I’ve loved going the Old Strathcona Farmer’s market ever since I was a little girl when I used to look forward to Saturday morning with such zeal, I’d often go to bed early on Friday night in the hope that time would pass more quickly. My parents loved the market because it reminded them of the outdoors European markets they were used to and had grown up with in former Yugoslavia, where the freshest meat and produce were sold on stalls, not on shelves or in gridlocked aisles. The market made them feel, at least for a little while, like they were home again. Personally, I loved the market for a much more selfish reason. The samples. I just couldn’t wait to get there so I could feast on delicious morsels of cheese and artisan bread, taste each and every variety of apple and taste-test adorable mini pumpkin and pecan pie. For me, a gluttonous 6 year old, it was heaven.
It wasn’t only about the free food though. The Old Strathcona farmer’s market played a huge part in teaching me about where my food came from and how much work went into getting it from farm to table. It was a place for the entire community to get together and have some fun while supporting local producers and artists. It was, and is, a center of togetherness, joy, support and endless creativity and talent. Back then, my family never ate at the market cafeteria because there weren’t many options to choose from and we thought it better to just buy the produce and make dinner at home. For years, we debated trying some of the food out, but the cafeteria tables were always half-empty, so even as catering companies changed, we never bothered eating there because we figured it couldn’t possibly be that good. Very recently, this began to change. Tables began filling up and suddenly people started lining up in long and twisting rows just to snag a breakfast sandwich. The old coffee was replaced by transcend offerings and the muffin board, which was once very basic, began offering flavors like cinnamon & fig and white chocolate & Saskatoon berry. Last weekend, after many Saturdays of jealously staring at happy people with plates full of delicious smelling food, I snuck up to the board where the caterer’s offerings were listed to get a better look. I was in shock. It all sounded so good! Brisket with whipped goat cheese? omelet with chorizo and edam cheese? BLT smoked salmon bagel??? what??? I couldn’t believe I’d been missing out on so many beautiful things!
I dragged my mother to the board to show her what I’d just seen and we agreed to have a family brunch there today, after yoga. The cafeteria at first looks very unassuming, reminding instantly of a ski lodge with it’s wooden paneling and drink station. It’s at the very back of the farmer’s market near the south entrance. You line up, tell a worker what you’d like to eat, you wait a little, they give it to you, you pay and out you go. It’s a very simple and efficient system that doesn’t require a lot of communication, which is nice for a change if you’re not really into talking with strangers. I’d recommend getting a table before even entering the line up because if you go to look for tables after you’ve gotten your food you might be out of luck. There aren’t many tables and they fill up fast with eager eaters.
My mom got the plaughman’s platter, which happens to be the cafeteria’s most expensive meal at 12$. It featured Irving farm’s bacon, a sausage and farm fresh eggs along with caramelized onions and potatoes. My dad had the root-beer brisket with whipped goat cheese (8$) and I had the chorizo omelet with arugula and Parmesan salad (9$) I can’t speak for my parents but my omelet was incredible. The eggs were bright yellow (as fresh eggs should be!) and well-seasoned, the chorizo spicy and the arugula salad just a little sour from the dressing which contrasted beautifully with the creaminess of the eggs and the fattiness of the chorizo.
You could really tell that every ingredient was not only fresh, but treated by respect by the line-cooks, who my mother noticed payed careful attention to the food, measuring the temperature of every sausage they grilled for optimum flavor. The kitchen is open-concept, which is really cool, because you can see just how quick and professional the young cooks are, handling the masses with calmness and managing to smile at each and every pushy customer. We polished our food off in mere minutes, it’s really that good. Considering the quality and freshness of the food, it’s an almost ridiculous bargain to eat there. If you do have the chance, go and check the farmer’s market out. Even if you don’t end up buying anything at the market that day, it’s well worth it to eat at the Cafeteria, and as the company uses farmer’s market ingredients, you’ll still be supporting the vendors. The catering company – Toast Fine Catering, is truly a gem in the rough. I hope they continue to feed families and happy market goers for a long time to come. https://www.facebook.com/ToastFineCatering?fref=ts