There’s nothing I love more than exploring a good food market or food hall, and I’ve been to a lot of the greatest ones in the country. Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market and Seattle’s Pike Place Market are my two all-time favorites, but I’ve also had way too much fun at Baltimore’s Lexington Market (home of Faidley’s Seafood, which I have reviewed right here!), San Francisco’s Ferry Building, and Columbus, Ohio’s North Market. You can keep your fine dining experiences, with chefs who decide what you’re going to eat and obsequious waiters who hover behind you. Not my idea of a good time! Give me a sprawling maze of food stalls with local luxuries, exotic eats, stunning sandwiches, and gorgeous groceries, and I’m in Saboscrivner heaven.
On my trip to D.C., one of my frolleagues (a professional colleague who became a friend) invited me to the Union Market (https://unionmarketdc.com/), figuring I would have a great time. She knows me well, because she was spot-on. She and her husband, former D.C. denizens, were kind enough to pick me up, and we met another D.C.-based frolleague there. I was so grateful to the three of them for hanging out with me, showing me around, and indulging me as I tried this and that, as I probably would not have made it to the market or even known about it, if left to my own devices. Originally founded as the Centre Market in 1871, the Union Market has gone through many iterations over the decades, always changing to stay current and relevant, until it evolved into the hip foodie destination it is today. I’d kill to have something similar here in Orlando!
I was first drawn to a sign that said Neopol Savory Smokery (http://neopolsmokery.com/), with a picture of a fish.
Regular readers know I love my fish smoked, cured, and/or pickled (the food of my people), so my one friend and I headed straight to Neopol. It was almost impossible to choose, but my seasoned friend (the D.C. local) chose a smoked salmon BLT with avocado ($10):
I went with a smoked whitefish salad sandwich ($10) on really nice, fresh, sliced white bread, adorned with lettuce, tomato, and onion. I love cool, creamy, smoky whitefish salad, and it’s really hard to come by here in Orlando. I’ve made it myself before, but even finding the golden smoked whitefish (sometimes called “chubs”) is a difficult task around here, and then you have to pick out hundreds of needle-thin, plastic-like bones. This whitefish salad sandwich was excellent, and a heck of a lot easier than attempting to duplicate it at home.
One super-cool thing I noticed about Neopol was a sign that said several of their employees are deaf, so patrons should make sure their have someone’s full attention and make eye contact before placing their order. This made all the sense in the world, because I noticed the Union Market is very close to Gallaudet University, the largest university for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the United States. The entire market is very deaf-friendly, with deaf employees and interpreters who can speak and understand American Sign Language (ASL), plus lots of deaf patrons, many of whom are affiliated with Gallaudet. This article from Gallaudet’s website has more information.
These major urban food markets usually have a butcher shop displaying beautiful steaks, chops, sausages, and seafood that I wish I could take home to prepare, except I’m usually far from home. So I couldn’t believe it when I saw a gleaming glass case full of my absolute favorite: cured meats. This was Red Apron Butcher (https://redapronbutchery.com/), a place you have to see to believe!
Here’s a screen shot from Red Apron Butcher’s website with everything they offer. We desperately need this place back home! Well, maybe my wallet and my cholesterol don’t need it. This is the stuff that dreams are made of:
Luckily for me, Red Apron also offers tempting and very reasonably-priced sandwiches:
I knew I had to sample their Italian sandwich ($12), which comes with “4 meats” (I checked, and they were hot cotto, pork cotto, cappicola, and bologna), sharp provolone, pickled peppers, iceberg lettuce, onion, and an herb vinaigrette. It was a top-notch Italian, as you might guess. I liked how finely-shredded the lettuce and onions were, and how the dressing held it all in place, so it was less likely to slide off the soft roll.
But figuring I would bring leftovers back to my hotel room for a quiet dinner that evening, I decided to pick a second sandwich. That’s my classic go-to plan, to eat half of each sandwich at the market (or wherever I am) and save the other halves for later. It was so hard to choose, since everything on the menu looked so good. But a chorizo burger or a meatball sub wouldn’t be quite as good back in my room later, without a microwave to heat them up. So I eventually went with a simple grilled cheese with spicy smoked pimento cheese (so not such a simple grilled cheese after all!) on toasted white Pullman bread ($7). I love pimento cheese, and I’m getting to the point where I’ll usually order it wherever I can find it, since everyone’s version is a little different — kind of like how I am with onion rings, chili, and Italian subs. However, I prefer the bread in my grilled cheese a little more buttery and a little less toasty.
Meanwhile, my other friend got an Indian dosa from DC Dosa (I passed due to having a fantastic dosa relatively recently), and her husband went to TaKorean Korean Taco Grill. A place like the Union Market is so perfect for hanging out with family or friends because everyone can get whatever they want, and then you just reconvene at the communal tables to eat together. It’s also a fantastic place for sharing your meals and trying new things.
Finally, I took a deep dive into the world of falooda, the sweet Indian dessert drink that can be layered with a variety of interesting ingredients. My friend was raving about her cool, refreshing falooda from the Toli Moli Burmese Bodega (https://www.tolimolidc.com/), and on this ridiculously humid day, after a huge lunch, I easily succumbed to peer pressure and ordered one for myself. According to the website, “Toli Moli” translates to “a little of this and a little of that,” which is a perfect way to describe the falooda drinks.
I am pretty sure she ordered the Royal, which contains pomegranate-ginger jellies and basil seeds suspended in paprika-infused milk, vanilla ice cream, and housemade rosewater syrup. I almost ordered that too, but the guy at the counter suggested the Mango Mogul, which contains layers of mango jellies and basil seeds floating in turmeric-infused almond & coconut milk, mango sorbet from Washington D.C.’s own Ruby Scoops Ice Cream and Sorbet, and housemade rosewater syrup. I was a little skeptical about the almond and coconut milk, but I do love mango, so I went for it. It reminded me a bit of the sweet boba tea slushes I’ve had at Orlando Vietnamese restaurants and teahouses, only with the chewy stuff in a thicker milkshake. (And I tend to hold the chewy stuff, but when in Rome — or D.C. — do what the locals do!) Falooda might be the next trend to hit Orlando, so you heard it here first.
Once again, I would probably have never discovered the falooda on my own, much less ordered it, so I was grateful to these fellow foodie frolleagues for broadening my horizons this day, and for showing me what has to be one of the most delicious destinations in D.C. I loved the Union Market so much, and this lunch with these friends was definitely one of the highlights of my conference. I never would have made it there without them, or even known to seek it out, but I’m so glad I did, and when you’re in D.C., you should too.