In the Pacific Northwest, fresh locally grown produce is almost as celebrated as seafood, particularly when you find it just-picked in your town’s summer farmers market. Add the spectacular backdrop of Lake Washington and clear skies over the Olympic Mountains, and you have found a foodie atmosphere unlike any other.
Home to two farmers markets – the Kirkland Wednesday Market and the Juanita Friday Market – the waterfront parks of Kirkland brim with crates of ripe tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, squash, and other fruits and vegetables twice a week the summertime. The bounty of bright colors and crisp scents is complemented by Washington purveyors offering regional honey, homemade spices, and just-baked breads. And beyond that, ready-to-eat fare from the area’s best restaurants, local artisans selling scarves, jewelry, and handmade soaps, flower vendors with fresh-cut blooms, and oftentimes live music and entertainment.
Among the farmers market stands, you might spot The Woodmark’s Executive Chef Frank Rog, who frequents the outdoor markets as often as possible – that is, when he’s not serving up locally sourced fare at bin on the lake or Beach Cafe. “I’m looking for what’s fresh, new, and in-season,” he says. “I like something that has a story behind it. That way, we can bring it into the restaurants (at The Woodmark) and have a story to tell.”
When you first arrive at a new farmers market, Chef Frank recommends taking a lap around the vendors because each market is different. Becoming aware of your surroundings can make it easier to choose which stands to visit – with the best produce generally drawing the biggest crowds. “Then just dive right in,” he says. “Engage with the farmers and the purveyors. They will give you all of the information you need from what it is to how to cook it to how to store it. Develop those relationships, and don’t be scared to ask questions.”
Lately, the markets have been yielding an abundance of greens and fresh berries, which are both in-season – including golden raspberries, redcurrant, and blackcurrant. “In about a week,” says Chef Frank, “we are going to get into stone fruits – apricots, peaches, plums. Corn should be around the corner anytime, and I hear Washington corn is pretty amazing.”
While you peruse, make sure to pick up a Russian-style crêpe or a slice of craft pizza to eat as you go. There is a huge variety of prepared food including some of Chef Frank’s top choices like The Vet Chef, where you can find delicious fusion cuisine. He also loves to try anything on a stick because it makes it easy to shop.
At the Kirkland Wednesday Market, held in Marina Park (Wednesdays from 2 to 7 pm through September 27, 2017), you can find fresh salsa at the Niño Blanco Foods stand and gourmet cupcakes at Pacific Northwest Cupcakes, as well as crafts like tie-dye designs at Iris & Elizabeth and multi-media artwork at Mark Berry. “It’s fun, it’s energetic, and it really gets you inspired,” says Chef Frank. “It’s one of the best (markets) I’ve been to.”
He looks forward to one day visiting the renowned Juanita Friday Market, which currently overlaps the dinner hour at The Woodmark. The market takes place in Juanita Beach Park (Fridays from 3 to 7 pm through September 29, 2017) and showcases 13 farmers including one with Asian-variety vegetables. Nearby, macaroons, truffles, olive oils, and aged cheese are offered alongside a host of crafters and restauranteurs including Pompeii Woodfired Pizza and SUSU Rolled Ice Cream (who you can actually find at both markets).
But above all else, the Kirkland farmers markets are social gatherings. They are places to meet farmers face to face to discuss vibrant fruits and vegetables, bump shoulders with everyone from high-profile chefs to neighbors, and spend time with family and friends.
“I always like to go with people,” says Chef Frank. “Everyone gets engaged, and it’s a fun time. There’s a lot of stuff going on besides just food.”
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