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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Grand Central Market's Grand Balancing Act

Recently the Grand Central Market held a media evening to share the changes taking place at the Market. New vendors have set up shop. Free live music is booked on a regular basis and the Market will now be open from 8:00am to 10:00pm seven days a week. 

Summer Nights with Live Music and More

The Market has always been a destination for shoppers and diners but new entertainment programming adds more reasons to stop by in the evening.

Check the Market's web site for the SUMMER EVENT CALENDAR.  

During June and July, the mix of events is designed to be something-for-everyone in a program called Summer Nights.

1st & 3rd Tuesdays, 8:00pm: While you are at the Market you can play games on Trivia Tuesdays.

Wednesdays, 8:00pm: Outdoors on the Horse Thief BBQ patio, watch classic films set in Texas.

1st & 3rd Thursdays, 8:00pm: On Game Night, come for Drag Queen Bingo: Live! to have fun, get lucky and win a prize.

Fridays, 7:30pm-9:30pm: DJs will play their favorites while you eat and shop.
Saturdays, 8:00pm-8:45pm & 9:00pm-9:45pm: Singer/songwriters and self-described indie bands will perform Live at GCM.

Sundays, 7:30pm-9:30pm: Closing out the weekend, at Sunday Soirees artists will perform jazz, Latin, roots and World Music.
The History of the Market

Located on Broadway and Hill between 2nd and 3rd, The Grand Central Market has been an important landmark in downtown Los Angeles since it opened in 1917. Long before farmers markets appeared all over LA, the Grand Central Market provided the downtown community with fresh food at affordable prices.





















In a part of Los Angeles without supermarkets, the shoppers who filled the aisles bought fresh produce, fruit, fish, meat and poultry. Freshly made tortillas traveled down a conveyer belt where they were stacked in plastic bags and sold still warm in the open-air tortilla factory that once stretched along the southern wall close to Broadway .

The Market specialized in health products, fresh fruit juices, herbal teas and homeopathic remedies from around the world. There were stalls (and still are!) selling costume jewelry and Mexican candies.

And where there are shoppers, they will be places to eat. Dozens of stalls sold Mexican tacos, enchiladas, ceviche, whole lobsters, plates of fried fish and shrimp in the shell.
On the Broadway side, you can't walk by Villa Moreliana without being offered a taste of their delicious roast pork inside a freshly made flour tortilla. To the moist meat I add mounds of pickled onions and carrots, chopped raw onions and cilantro and a liberal dousing of green chili sauce, all freshly made.
Anyone who needed an old-school, Chinese-American food fix could have a meal at the China Cafe. Order the house wonton soup that comes with three pieces of fried fish tofu and Rinco, the owner, will happily tell you how much care goes into making the soup.
Everyday he makes soup out of 40 pounds of chicken meat and 40 pounds of chicken bones. The resulting broth is clear and clean tasting, full of subtle flavors and the perfect setting for his plump, pork stuffed wontons. On the side of the plate are 3 rectangles, crunchy outside, moist inside. The fried tofu squares are a delight.

I first visited the Market when I was in college. I bought spices at Valeria's and ready-to-use mole paste at Chiles Secos where I could also buy any one of a dozen different dried beans. I wanted to learn how to make tortillas at home. I came to the Market to buy masa and a tortilla press. My homemade tortillas were good, but, I had to confess, the ones I bought at the Market were better so I kept coming.
In the late 1970's I photographed the Market to use for a TV pilot I was producing for KCOP. I took a hundred photographs of the vendors and customers. I loved the community feeling of the Market. Families with babies in tow shopped for the basics and stopped to have snacks or lunch.
Today families from the neighborhood still do their daily shopping at the Market but they have been joined by a new population, eager to explore the mix of old and new vendors.

Upscale purveyors like DTLA Cheese and Belcampo Meat Co. have stalls with counter seating, selling high quality products previously only available in specialty stores in Beverly Hills or Hancock Park. Customers wait patiently in line for their turn to order at Sticky Rice - Thai Street Food, Eggslut and Wexler's Deli.
For sweet treats, McConnell's Fine Ice Cream attracts long lines. Around the corner, Valerie Confections Bakery & Café offers up savory snacks, cookies and fine dining desserts like the complex dish we were served, a poached apricot with crème fraîche topping on an almond cake crumble with a basil chiffonade.
And new vendors continue to move into the Market.

KNEAD & Co. Pasta Bar + Market and Bar Moruno are part of the next-gen wave. Serving tapas paired with wine by the glass, Bar Moruno gave us samples of classic Spanish bar-food skewers with anchovies, guindilla peppers, pickled garlic cloves and cornichons.

KNEAD sells freshly made pasta from the refrigerated counter and the same pasta can be purchased, cooked-to-order with any of their house made sauces.
Close to Hill Street, the Oyster Gourmet and wine bar serves up small plates featuring freshly shucked oysters  and seafood cocktails along with wine by the glass. We had a glass of a 2014 Château Morgues du Grés Galets Roses with a briny-sweet Sol Azul oyster from Baja California and a seafood ceviche with bay scallops, flying fish eggs and pickled seaweed.

At the Market, the balance of new and old creates a diversity that is unique in Los Angeles. How cool is it to satisfy your love of Mexican street food AND indulge in fine dining all in the same building.



A balancing act

The mash up of new and old reflects what's happening downtown. The mostly Latino population has been joined by a diverse mix of young professionals who have rediscovered the glories of Downtown Los Angeles, rich with history and benefiting from a great collection of buildings that are now being renovated and modernized.
Today, the Market is one of the most frequented downtown destinations. Come during the day and the aisles are packed with families and professionals enjoying a plate from Sarita's Pupuseria and pulled pork at Villa Moreliana on Broadway.

I have my favorites and they are a mix of the old and the new:  the mole at Chiles Secos (ask for a taste and find the one you like), the vegetable curry with shrimp and Crying Tiger beef at Sticky Rice, the roast pork tacos at Villa Moreliana with lots of salsas and pickled vegetables, the wonton soup at China Cafe and the smoky corned beef at Wexler's Deli.

And there is Bento Ya, a legacy vendor where I happily order a bowl of $5.50 pork ramen that, in my opinion, is as good as any of the celebrity-chef bowls on Sawtelle or in Manhattan sold at three times the price and half the portion.

To cook at home, stop at the Belcampo Meat Co. to pick up high quality, humanely raised meat and poultry.
There is so much more to say about the Market, but I'm getting hungry. Happily I brought home a bowl of Bento Ya's ramen and I'm going to have that for breakfast.

Parking

One quick user's-tip about parking. Parking Downtown is very expensive. There is 90 minutes parking inside the Market building for $3.00. The entrance is on the Hill Street side, a few feet south on 2nd street. The entrance to the parking structure is tricky, so approach it carefully. Designed for cars built in the 1920s, the driveway is narrow and curves up precipitously.

On the weekend, the outdoor parking lots to the north of the Market above 2nd Street have reduced, all day rates, so if you are staying for several hours, park there.

Grand Central Market, 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013 (213/624-2378), open 8:00am-10:00pm.

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