When we were in Des Moines recently for the Iowa State Fair, we stayed downtown on a Friday night at the Embassy Suites. On Saturday, we went to one of the largest Farmer's Markets in the Midwest, the Downtown Farmer's Market. Over 200 vendors line a number of streets in the Court Ave. area of downtown Des Moines (see map).
When we first got there, Cindy was sort of hungry - even after we had a small breakfast at the hotel. So I bought her a Dutch Letter. A Dutch Letter is an "S" shaped puffed pastry stuffed with an almond filling and sprinkled with sugar. Personally, I never had a Dutch Letter before, even growing up near Pella, where the Dutch Letter reigns as the king of bakery items. I had a bite of Cindy's and it was OK, but I'm not big on the almond filling. The picture above is Cindy walking along with her half-eaten Dutch Letter.
I was holding out for the REAL baked goods, like what's shown on the right. Honestly, I wasn't hungry and didn't get anything. But tables upon tables of baked goods including cinnamon rolls were all over the place. I was actually rather proud of myself for not getting any because I have a hard time passing up cinnamon rolls and they looked very good.
Since Cindy's been back from Europe, she's been on this espresso kick. She doesn't drink coffee like she used to - but now she goes for the high-octane stuff. Here she is bartering with an Italian guy, smiling and batting her eye-lashes to see if he'll give her a double shot of espresso for the price of one. He did.
One of the more popular places at the Downtown Farmer's Market was this place that sold breakfast burritos. The line of people was 10 deep when we were there. There had to be another 15 to 20 people sitting on ledges eating burritos. We figured they must be pretty damn good and we were sort of kicking ourselves for having breakfast at the hotel before we came over.
At the Davenport Farmer's Market, we have a family of Amish people who bring in baked goods on a weekly basis. Well, there's an Amish family that brings baked goods to the Des Moines Farmer's Market, as well, only they have a lot more items they bring. The table in the foreground was just covered with cinnamon rolls, and the shelves in the back are filled with pies. They brought, maybe, five to six times the amount of baked goods compared to what the Amish family brings in Davenport.
Not only is the Farmer's Market in Des Moines on Court Ave., they also go into parking lots and down sidestreets. This is looking North on 4th St. in downtown Des Moines. Up this street they had everything from wine, barbecue, Maytag Blue Cheese, and more food.
Here's Cindy talking with a Vietnamese girl selling produce for Vietnamese food. Cindy saw some greens that looked a lot like some water weeds we get in the garden. She was asking this girl what they were for and the girl was explaining that, yes, they were edible, but rather bitter. Cindy said, "God, I pull that stuff out of my garden to get rid of it, and they sell it for food!"
I saw a booth for the Jasper Winery, a small winery that opened a few years back in Newton. They had a number of bottles of wine on the table to sample and a few people were doing just that. Now, most Iowa wines are of the sweet variety, and I'm just not into that. But the Jasper Winery wines also feature a Seyval Blanc wine that is pretty good.
I was sort of hanging around as I wanted to get a brochure when the crowd sort of thinned out. A guy and a gal were manning the booth and I wasn't paying much attention to them at all. I finally got up to the table and I reached for a brochure. Suddenly, the guy reaches across the table and pulls on my shirt collar. I looked up and it was my old friend, Dave Mortensen, working in the booth with his wife, Cyndi. I about crapped on the spot. Dave and I were old friends from back in Newton and since I moved to Davenport we just don't stay in touch like we used to.
Dave and Cyndi bought an acreage south and east of Des Moines and have planted 1400 Seyval grape vines and are selling the grapes to the people at Jasper Winery. They help the owners out from time to time at the winery and at things like the Farmer's Market. We were able to visit for a short while as they were pretty busy giving out samples and selling bottles of wine. It was really great to see them.
By this time, my cousins Tom and John Wehrle; John's girlfriend, Bonnie; and Tom's friend from work, Bobbi; showed up to meet us. John and I decided we needed a beer, so we went into the Court Avenue Brewing Company for a couple beers. The others walked around looking at stuff. The Farmer's Market was so big, I'd had enough for the time being. That's one of the big things I like about the Des Moines Farmer's Market. There are bars right there where you can go in and have a morning beer. And I like morning beers.
We met back up with them for a quick walk down Court Ave. My buddy, Jeff Versteegh from Newton, told me to look for a lady selling a brand of gourmet mustard called Denison Mustard. We found her. She had a number of different varieties of gourmet stone ground mustard and we sampled a few. We ended up getting one of their garlic country mustard and one of their hickory smoke country mustard. Oh, man! Great stuff! Thanx for the tip, Burph!
My cousin, John, argued with me for awhile that the Dane County Farmer's Market around the Capitol Square in Madison was bigger than the one in Des Moines. But after walking along and seeing all the vendors along Court Ave. and up and down the side streets and parking lots, he finally said, "Well, maybe this is bigger. There's a lot of booths here."
But it turned out he was right. The Dane County Farmer's Market claims they have over 300 vendors on their web site. When we've gone in the past, it just didn't seem that large. But it's also been a few years since we've been there.
So, the Des Moines Downtown Farmer's Market is by far and away the SECOND largest one we've ever been to. And it was almost overwhelming. Cindy said, "Geez, I can't even imagine coming down here every Saturday. It takes you a minimum of two hours to see everything. And that's if you don't stop at every place along the way."
The Downtown Farmer's Market in Des Moines is pretty impressive. My three tips are: 1) Go early. 2) Have a lot of time on your hands. And 3) Go hungry.