R: When we approached Honolulu Avenue, I had the feeling I was in at a small town community event. It reminded me of San Luis Obispo and Santa Rosa where they close down the main street as farmers roll in with their fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers.
Z: And the smells of all kinds of food and the rides for the kids and craft vendor tables stretching along two city blocks. In fact, the market covers three blocks along Honolulu between Las Palmas and Verdugo Road. They call the area Montrose Shopping Park.
R: The agricultural portion takes up about one of those three blocks, and in that one block there is quite a selection of fresh produce, plants, and beautiful cut flowers.
Z: I was drawn to those bunches of gladiolas from Buena Vista Nursery of Vista and especially those giant yellow sunflowers with the brilliant orange tips and purple leaves.
R: You couldn't stop admiring those tree roses from Gonzales Nursery. They had trained bougainvillea, lantana, blue hibiscus, and angel's trumpets into trees.
Z: I loved the bonsai plants from Shiro's Bonsai Nursery, especially his Mickey Mouse Plant with the berries that change color. He also had bonsai versions of bougainvillea, gingko, and pomegranate.
R: While you were ogling the plants, I noticed the many vendors offering cherries. They had both Brooks and Rainier varieties. Because of the unusual weather this year, we're still finding cherries at farmers' markets.
Z: There were also many tables with strawberries. We tasted some of the sweetest strawberries we've ever eaten. We also noticed a few baskets of raspberries and boysenberries that are just coming into season.
R: The big excitement was stone fruit. You could smell the aroma from the apricots, yellow peaches, white peaches, and white nectarines. To taste was to die. They were sugary sweet. We had to take home a sack.
Z: Speaking of sacks, there were 4-pound red-netted sacks of tomatoes for $2.95. A terrific buy! The Houwelling Nurseries booth was so crowded it was difficult to talk to the farmers. People were snapping up the stem tomatoes, the giant beefsteak ones, and the net sacks. We also noticed they had boxes of green tomatoes--they're great for sauces!
R: As we were standing there, we heard the sounds of an acoustic guitar playing romantic Spanish songs.
Z: There were other musicians there, too. There was that cute, energetic Mary White playing the amplified guitar and singing country western songs. But the center of attraction was Alma Gitana, a six-piece group playing zesty Afro-Latin music with driving, earthy rhythms.
R: Getting back to the produce, we always find something unusual at each market. In this case the items appeared at Sally's Backyard where we purchased a basket of Philippine limes called calamandings and a generous bag of New Zealand spinach for a grand total of $2. Sally's daughter reminded us that her mother, Salome Antiquerra, was featured in the Los Angeles Times Food Section article on farmers' markets, June 16.
Z: Also quite unusual were the bamboo stalks. You just place the bamboo stalk in water and it grows at a very slow rate. It doesn't need soil or sunshine, so it's ideal as an indoor plant.
R: Guess who has "good luck bamboo" growing in our family room.
Z: Yep, couldn't resist. I shouldn't forget the baby squashes and squash blossoms, although it's not unusual to find them in many farmers' markets these days.
R: Although radishes aren't unusual, the ones we bought were the size of plums. One bunch was equivalent to three ordinary bunches you would find in the supermarket.
Z: Of course, you could buy bags of colorful edible flowers. And if you didn't want the color in your meal to be flowers, you could choose string beans in three vibrant colors: green, yellow, and purple.
R: We did have an opportunity to browse among the craft tables with all kinds of handmade children's and women's clothing, wooden and slate planters, purses, ceramics, sculpture, jewelry, and candles.
Z: We resisted having our faces painted by Heart Throb, the clown, but we did watch the kids having a great time in the petting zoo, the pony ride, the train ride, the jumping dinosaur, and the inflated obstacle course.
R: We noticed long lines of people waiting for Kettle Kooked Popcorn and other food vendors. Unfortunately, there wasn't much a vegetarian could find satisfying. Corn Maiden, where were you when we needed you?
Z: We had an opportunity to talk to Lori Flagg, vice president of the Montrose Shopping Park Association which sponsors the market that's managed by Family Festival Productions, Inc. They also manage the Monrovia Family Festival which is in its 9th year and the new Northridge Fashion Center Family Festival.
R: The Montrose market is in its second year. It began on one block last year and has expanded to three. Lori estimates between three and five thousand people visit each week. It's great for the senior citizens in the area who can walk over and find fresh produce each week.
Z: Each farmer's market has a character of its own. The special feature of the evening Montrose Farmer's Market is its family focus. We noticed many more strollers and children and an especially enthusiastic group of youngsters in the petting zoo and the amusement area.
R: We noticed, too, that about 7:30 the farmers tables were really crowded with eager shoppers. It was good that we went early enough to talk to several of the farmers.
Z: Before we left the market, we had to stop in at our favorite book store in the area, Once Upon a Time. The owners are a nice young couple who go out of their way to present good books in an attractive setting.
Reviewed July 1999