Wednesday, February 09, 2011

An Offer I Couldn't Refuse, Pt. 3: A Grand Tour

Portland has long talked about opening a year-round, indoor public market where locals and visitors alike can find the best of the region's bounty and buy it direct from local growers and producers. Examples like Seattle's Pike Place Market and San Francisco's Ferry Building Marketplace are touted as prime examples of successful urban markets promoting area producers.

The argument has been made by some that the city's existing farmers' markets fill that niche, with around 40 in the metro area on every day of the week in season, with four of those running year-round, and that it's not necessary for the city to invest millions to build one. Others object to locating the proposed James Beard Public Market downtown, preferring instead to place it on Portland's inner east side along the river, near what was, in the recent past, a thriving produce district that is now developing into a hub for local restaurants, distilleries and retailers.

Those discussions aside (kind of), one need look no further than Vancouver's Granville Island Public Market to find a thriving market in a formerly neglected area of the city across the water from downtown…wait…that sounds familiar…that delivers on its promise to provide top-quality, local provisions. Not only that, but it's both a shopping mecca for tourists as well as an active industrial hub, with a boatworks that serves the nearby marina…hmmm…more deja vu…and a cooking school, a fish distributor and other commercial businesses. Like San Francisco's, it also has a popular farmers' market once a week in summer and fall.

My whirlwind tour, entertainingly led by Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts sommelier and director Tim Ellison, hit the high points of the foodier portions of the market. Those included Finest at Sea, a commercial fish processor, smoker and direct retailer, whose offerings were so fresh that it was tempting to tuck a big burping bag of Northwest oysters under my coat to enjoy in my room later. Think anyone would have noticed?

Moving past the flower vendors and inside the market, we were confronted by the full-to-bursting cases of cured meats at Oyama Sausage Company. Then there were the dozens of crocks and bowls of olives, pickles and other antipasti at Zara's Deli, a place I wish I could transport wholesale back to Portland.

Then there was the outlet of all things edible in the province, Edible BC, providing shoppers with products previously available only at farms or in regional stores, like gourmet crackers, jams, chutney, cheeses and chocolates. And they've even got a tasting bar where the (of course) nice person behind the counter will encourage you to try before you buy. (Click the link to browse the full list of vendors.)

And if I thought Ellison was the most excited Canadian I'd ever seen, he couldn't hold a candle to head Edible guy Eric Pateman, who walked us through his plan to take over the world…um…I mean break ground on a new restaurant called Edible at the Market that is scheduled to debut later this year. Open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner, its menu will consist of 80% British Columbia cuisine using locally sourced ingredients, with the remaining 20% of the menu items featuring other Canadian cuisines (poutine, anyone?).

Plus he dropped the bomb that the plan is for the Edible BC to be rebranded Edible Canada in the near future, with a nationwide chain of Edible Canada stores to open in participating Fairmont hotels and also in Canada's major airports. See what I mean about taking over the world? This guy thinks big!

Details: Granville Island Public Market, 1661 Duranleau St., Vancouver, BC. 604-666-6655.

For more of my culinary tour of this gorgeous city, see Part 1: An Offer I Couldn't Refuse and Part 2: Having a Gas.

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