Just about every farm stand outside of the indoor halls sells the same produce for about the same price all year-round. Most have paper plates of freshly sliced samples available, and while I was a little hesitant to eat a piece of yellow peach after watching a hobbling, unwashed man take one, I cast my germaphobia aside because of how juicy it looked. The farmers don't need to yell out the deals they're offering for two pounds of peaches or a bushel of apples—they know the taste alone is enough. A perfectly ripe peach means fuzzy, yielding skin, sweet flesh with the tiniest bit of tartness, and warm juice running down your forearm. Try finding one of those at Harris Teeter or Safeway, even at the peak of the season.
Bison Hot Dog from Union Meat Co.
While wandering the indoor stalls of the South Hall, the sight (and scent) of hot dogs and half-smokes on a roller grill may, literally, stop you in your tracks. While the slowly spinning dogs on Union Meat Co.'s roller grill looked about as appetizing as the ones at a 7-Eleven, the fact that some of them were made from bison meat gave me hope. The bison hot dog ($3) is presented like most hot dogs, in a piece of fluted white paper with a simple bun, except this was a heavier yellowish potato roll. Though the bun was too doughy, the dog itself had a great snap and lean beef flavor. There was zing and a bit of smokiness. I could have stripped off the bun and eaten the dog alone with a thin line of yellow mustard and chopped raw onion.
Turkey Jerky from Market Poultry
Jerky has always been on my no-way-am-I-going-to-eat-that list. It has been since elementary school when I first saw some kid eating a Slim Jim at lunch. But the turkey jerky (about $1 per eight-inch piece) at Market Poultry changed my mind. While the Inman family-run stand is generally known for its raw poultry, they've got a clear plastic storage container full of jerky sitting all nonchalantly on top of the meat case. You've got to use your superhuman jaw strength to eat a piece, but it's totally worth the layers of salt, smoke, and finally, the turkey flavor that creeps in at the end. I can see why the menu says it's addicting. And $1? I pay 289% more for my weekday cup of coffee.
Cucumber Kimchi from Paik Produce
This produce and dry goods stand in the South Hall stocks the basics. Fresh fruit and vegetables, beans, sauces, and homemade Korean food. Circular plastic containers of homemade cabbage and cucumber kimchi ($3 for a small, $5 for a large) and plastic salad bar cartons of beef bulgogi ($6) are stacked on trays right next to the main cash register. The cucumber kimchi is made with cucumbers and carrots that retain their had a refreshing crunch and a spicy vinegar bite. Best to take a container home with you and eat it there--it can get messy, and the weekend crowds may not appreciate the scent of kimchi mixing with their crabcake sandwiches and crepes.
Bluebuck Pancakes and the Softshell Crab Sandwich from Market Lunch
Walk up to the Market Lunch counter on Saturdays before noon for their famous blueberry buckwheat pancakes, AKA "bluebucks." Or if you're in more of a savory mood, we also love their seasonal Softshell Crab Sandwich. It's exactly what it sounds like: a lightly fried softshell crab still hot from the fryer served open-face on a fluffy roll with romaine lettuce and a tomato slice (should you want it). The crab itself actually tastes like crab, and while it could use a squeeze of lemon, it's probably one of the best (and cheapest) softshell crab preparations in the city. The homemade tartar and "pink" sauces look heavy, but they both give the sandwich a much needed vinegary and fresh kick.
Kosher and Full Sour Pickles from In a Pickle
Most stands surrounding In a Pickle serve heavy food (po'boys and soft pretzels) or sweets (donuts and crepes), so even samples from this one-woman stand are a zesty respite. She's got four types of olives and six types of pickles. When I asked for a pickle sample, she pulled out a cuke with her gloved hand and sliced it on the lid of the barrel. The hot and spicy pickle, and the wasabi are a bit one-note, but the kosher and full sour meet homemade pickle expectations, delivering quite the flavor profile. A pint ($5) holds about eight or nine pickles, and they're even better after chilling in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Mini donuts from Migue’s Magnificent Mini Donuts
I don't care for most baked goods (salty tooth right here, like much of the SE staff), but I love donuts. These mini beauties are churned out by a man (presumably Migue) and his young son using a pretty basic combined donut shaper and fryer, which then goes into what I can only call a "donut cooler." A small bag ($3) contains about eight donuts, and you can sprinkle on powdered sugar, cinnamon, rainbow sprinkles, and even chocolate syrup. Gracefully eating a powdered sugar donut, even in tiny form, is next to impossible, but these were so light and balanced, I didn't mind. They have a slightly crisp exterior and a warm, moist interior that's not too dense or crumbly. You'll be halfway through the bag before you know it—it's a little scary.
Crepes from Crepes at the Market
While the crepe man doesn't have a permanent spot in one of Eastern Market's halls, tales of his magical crepes circulate across the city. I made it my mission to find him, and there he was—in a cluster of outdoor food stalls by the Rumsey Aquatic Center on North Carolina Avenue. The menu includes both sweet and savory combos, and because I'd just had that half a bag of mini donuts, I went for the Blue Plate Special ($8), made with homemade meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, provolone, and au jus filling. Instead of handing it to me in a paper cone, Crepe Man deposited it naked on a plate because it was, as he called it, "a monster." It didn't go down like one, though—the meatloaf was beefy, the potatoes were warmed through, the green beans were actually crisp, the au jus kept it moist, and the cheese held it all together. Can I eat all of my meals in conical form from now on?
Gelato from Pitango
Two local gelato chains, Dolcezza and Pitango, battle it out for top shop in the city. While Dolcezza has more inventive and vivid flavors, Pitango does pretty well with the basics like pistachio and hazelnut. On any given day, you can choose from eight dairy-free sorbets and eight actual gelatos. Both are soft and creamy in texture; flavor-wise, the gelatos are generally richer and less sugary-sweet. Employees recommend pairing a sorbet and a gelato. Try the tangy, yogurt-flavored gelato with a lemon sorbet. While I couldn't imagine eating a whole cup of the cantaloupe sorbet, it made me want to shout à la Willy Wonka, "The cantaloupe tastes like cantaloupe!" This is the perfect way to end a day spent sampling mostly meat and carbs.
660 Pennsylvania Ave SE (7th Street side), Washington, DC 20003; 202-701-6222
Fentiman’s Sodas from Paik Produce
Just when you think you're done with the South Hall, you'll walk out the skinny double doors to find Fine Sweet Shoppe. Check out the refrigerated case on your left. While most vendors inside the Hall sell mainstream sodas, juices, and water, Paik's stocks more interesting drinks like Victorian Lemonade. Most mass-produced lemonade is too sweet and artificial-tasting, but the Fentiman's version (a British company) packed quite a sour, lemony punch. They also sell Dandelion and Burdock, apparently a pretty common soda flavor in the UK, but I can see why Coca-Cola and Pepsi haven't adopted it. The flavor hovers somewhere between Concord grape, anise, ginger, and tree bark. Not altogether unpleasant—the mild, natural fizz is a nice change, but it's a bit too reminiscent of diluted cough syrup for my taste.