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Washington's Harbor District Market: Where agriculture and community meet

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A meal created from items from the Harbor District Market in Washington, N.C.

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By Christina Ruotolo
Hot Dish

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

In the South, we have a connection to the land and its people. We root ourselves in the soil, nourish ourselves with the fruits and vegetables that grow and use products created from natural elements sold by seasoned craftsman and farmers.

All of these wonderful treasures can be found at a farmers market.

At farmers markets, you can walk in with an empty bag or basket and by the time you leave, you can have built a full meal from spice rub, fresh fruits and vegetables, drinks, homemade food, biscuits, desserts and more.

You are building a meal with fresh, wholesome foods and products you know from vendors you trust. Food just seems to taste better when you know exactly where if comes from.

As we celebrate National Farmers Market week from Aug. 4-10, we are celebrating a new jewel in the city of Washington — the Harbor District Market. It is a four-season collaborative space that houses a variety of vendors.

The Harbor District Market is located at 140 W. Main Street, a block from the Washington waterfront. Nestled between shops and the Main Street walkable district, it’s an inside oasis of vendors with years of experience in their craft offering customers not only a shopping trip but an experience.

The mission of the Harbor District Market is to “support local producers and artisans, provide fresh healthy food and local crafts to consumers of all income levels, educate the public about local sourcing and nutrition, and build an inclusive community around locally sourced food and other products.”

The market had its soft opening in June and will celebrate its grand opening on Oct. 5. Vendors are just getting their feet wet and already have won fans in the community. In just a few short months thousands of visitors have flocked to shop local. Between 800 and 1,200 people visit the market on any given Saturday.

Meg Howdy, executive director of the Washington Harbor District Alliance, is excited to be involved in promoting this venue and the various services and events that they provide throughout the year.

The market is a covered venue that allows for a four-season shopping, no matter the weather. The location has 10,200 square feet of venue space on the first floor and is in the process of expanding the 4,600 square feet upstairs to include a training/education center and a certified kitchen.

There are 24 permanent vendor spots and currently 17 of those have been filled. There also are two museum spaces affording an educational trip into the diverse and rich history of Washington, N.C. The market has additional retail spots vendors can rent throughout the year.

The location used to house McClellan's Five & Dime Store. It has a decades-long history and you can see that in the original oak wood floors and exposed brick walls.

Now that I’ve given you a mini tour of the Harbor District Market, let’s meet some local food vendors and craft a meal that any foodie will love.

I started my food tour by visiting Wine-Not Lemonade. Owner Leilani Nichols just opened her drink shop in June. She offers made-to-order handcrafted drinks including fresh squeezed lemonade, limeade, Italian flavored sodas, and Italian cream sodas. You can add in flavors such as raspberry, peach, strawberry, watermelon, French vanilla, coconut and a few additional sugar-free flavors. Coconut lime is a popular flavor.

The drink I sampled was the Raspberry Balsamic Lemonade. It’s made with 1½ fresh-squeezed lemons, a bit of sugar water and then it’s topped with a drizzle of raspberry balsamic vinegar from Simply Divine Oil & Wine. The drink has a tart and crisp flavor with just the right amount of sugar and lemon. The citric acid from the lemon blends beautifully with the acid from the vinegar and the final tasting note is the sweet raspberry. It was refreshing and unique.

Now about that oil and vinegar. Let’s make a Caprese salad. I head over to our next vendor, Simply Divine Oil & Wine owned and operated by Kimberly Sayers. They currently have a storefront in Greenville at Arlington Village and sell olive oil, vinegars, specialty food products, dressings, spices, rubs, wine, and a wide variety of N.C.-made products.

