Where I’ve Been Getting Takeout of Late: Santana Row Farmers Market
It’s not big, but it’s mighty — as in good.
That’s what the farmers market at San Jose’s Santana Row is — all one block of it on the main drag between Olin Avenue and Olsen Drive), with vendors on both sides plying fresh produce, flowers, and gourmet prepared foods.
The market, Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., is seasonal. So, if you want to check it out, you have until the end of this month before it’s gone until next year.
Because it’s an evening market, it’s an ideal place to pick up dinner or the fixings for it. Just follow your nose to find the Roli Roti truck parked in the center of the Row with spinning rotisseries packed with whole chickens and sides of ribs.
Just be warned that on a hot day before sunset, this truck is parked in full sun with heat radiating off the rotisseries, so bring a hat and a cool drink as you wait in line, as there almost always is one.
Who can blame people for flocking here when the rosemary-flecked chicken is so juicy, bronzed, and succulent that you barely need a knife. A whole chicken ($15.50) gets wrapped up hot off the rotisserie, ensuring it will still be warm by the time you dive into it at home.
Whatever you do, get the potatoes. It’s $3.50 for a small, $7 for a large. Get the latter, and you won’t regret it because any leftovers can be relished with eggs for breakfast the next day. As these heirloom fingerlings cook on the last shelf of the rotisserie, all the fat from the chickens and ribs cooking above drip down onto them. As they’re tucked into a to-go container, they get a showering of rosemary grey salt. It is potato nirvana — tender, starchy, salty, and incredibly rich tasting.
For some of the most glorious strawberries you will ever taste, head to P&K Farms stand a few steps away. This family farm started by Paul and Kim Tao in Castroville grows certified organic strawberries with incomparable flavor. They are sweet and juicy, and taste of berries and roses. What you’ll notice immediately is that their strawberries sport no “white shoulders.” Instead, their berries are thoroughly red, from their tips to the very top of their stem ends — a rare find these days.
A three-pint pack of strawberries will set you back all of $16, and the Taos are generous in filling their baskets to overflow. Buy them once, and you’ll be a return customer for life.
People were queuing up at the Little Sky Bakery stand even before it officially opened up for sales. It’s hard not to get in line the moment you see the huge spread of baked goods they offer.
Tian Mayimin, a lawyer turned self-taught baker, started humbly baking naturally leavened bread out of her home after obtaining a cottage food license, then graduated to selling her baked goods at farmers market. Earlier this year, she opened a brick-and-mortar in Menlo Park.
The bread is outstanding, as evidenced by the olive-rosemary boule ($11) I picked up. It’s crusty and chewy, with a noticeable moistness to its crumb. Rosemary and three types of olives are strewn throughout. What really gives this bread so much flavor is the tang it gets from its age-old starter.
“William’s Empanada” ($16) is a bruiser — a foot-long calzone-like creation that’s designed to feed two, but might possibly serve three. Rather than a crispy, flaky pastry-type crust, this empanada sports a more a more bread-like one that’s soft and yielding. It’s stuffed with artichokes, mushrooms, zucchini, Parmesan, and a touch of Ethiopian berbere for a citrusy, not spicy, note.
The cinnamon-raisin roll ($5) is also sizeable. It doesn’t come drowned in any glaze, which I applaud. Instead, it’s more like cinnamon bread fashioned into a bountiful, swirled, yeasty roll laced with cinnamon sugar and raisins.
The giant chocolate chip cookies ($6 each) are as hefty as ones from New York’s famed Levain Bakery. In fact, I put one on a scale and it weighed in at about 6 ounces. You can get the cookies without nuts, but I opted for the “original,” which not only has walnuts and pecans, but also the surprise of dried apricots.
If you turn up your nose at the thought, I ask you to keep an open mind here. And this comes from someone who doesn’t necessarily appreciate raisins in her cookies. The apricots, though, had a real place here — adding a chewiness here and there, along with a nice tang that balanced the abundance of bittersweet chocolate shot through and through. These cookies, crisp on the outside, are soft within and stay that way for a few days, probably thanks to the moisture in the apricots, too.
Pro-Tip: Even if you’re devouring Roli Roti chicken for dinner that night, make sure to stop by Zaida’s Kitchen food truck a few steps away for its soulful Oaxacan specialties, all scratch-made, including the tortillas.
I like to tote home containers of its mole negro and mole amarallio (8 ounces for $14), which freeze beautifully. When I’m ready, I just defrost and use them to bring magic to sauteed shrimp or chicken.