Food-lovers who have been to San Francisco always stop by the Ferry Building, a marketplace that showcases some of the Bay Area’s most well-loved artisan food producers and home to one of the city’s most famous farmers markets. The Oxbow Public Market in Downtown Napa has the same kind of feeling as the Ferry Building, but on a smaller and even more accessible scale. The market houses artisan food producers selling something for just about everyone, whether you want goodies to take home or something to snack on while you’re out, from top-notch cuts of meat to locally produced cheeses to tacos and pastries.
The market is indoors, with about two dozen permanent vendors inside the main court. Some of my favorites include the Oxbow Cheese Merchant, where you can sample and buy all kinds of delicious cheeses, and Whole Spice, which carries more salts and spices than you could know what to do with (although they have plenty of suggestions for great ways to use them). You can pick up some bread to pair with any cheese you get at Model Bakery and some olive oil for dipping at the Olive Press.
The Model Bakery has been a fixture in the Napa Valley for more than 80 years, supplying fans with freshly baked bread, pastries and other goodies. Their main location is in the town of St Helena, but the bakery recently opened up another location in downtown Napa at Oxbow Market, which makes their artisan breads even more available. When you walk into the bakery, you smell the bread being made and you can see bakers hard at work in the impressive kitchen behind the retail area.
The most well-known item on the Model Bakery menu is the english muffin. Their muffins are are big, chewy and handmade – definitely not the same muffin you’re going to find in your typical grocery store, although they still do have lots of “nooks and crannies” to soak up butter and jam. They’ve been featured on the Food Network’s Best Thing I Ever Ate, recommended by Michael Chiarello. They’ve also been known to sell out on particularly busy mornings, so if you are in Napa during the peak of the holiday season, you’ll want to make sure to stop by early to pick one up for breakfast.
If someone handed you the keys to a car, told you to take few days off and go for a drive, where would you go? Your answer to this question depends a little bit on where you live and what is around you, as some people might want to spend some time visiting family and friends nearby and some might want to leave town for a real road trip. For me, the answer is to take a drive to Napa – which is just far enough away from my home in Southern California to feel like a real vacation and is where you can find some of the best food and wine in the country.
While I had a wonderful time doing tourist things in Montreal, the real draw for a foodie was the Omnivore Food Festival World Tour that was taking place. The Omnivore Food Festival is a fantastic festival that began in France in 2003, and has since expanded their schedule to visit a dozen cities world wide this year. This is food festival that isn’t going to attract a person looking to snag the autograph of a celebrity chef. It’s a food festival for those who love to eat, love to cook and those who get inspired by food.
The Omnivore festival is dedicated to the celebration of “la jeune cuisine” – which is to say, young cuisine. It attracts younger chefs that are on the cutting edge of their field, innovating new methods of cooking or reinventing older classics with a more modern approach.
Omnivore event in Montreal had an incredibly intimate feel to it because you weren’t in an auditorium with hundreds of other people listening to a lecture about food you can barely see up on some stage. The event was focused on cooking demos, where you could really see the chefs at work, up close and personal. Each chef prepared one or more dishes while they talked with the moderator about their approach to cooking, their ingredients and their inspirations. The majority of the participating chefs were local to the area – and the few guest chefs still represented “la jeune cuisine.”
For food lovers, one of the things that makes Montreal a great city is its public markets. These year-round markets stock all kinds of products, from fresh fruit and flowers to artisan cheeses and premium meats. They’re a feast for the eyes – and definitely a place where you (as well as the city’s chefs) can stock up for a real feast.
The largest and best-known market is Jean Talon Market. Located in the Little Italy district of Montreal, it has been operating since 1933. The building that the market occupies was originally a bus station, and it was the constant flux of people that prompted vendors to start selling their goods there. The market grew in size over time, and as the bus station was phased out and the market eventually took over the whole space. It is a huge draw for locals, who pack the market every day of the year. The summer, when vendors are all stocking colorful fruits and vegetables, is the peak season for the market, but the market is open even during the winter, when vendors simply move in closer to the market’s main building and walls are placed around them to keep out the cold.