It’s hard to believe that in 1976, it was difficult to get a decent tomato in Manhattan. Back then, the city’s Council on the Environment established the greenmarket program, starting it with a few vendors at 59th Street. There are now 44 greenmarkets held around the city, 15 open year-round. But Union Square tops the list. In 1985, restaurateur Danny Meyer opened his signature Union Square Cafe near the market so his chefs would have access to the best in season. The market has since become the perfect mix of midtown professionalism and downtown shabby chic.
Since Saturdays are wickedly crowded, shoot for a more sedate Wednesday morning. Stop by early and watch top chefs cart away wheelbarrows full of chanterelles, heirloom eggplants and apricots. Quiet at 8:30 a.m., the market is rockin’ by noon and windswept empty at 5:00 p.m.—when the best deals are to be found, like those boxes of slightly bruised tomatoes.
Our Favorite Vendors
Although most markets limit their selection to foods produced in their own state, the Union Square Greenmarket allows producers to come from a roughly 200-mile radius, bringing the best from farms in rural Connecticut and the “Garden State” of New Jersey as well as more in New York. Start out with raspberry apple cider from Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva, New York. The orchard has been in the same family for almost 50 years and delivers picture-perfect apples, stone fruits and berries. For a great lunch, check out the slightly sour, aged cheeses from Cato Corner Farm in Colchester, Connecticut. The hard Trappist varieties, such as Bridgid’s Abbey, are Old World splendors. Pair these with radishes from Stokes Farm in Old Tappan, New Jersey. The Greenmarket literally saved this farm, transforming it from a failing, fifth-generation, wholesale operation to a thriving, direct-to-consumer producer of vegetables, herbs and flowers. Finally, no one can turn down Martin’s Pretzels: hard, handmade, salty and sourdough.
Check out the city wormers: so committed to composting they keep worms in under-the-sink tubs in their tiny apartments and use the compost for their window boxes or sell it at the market.
Mon., Wed., Fri., Sat., 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., in Union Square Park | cenyc.org