One of my favorite lunch spots is The Original Farmers Market, which is celebrating its 85th anniversary this year. No matter what food I’m craving, I usually find it there. With more than 100 grocers, retailers and restaurants, and year-round activities, it’s also where I like to bring out-of-town guests.
My visiting friend Kim Orlando had never been to The Original Farmers Market, so we made a date to lunch and shop there. Since we were driving separately, I asked her to meet me at the market’s iconic clock tower at Third & Fairfax.
We arrived early for our lunch reservation at Monsieur Marcel Bistro, so we browsed through Marcel’s adjacent gourmet market, stocked with one-of-a-kind local and imported gourmet spices, wines, cheeses, charcuterie and chocolates. The market also sells its signature herbs de provence extra-virgin olive oil.
Monsieur Marcel Gourmet Market and restaurant is owned by Frenchman Stephane Strouk (pictured above) and his wife, Katy. They and their staff of about 75 delight in discovering food items to showcase in the market. The bacon caramel corn that Katy found at an L.A. food show is to die for, according to General Manager Rich Kerlin.
“We like to introduce products and artisans we discover,” says Kerlin, leading us to a table with samples. We nibbled some Midnight Moon cheese and the market’s signature caviar cream cheese (ingredients are a family secret) on a sliced baguette.
Outside the market’s doors is the open-air French bistro, serving authentic French cuisine from quiche to coq au vin. The menu includes fish-to-table entrees. The bronzino fish that Kim (pictured shopping above) selected from the Monsieur Marcel Seafood Market was prepared to her taste. I ordered boeuf bourguignon. Très bon!
Strouk says that when he first arrived in the U.S. more than 25 years ago, he felt like immediately returning to France. “I didn’t understand why no one walks on the streets,” he says. But the bustling market felt like a friendly village to him. He opened his first food stall in 1993. From humble beginnings in a 105-square-foot space, Monsieur Marcel (named after Strouk’s father) expanded to 15,000 square feet over the years and includes the gourmet market, seafood market and, soon, a seafood grill: Roxy & Jo’s, named after his daughters.
After bidding adieu to Strouk, Kim and I visited some of my go-to places for treats to bring home. My family loves the spicy items at Light My Fire, stocked with hot sauces from around the world. At Littlejohn’s English Toffee House, we watched candy makers churn smooth chocolate. The yummy confections are made with California butter and almonds.
The market is packed with a diverse group of merchants. Gadget Nook sells knick-knacks, cups, T-shirts and hats. I made a mental note to return here with my daughter Megan, an au pair living in New Zealand who likes shopping for L.A.-themed souvenirs for her host family. She’ll also like Sticker Planet, filled with more than 5,000 themed stickers for all ages.
On the more upscale side is Weiss Jewelry. We learned that designer Daniel Weiss can create custom jewelry from a customer’s drawing or an idea.
On our way out of the market, we stopped to throw a penny into the wishing well, hoping for more fun lunch dates soon.