Red, juicy tomatoes will reign supreme this weekend at the French Market, which hosts its 29th annual Creole Tomato Festival on June 13-14. But throughout the past year, an increasingly diverse array of other flavors have been finding a permanent home here, and the festival provides a good backdrop to check out what’s new.
Last year, the French Market set out to bolster the ranks of food vendors serving fresh, prepared and ready-to-eat snacks and meals under its roof. It’s part of a push in conjunction with the new farmers markets launched here, and it’s creating lower-cost, lower-risk opportunities for food entrepreneurs to get rolling, or in some cases reboot.
Some of these new vendors set up simple tables during weekends, while others have built eye-catching vending carts and work the market daily. They join a clutch of longer-running vendors that operate the market’s block-long stretch of walk-up cafes and dining counters, offering muffulettas, gluten-free gumbo, pralines, fresh fruit daiquiris or an open-air oyster bar, to name a few of the draws.
While each addition is small, and their hours sometimes limited, they are together raising the profile of the historic marketplace as a food destination and at the same time providing the French Quarter with a much-needed dose of truly quick, inexpensive street food, all of it suited to eat on the go.
Here’s a look at new additions for French Market food in the past year:
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Tuesday
The latest addition here, 3 Potato 4 serves a street food classic with a modern twist — cones of potato wedge “fries” that are baked, not fried, and served with various sauces. It’s a short all-vegan menu that also includes meatless chili and dairy-free cheese sauce. Jehan Strouse, one of the founders of the NOLA Veggie Fest, originally opened 3 Potato 4 in a storefront location in Broadmoor, but now works the market with a shiny new cart, which, among its bells and whistles, sports a small fold-down dining counter.
WHEN: 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays
This specialty baker and farmers market regular sets out a spread of rustic breads, bagels, sheets of foccacia and its namesake loaves to bring home. But it’s also a tempting stop for a more immediate nosh with garlic-rosemary pretzels and crusty galettes folded around seasonal fruit.
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily
Stacked sandwiches on ciabatta, crisp-edged grilled cheese and grab-and-go baquette sandwiches are the specialties here, and they’re compellingly good. Pimento cheese and arugula rippled through one recent example, and Brie, salami and butter made another a simple delight. A three-part collaboration between some of the city’s top artisan food purveyors (St. James Cheese Co., Bellegarde Bakery and the butcher shop Cleaver & Co.), Continental Provisions took over one of the market’s permanent stalls. There’s a built-in dining bar, while the deli case offers cheese and meat and bread to assemble tasting plates or to supply your own riverfront picnic.
WHEN: 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily
Tracy Kish and Samantha Saliter have wheeled their colorful, rustic-looking cart to art markets and events around town, but they always thought their approach would work best in the French Quarter.
“The whole thing is French crepes, so we wanted to be in the French Quarter,” Kish said.
But the city has since 1972 prohibited new pushcart vendors in the Quarter. Their solution was to set up shop in the French Market, where using a pair of piping hot griddles they turn out sweet and savory crepes within two minutes, filling them with everything from bananas to bacon and, yes, tomatoes.
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
Tootie Robichaux is a longtime craft vendor at the French Market who had previously tried running her own food truck. When the French Market made space available for food vendors, she saw a chance to double down in one spot. Now she grills up quesadillas and stuffs tacos with pulled pork and other fillings from a small trailer parked next to her craft booth, where she still sells a novel, wall-mounted magnetic bottle opener.
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays
This specialty popsicle purveyor got its start a few blocks away on Dumaine Street, but the familiar story of rising French Quarter rents eventually impelled a move to its current headquarters in the Ninth Ward, 4011 St. Claude Ave. The French Market’s food vendor expansion, however, gave proprietor Michelle Weaver an avenue for a homecoming of sorts.
“We had a lot of regular customers at our old spot, neighbors in the Quarter and repeat tour visitors, and we’re starting to see some of them again down here,” Weaver said. “I love the way the market’s going now.”
Look for popsicles in flavors both seasonal and offbeat, like sweet corn with blackberry and, fittingly for the festival weekend, tomato and basil. (Meltdown will be at the market for both Saturday and Sunday for the festival weekend).
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday
New Orleans is a sno-ball city, and the French Market has long had a sno-ball vendor. But from his small cart Terrell Culler serves the related but distinct specialty of Italian ice, with a texture more like crunchy flakes than soft flurries, shot through with fruit, whether it’s bits of mango or shaved coconut.
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays
This specialty donut baker still “pops up” at its original location, Tracey’s bar, 2604 Magazine St., on Saturdays starting at 8 a.m. But now, Upper Nine continues its Saturday at the French Market, serving a mix of traditional and exotic donuts. Look for flavors like chocolate salted caramel, bacon maple or blueberry sage, and get a potent ice coffee to go with them.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.