One of my favourite things to do in the world is to visit festivals and outdoor markets. A few years ago I went to the Tampa Downtown Market and remembered the large selection of treats, wares, and farm fresh produce. Last Friday was their last open day for the season so I slapped on some SPF and headed downtown. I have to say I was ill-impressed. It’s really not like me to dog local events, because I love my city. I mean I totally put on for my city. I will allow that since it was the last day of the season, perhaps I was picking up on the dregs of a busy spring but, Tampa, we can do better. It was extremely hot (even for Floridians) and the location had moved from the park where I had attended before, to a blocked off Twiggs Street with no shade cover and plenty of brick to magnify the heat. Downtown markets are tough in the heat because the buildings block any would-be breeze.
Florida weather aside there was a small selection, too much jewelry, not enough food, and no produce at all. The few product booths they had were lame and over-prized, with the exception of a few choice vendors.
I stopped and chatted with the ladies from a cork jewelry booth. They were out of cards otherwise I would have mentioned them by name. Their stuff was really cool and they were super friendly! It looked expensive so I didn’t ask for prices since I only had about $20 on me, but if I were into that sort of thing I totally would have bought something.
The other booth worth mentioning was a Wine Slushie Booth. I know, I know. Listen, wine snobs, it wasn’t THAT bad. Okay, it was pretty bad. But a fun idea, and the guy was very nice! I’m sure people who drink white zinfandel would be big fans. (I keed!) At a price of $9 per unit, I skipped on the slushie mix (which was basically koolaid powder that you mix with wine and then freeze), but he did have a seasoning mix that smelled pretty good so I picked up a pack for four bucks which I plan to use for grilled chicken soon.
As far as food goes, nothing really jumped out at me until I noticed a large line forming in front of one lone stand. The Alligator Pear. I had no idea what sort of food it was or what they were serving but everyone seemed like they knew what they were doing so, for a brief moment..
I became a follower.
I watched husband and wife team Greg and Amanda Williams as they worked and sweated side by side serving customers quickly in a ballet that was efficient and cool. Though it was about a million degrees (maybe a million point two) and the line behind me had doubled in size, the Williams duo was in sync and never in the weeds. As I got closer I realized that 1- Alligator Pear is a clever entendre on an Avocado (cute! and also duh.) and 2- they serve a sort of asian fusion taco et cetera.
When I got up to the counter I asked her to serve me whatever the best was. What I received Half Thai Chicken and Half Korean Beef over rice both topped with a colorful crisp “raw-slaw” of cabbage and carrots. She topped the chicken with an avocado-cilantro sauce extra cilantro and crunchy peanuts and the beef with red onions a spicy and delicious sauce of je n’sais quoi.
What resulted was a surprising combination of obscure asian flavours, the perfect amount of heat, cooled by the crisp freshness of the slaw. It was DIVINE! I tasted a sample of the blueberry lemonade (out of a darling punch dispenser). It was sweet and tasty, but I was too hot for sugar so I opted for a water instead. This totally made my day and completely apologized for what would have otherwise been a waste of my $2.25 parking fee.
The Alligator Pear makes the rounds at various farmer’s markets around Florida and I cannot WAIT until they come back to town. I plan to visit them at the Hyde Park Fresh Market. I’m dying to try the Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard Taco!