Florida Avenue Market/D.C. Farmers Market
Florida Avenue between 2nd and 6th Sts, NE
Submitted by: Kevin Palmer
A warehouse-style central wholesale market catering mostly to restaurants and the like, but with small treasures for the urban explorer.
Visitors to this rugged wholesale market will get a sense of the sheer quantity of food that a city can consume (even one as comparatively small as Washington). The area consists of about six blocks of warehouses situated on three interconnected streets (mostly one-way) and alleys. The mystique of the place is engendered in the smells, sounds, and characters that make it up. There's a fish market, West African wholesaler, Spanish/Mexican wholesaler (I've never seen so much rice), Asian importers, beef and poultry shops, and more.
The DC Farmers Market is situated in a separate, large structure, across from a public works lot with earth-moving equipment, mulch piles and such. Taking the form of an old-fashioned bazaar, this market has small stalls where fruit vendors, butchers, fishmongers, and other traders ply their wares. It's not exactly Fresh Fields, but the experience is akin to markets I've shopped in Fiji, Italy, and Spain.
What Makes Florida Avenue Market/D.C. Farmers Market a Great Place?
Currently, the site is most accessible by car, but Metrobus routes also follow Florida Avenue from points east and west. A Metrorail station is under construction about two blocks to the west (the first infill station in the system, on Metro's Red Line). Most of the folks who visit the market are decidedly local, but one side of the market announces "Souvenir Central" or something of the sort. Perhaps it was a destination for tours at one time. There are sidewalks throughout the complex, but beware the many drivers who don't necessarily abide the 25mph limit within the market's sprawling acreage (or, occasionally, the one-way direction designations).
This is not a suburban outlet center (a la the ubiquitous Prime Outlets), so you won't find Ralph Lauren or Laura Ashley. Rather, its charm lies in its somewhat desperate appearance and unique offerings. But walk up the hill toward the electrical supply store from the market, and be rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Capitol, about a mile away.
While some places in the market require a wholesalers' license just to enter, other spots are perfect for the casual visitor. My wife and I traversed most of the market on a Saturday morning a couple of months back and encountered some out-of-towners who appeared to be likewise looking for the funkiest parts of DC. The DC Farmers Market is a busy place, full of blue-collar folk looking for fresh vegetables and fish, as well as staples like chitterlings, pork rinds, and pigs feet. Most of the clientele are native Washingtonians, though it's notably different at A. Litteri, Inc., a terrific little Italian market situated on Morse Street, NE. This place attracts suburban Marylanders and Virginians on weekends for its selection of wines, pastas, meats, and cheeses. There's also an amazing kitchen supply store run by a Korean family that caters to the restaurant business. Some of the collanders and kettles in this place would take up my entire kitchen.
It's a place that is rough around the edges, so unless your friends are urban-oriented to begin with, it's probably best not to introduce them to city life with a jaunt to the Florida Avenue market. But if you're looking for an alternative to the Mall and like good food, it's worth the trip. Though this market is across the street from Gallaudet University, I've never seen students trudging over to visit. That will likely change once the Metro station opens in 2004.
D.C. Farmers' Market, Fifth Street and Neal Place NE: 202-547-3142
- Litteri's - one of the old-time markets in this district