of lime, they proved to be so. Actually haven't heard much about this place (http://www.yelp.com/biz/Jbd4Yw85wt0r8I0daQDgqQ and http://www.alamedamarketplace.com/jpsf/jpsf.shtml), but all of the seafood and shellfish looked great. I also spied a glass barrell of whole dill pickles. I couldn't resist. These pickes were triumphant. Snappy crunchy and sour, my mouth is watering now even as I remember and write.
Smack dab in the middle of the Market is the Alameda Natural Grocery. I didn't spend much time there, but walking through the aisles, it seemed like a smaller Whole Foods and a less cramped Piedmont Grocery. I also didn't puchase anything from Baron's Meat & Poultry, but the ground lamb looked wonderful, the cowboy steak humungous and the rib-eyes pretty darn fabulous as well. We also examined the offerings at Patricia's Pastry in between and to the left of Farmstead and the right of the Beanery. All kinds of kitchen gadgets. The chocolates fronting the grocery store, especially the truffles, called my name, but I resisted. At this point my daughter's patience had worn paper thin, so I was forced to leave. My friends, lucky them, continued their exploration.
Both JP and Baron's are excellent.
Everything at JP is always fresh: if they can't get great fish, they just won't carry it that day instead of stocking something substandard. They're also very helpful with cooking suggestions. The diver scallops and oysters are amazing, and they frequently have tasty oddball stuff like skate wings and whole squid in addition to the usual salmon, ahi, and whatever. It's a family business and they take well-deserved pride in it.
Baron's has the best red meats in the area, period, which is saying something when you're on the same island as Scalise and Sons. You can get everything from ground chuck all the way up to dry-aged grass-fed filet mignon, and they have a huge selection of tasty sausages.