To make a Caprese, you need good olive oil and vinegar. I started with a Tuscan Herb extra virgin olive oil with its warm and buttery flavor. Pair that with a traditional aged balsamic and it’s a winning combination. Simply Divine offers all but their wine products at the Washington location and has a mini tasting bar so you can sample a flavor before you buy. Sayers can help you plan a dish that has the healthy added flavors of oil and vinegar. Her hours are Thursday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Now we need some fresh produce, so head over to Southside Farms out of Chocowinity. They offer a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables locally grown. Produce is seasonal, so you can check their website to see what’s in stock. They have strawberries, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, collards and more in April and May. In the summer you can find blackberries, blueberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, sweet corn, beans, peppers and squash. In the fall, you can find pumpkins, gourds, sweet potatoes and mums.

For my salad, I need a basket of Heirloom tomatoes. The tomatoes are beautifully shaped and for this dish, you need to pick firm, red tomatoes. Pull it up to your nose and inhale the vine ripe, luscious smell that only a summer tomato can produce. With vegetables, cooking has no limit. Grab your favorite produce, slice, drizzle with some olive oil, season with a little pepper and flaked sea salt, roast in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes and you can have a healthy veggie side any season of the year.

All good salads need herbs and what better place to get them, than Locavore Market Garden. They are open Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. They offer local and organically grown exotic vegetables, herbs, and micro-greens. Some unique produce finds include Asian or fairy-tale eggplant, long beans, radish micro-greens, or maybe some Persian basil. I tasted the Thai basil which has smaller green leaves with white edges. It is a bit milder than traditional basil but still has that heavenly aroma. Basil is delicious in lemonade, added to salads and used to garnish my Caprese salad.

Now, we can make our Caprese. Buy your favorite fresh mozzarella and slice into 1/4 inch thick disks. Take the tomatoes and cut into the same size circles and alternate layering them on a big white plate. Drizzle the entire plate with olive oil and vinegar. Sprinkle on the fresh Basil leaves and mini micro-greens for that pop of Italian color. The dish is swoon worthy and the aroma is intoxicating. It’s a summer dish that would be a star at any party you go to or host.

Now let’s add some meat to our food tasting. Carryout by Chrislyn is a popular downtown carryout restaurant that has gained a large following of foodies since they opened three years ago. They serve homemade sides, soups, entrees, quiches, dips, entrees, lunch items, salads, sweet potato biscuits and desserts. They are also known for the variety of chicken salads and their Pimento cheese. For my tasting, I sampled the party pack with three different kinds of chicken salad and Pimento cheese.

Flavors include a traditional chicken salad with hard-boiled eggs and relish, a sweet pink colored cranberry chicken salad made with cranberry puree, the lemon dill chicken salad with celery and dill and then a Pimento cheese made with Cheddar cheese and a touch of heat. I loved the different flavors and ingredients used in all of the dips.

Chrislyn loves the community feel of the market.

“When you buy local, you are supporting people, not corporations. That money goes back into our community,” Chrislyn said.

You can visit their storefront, which is a block away, or come in and fill up for your next book club, tailgating party or just keep it all for yourself.

For the final stop on my Harbor District Market tour, I wanted a sweet finish. I found exactly that at Val’s Gourmet Baked Goods. Owner Valerie Taylor Jackson has been serving up sweets, breads, pies and pastry wrapped Brie with fresh preserves for four years. I sampled two rock-star desserts. First was the strawberry cheesecake cake. She put a layer of New York style cheesecake between two layers of strawberry cake and added frosting and real strawberry puree. It was rich and creamy. The last cake had the same concept but was the triple chocolate cheesecake cake. A layer of chocolate cheesecake is between chocolate cake topped with chocolate mousse. A perfect sweet ending to my tour.

Rest assured that the food you bring home from the Harbor District Market is the highest quality because all food vendors must be either Environmental Health or USDA Certified. The market is open Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Each vendor has the ability to create their own working hours within the location's main hours, so make sure to check your favorite vendors website or Facebook page. For more information or if you are interested in vendor opportunities call 947-1487 or visit the website at https://harbordistrictmarket.org/.

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