A surefire way to nail down your tourist travel bearings is taking your eyes, nose and taste buds to the local farmers market.
In Portland, Ore., where the Saturday market camps out along a tree-lined college campus boulevard, I received a fascinating tutorial on dahlias, marveled at the bite of Oregon-grown hazelnuts and pigged out on the tastiest chicken-buttermilk biscuit sandwich I’ve ever encountered, all in the space of an hour. The city’s famous Powell’s Books paled in comparison. (www.portlandfarmersmarket.org)
On a steamy Saturday morning in Charleston, S.C., the city’s gracious Marion Square provided a memorable glimpse into low-country culinary traditions, its rows of tables piled high with ingredients foreign to this northerner: pale green butter beans, black-eyed peas, okra, lushly ripe figs, still-wet peanuts, black muscadine grapes and samples of insanely creamy grits, grown and ground a few miles away. To this day I regret limiting my purchase to a 2-pound bag. (www.charlestonfarmersmarket.com)
My favorite Saturday breakfast ritual in summertime Chicago has long been grazing through the sustainably minded market in gorgeous Lincoln Park. The seasonal berry-packed pastries, the cold-pressed fruit sodas, and the sandwiches crafted with first-rate breads and farm-fresh ingredients are all far more satisfying than any hotel’s continental breakfast. (www.greencitymarket.org).
And the staggering bounty of one of the nation’s richest agricultural regions — southwestern Wisconsin — roars to life on warm-weather Saturday mornings in lively downtown Madison. It’s a perfect storm of people-watching, scenery (it’s held on the urbane grounds of the Wisconsin State Capitol) and joyous culinary excess. The cheeses alone are worth the journey. (www.dcfm.org).
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