The Union (Market) Will Rise Again
Buying a house this past winter, our real estate agent asked for must-haves. My husband Jason listed a first-floor half-bath, the row house equivalent of Charlie’s golden ticket. I listed food. Living on the Hill, I had discovered the joy of easy access to exceptional, local food, and buying it from people who know your name. We both compromised.
My post-move-to-Eckington mourning ended quite suddenly with the announcement of Union Market’s September 8th opening. Located north of Florida Avenue, between New York Ave and Gallaudet, Union Market represents a first effort toward revitalizing this historic neighborhood, which at its peak was home to more than 700 vendors of local produce, dairy, meats and other foodstuffs. Opened in 1931, today it’s still home to DC treasures like A. Litteri Italian Market, but with only 150 small businesses, it is a shadow of its proud historic self.
Keeping it real
Reading up on my new neighbor, I started to get worried. I love the local, small business authenticity of Eastern Market, and EDENS, the company behind Union Market, is a large developer of retail projects up and down the East Coast. The slick line-art drawings smelled suspiciously of soulless, hipster developments where smartly-packaged brands are sold by retailers who rely more on market research than daily conversations with their customers. A phone call with Richie Brandenburg began to put me at ease.
Richie grew up in Reston, VA, and If his name sounds familiar, it may be from his days as executive chef at Café Atlantico. Today, he is better known as the director of culinary strategy for EDENS, and the man responsible for pulling together the vendors who fill Union Market.
“I was working as a chef in San Francisco when the Ferry Building Marketplace was opened,” Richie says. “I was spoiled with easy access to amazing local produce and meats.” Returning to work in DC he struggled to locate similar products.
“The DC-area has great farmers, producers and butchers, but it was hard to get these products on a consistent basis. I wanted to have them all in one location, and have access to them all the time.” Joining EDENS and working to fill the market with specialty vendors gave him the opportunity to make this desire a reality.
Horseshoes and hand grenades
Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. As our love affair with local, organic, sustainable food has blossomed, so has the abuse of those terms. One Saturday, stopping at Burger King, Jason joked that we were eating local food. “It’s just a few blocks from our house.”
I love walking through Eastern Market and asking, face-to-face, where each product came from, why it was chosen, and how it was produced. I’m looking forward to building that relationship at Union Market with Trickling Springs Creamery.
I first tasted their milk, butter and yogurt from the dairy case at P&C Market, at the west end of Lincoln Park. The rich taste of fresh cream in their spring butter, with herbal and floral notes, was an education. Having them in our backyard again will certainly mean the reappearance of their empty, returnable bottles on our kitchen counter.
I have already had the pleasure of speaking with soon-to-be Union Market resident, Rapahannock Oysters. Travis Croxton and his cousin Ryan are on a mission to restore local oyster production in the Chesapeake Bay, and they intimately understand those waters’ connection to the flavor of their farmed crop. Salty, mild, metallic, buttery and briny are achieved through farming in the brackish Rappahannock River, the saltier waters of the Chesapeake and the open ocean near Chincoteague. They have coined the term “merroir” to describe that connection between the waters and flavor, and it is also the name of their new oyster bar and retail shop.
Hitting close to home
I wanted to know how Union Market was being received by long-time residents on the Hill. Everyone I spoke with made sure I knew how much they adored Eastern Market, cautious to avoid any betrayal of their first love. Once that was established, there was hopeful excitement. John Gendersen, the third generation owner of Schneider’s of Capitol Hill said, “The food scene on the Hill keeps getting better and better, and it will certainly help that area. You used to have to go downtown to get a good meal. That has definitely changed over the years. As someone who frequents Eastern Market, I look forward to seeing new and different kinds of vendors.”
Leah Daniels, second-generation Hill resident and owner of Hill’s Kitchen, is looking for that same diversity. “Richie [Brandenburg] has done an amazing job.” she says, “He worked really hard to find these vendors. It will be great to have them all in one place. I am excited about Gina’s soda shop and tickled pink about the expansion for Peregrine.”
“Gina” is Gina Chersevani, another Hill resident and well-known DC mixologist. She is Jamie Leeds’ business partner at the recently opened Hank’s Oyster Bar on Pennsylvania Avenue. Her soda shop at Union Market, named Buffalo and Bergen, will serve soda, creams, malts and some more adult drinks as well.
Peregrine is, of course, Peregrine Espresso on 7th St, SE. Owner Ryan Jensen and his wife Jill live on Capitol Hill, just a few blocks from Eastern Market. Their store there rarely has an open seat, and with good reason. Ryan and Jill know their coffee, they know their producers and they know their customers. Ryan is excited about the expansion to Union Market and about the project itself. “As a food lover, the vendors who will be there really appeal to me. Our coffee fits into the context of that high-quality environment.”
It’s about a culture
Ryan and Peregrine Espresso are important to Richie Brandenburg. So are Gina and her soda shop. “Having been in the food industry in DC for sometime, you get to know all the players. You get to know who’s passionate.” It’s all about a culture, he says, and he wanted the market to be more than just good food.
“Ryan used to be the Counter Culture Coffee rep in DC. He has set up many of the best coffee [shop] programs here.” Gina, he tells me, is an active and invested player in Washington’s bartenders’ guild. “I have heard that it is one of the most active in the country, and much thanks for that goes to her.”
Location, location, location?
I asked Richie if he was nervous about the pioneering location. “I’m excited,” he says. “I’ve seen the plans for the area. It’s like surfing a giant wave. I can see it coming and I’ve picked the right direction to start paddling in.”
Ryan is equally excited. “We used to only have Eastern Market, but now we’ve got 8th Street and the baseball stadium by the river. People on the Hill are looking for new destinations, different options of places we can bike or walk to.”
Union Market is planning to be a destination, and will kick off with an event on September 9, the day after their opening. The DC Scoop, held from 1-4 pm, will feature a tasting of DC’s best ice cream, gelato, custard and frozen yogurt. A winner will be chosen by a panel of notable judges from DC’s food scene.
I’m looking forward to walking over. See if you can pick me out of the crowd. I’ll be the one sporting a look of bliss, so happy to have DC’s hot, growing food scene back in my own backyard.
Union Market -- 1309 5th St NEWashington, DC 20002
Buffalo and Bergen -- No website yet
Jonathan Bardzik was raised on his mom’s garden-fresh vegetables. He shares those recipes, and his experience gained spending 2-3 hours each night in the kitchen, every Saturday morning at Eastern Market, where he gives free cooking demonstrations,
complete with tastings and recipe cards. For more information, and to see what Jonathan is cooking in his kitchen right now, visit www.whatihaventcookedyet.com.