I finally got a chance to check out the crazy, colorful flea market that is the Downtown Market in Asheville. I’ve passed it several times on my way back from the gym. I’ve sat waiting at the traffic light nearby, watching people stuff ungodly amounts of discounted toilet paper from Amazing Savings into the trunks of their cars.
(I’ve always wondered what makes that toilet paper worthy of being schlepped over to Amazing Savings to be sold at a lower price — is it past its prime? Is it earth-friendly and well on its way to biodegrading in the package?)
At any rate, I decided to visit this past Saturday to see what all the fuss was about. As soon as I walked in, I felt like I was in the midst of some Santa Cruz bazaar — it was filled with bright fabrics, friendly, hippie-looking types milling about selling clothing and jewelry and a folksy band playing a subdued ragtime joint in the corner near a kiosk selling organic coffee. Perfect.
Frankly, it’s a wonder we haven’t had something like this in Asheville for longer. Among the offerings that appear at the market every weekend are herbal teas and bath/body goods from Green Jade Herbal and photography from Missy Corrales. Xpress staffer Alli Marshall swears by a vendor called Vintage Attic, where she’s discovered some great finds for her closet.
I made my way to the back, past a vendor selling rocks and necklaces, another with some really lovely art, and another, improbably, offering tax advice. In a clearing near the edge of the room, I found something right up my alley — the Culinary Canvas food court.
It looks, well, exactly like what you might expect to find in the flea-market atmosphere of the Downtown Market. Do go hungry to this market — it’s worth it. Hopefully, you’ll find La Empanada, where you’ll meet a woman who vends some fantastic (and cheap) empanadas — chicken, spinach, beef and broccoli-cheese among her offerings. Her son heats them up in the back, and grandma, reportedly, makes them off-site by hand. The little stand also offers Cuban sandwiches, which I intend to try next time.
Next to La Empanada is Chap’s BBQ, presided over by a tiny woman selling fried chicken, potato salad and slaw — maybe some baked beans, I don’t remember. Frankly, it was hard to pay attention once I got a load of the homemade Oreos, maple cookies and éclairs being offered by a pair of bakers whose kiosks hold down either end of this strikingly inexpensive foodie find.
I ran into some friends who joined me at a rickety table for lunch, next to a display offered by Blue Ridge Food Ventures, a food-production site on the Enka campus of A-B Tech. Not familiar with it? You should be. BRFV has given plenty of local entreprenuers a head start; that’s where goodies like Lusty Monk Mustard and Imladris Farms jams are produced and packaged.
Properly satiated, I wandered over to Amazing Savings to see what could be found. (Should I be talking about this? I feel conflicted, because frankly, I don’t understand why this place isn’t completely overrun with people.)
The deals are — to be sure — simply amazing. Certainly, those tomatoes might be slightly overripe, but with a little discipline and know how, the food at Amazing Savings can be stretched for quite a while. It just takes going home and cooking it all fairly quickly into sauces and what have you, and then freezing for later.
There’s hormone-free beef, even. Sure, its sell-by date is in two days, but if you plan to fire up the grill right when you get home, it doesn’t really matter. By the way — I did buy a ridiculous amount of toilet paper while I was there. It’s recycled, and still hasn’t biodegraded in the package.
On the way out of Amazing Savings, I ran into Chad Oliphant and Sarah Yancey, who make a fantastic tempeh — Smiling Hara — which they were selling out of a cooler. Their tempeh will also soon be available at the Asheville City Market, by the way, and is currently used by both Luella’s BBQ and Rosetta’s.
The couple is expecting a baby some time this month, so I casually asked exactly when the due date was. If this isn’t Asheville, I don’t know what is: She apparently was having mild contractions even as she offered potential customer tastes of the tempeh hummus that she had whipped up that very morning. (Good luck to Sarah and Chad and the little one).
The Downtown Market is open Fri.-Sun., from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Amazing Savings, however is open 7 days a week.
— Mackensy Lunsford, food coordinator