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Union Market in D. C. offers locally-sourced products for locavors.
Fresh, sleek and fronted by shining glass, Union Market—a new, urban-chic food hall on 5th Street Northeast—at first seems an unlikely neighbor to the wholesalers and restaurant-supply stores of Florida Avenue’s market area.
A look at history shows that this pocket of the city has been an epicenter of food culture since Union Terminal Market set up shop here in 1931. The market’s new incarnation is housed in a building constructed in 1967 after the city banned the outdoor sale of meat and eggs. Wholesale food operations took root in the area for the next couple of decades until merchants began to abandon the crumbling industrial spaces for more modern distribution centers in the 1980s.
A handful of stalwarts remain in this stretch sandwiched between New York Avenue and Florida Avenue NE. The most notable is A. Litteri, a heavenly Italian specialty store that was founded in 1926 and has been housed in its current location around the block from where Union Market now stands since 1932.
Much of the activity here has died away, leaving an exciting opening for a new venture to help revitalize the area and reinvent food culture in D.C. on a broader scale. South Carolina-based developer EDENS grabbed the chance to bring a storied piece of the city back to life, opening the 65,763-square-foot market in September 2012.
“When you look at what’s happening to D.C., the transformation and the physical presence of creative people doing things, making things, to me it’s one of the most exciting things happening to any city in the country today,” EDENS managing director Steven C. Boyle told The Washington Post.
An Artisan Pantry
The company enlisted the help of chef Richie Brandenburg, who chose the vendors for the market by favoring those he used to purchase from as kitchen director for chef José Andrés’s Think Food Group. His distinctive fingerprints on the project led Washington City Paper to dub the market “Richie Brandenburg’s Pantry.”
And what a pantry it is. Forty local artisans offer culinary treats ranging from sandwiches featuring local meat to handmade chocolates. Each shop specializes in meat, dairy, bread or flowers but collectively the vendors provide shoppers access to a full range of the finest ingredients to be found for miles around.
Shoppers can find a wide range of groceries and ready-to-eat offerings among the market’s diverse mix of vendors. Red Apron Butchery, Trickling Springs Creamery, The District Fishwife and Almaala Farms offer staples. Round out your basket at Bazaar Spices, Mama Organic Herbs and Lyon Bakery. Special treats are in store at Peregrine Espresso, Dolcezza Gelato and Neopol Savory Smokery. And some of D.C.’s favorite food trucks have set up shop here, including TaKorean, DC Empanadas and Curbside Cupcakes.
Some prominent names in D.C.-area food have set up shop here. Celebrated chef John Mooney, who spent part of his early career in D.C. establishments like Red Sage and Raku, has opened Bidwell, a responsibly-sourced restaurant with a Southern flair.
Chef Ris Lacoste, a longtime fixture of the D.C. restaurant scene, has a new shop for kitchen staples like sauces, vinaigrettes, stocks and baked goods as well as hearty “Ris Bowls” of soup and sandwiches. Respected fromager Carolyn Stromberg has opened Righteous Cheese, a boutique that sources a quarter of its product from local cheesemakers like Meadow Creek Dairy, Everona Dairy and Firefly Farm. Cocktail “Mixtress” Gina Chersevani conjured an old-fashioned New York soda parlor, Buffalo & Bergen, which features knishes, egg creams and malts. Ryan Croxton, co-founder of Rappahannock River Oysters, is serving shellfish from around the country at the Rappahannock Oyster Bar.
A Bright Future
While Union Market is a great success bringing a new energy to this corner of Northeast, it remains an isolated bright spot in a neighborhood that is being revitalized. But EDENS’s vision for the area is broad with the market just the first step in what promises to be a sweeping revitalization.
From the beginning, the developer has imagined “an authentic district that expands beyond its culinary origins to include music, retail, hotel and residential uses.” To that end, EDENS recently announced plans to open an eight-screen Angelika movie theater and high-rise development next door to Union Market in 2015. A theater menu of snacks and drinks designed by Food Network’s Bruce Seidel and Chef Santos Loo will tap into the food-oriented audience already drawn to the neighborhood.
With Union Market revitalizing the vibrant mercantile spirit of this area and plans for other trend-setting development in the surrounding blocks, the pulse is returning to this history-rich portion of the city. In the hands of the new oyster-shuckers, cheesemongers, and bread-bakers of this quarter, the legacy of Union Terminal Market continues.