A few months ago, I reported an unsatisfying experience at D.C.’s Eastern Market (read it here – Eastern Market). I arrived 30 minutes after The Market Lunch closed, and instead found food at a mediocre deli inside the covered market’s main building. The soggy chicken sandwich I bought was an utter disappointment. Clearly, I did not visit the market on the correct terms.
So, I decided to do Eastern Market the right way. Instead of coming on a random weekday, I went on a Saturday around 1 p.m. Right away, I noticed that the market was much more lively – vendors were set up outside the main building selling produce and other knickknacks. There was also a weekend flea market set up in a parking lot across the street, and the portion of 7th Street next to the building was blocked off to traffic. Already, this was a huge improvement.
Inside the market, Paul and I made our way through the crowd, taking in the food vendors around us. Everywhere I looked, there was beautiful, fresh food. Most exciting of all was the seafood stand that sold whole fish, including red snapper, rainbow trout, grouper that looked to be about 10 pounds. How cool was this? I’ve had a tough time finding whole fish in grocery stores, so this was truly a treat! Filleting fish has become one of my favorite new skills that I’ve acquired (does that make me a bit sadistic?) since starting culinary school. I decided to pass up the chance to buy one of these beauties, but I knew I’d be back.
Surprisingly, there was no line. I mean, no line whatsoever. Almost every review I have read about The Market Lunch quotes waiting at least 30 minutes to place their order at the counter. I’m not sure how this happened at lunchtime on a Saturday, but I was in no position to complain. We studied the menu written on a long chalkboard over the lunch counter. Today’s special was shrimp and grits with andouille sausage. Already, this place had won me over.
I ordered the North Carolina style pulled pork sandwich with a side of fries, and Paul ordered a double-cheeseburger. Perhaps it was risky on my behalf to order something “North Carolina style” outside of my home state (I was born in Charlotte, NC), but I couldn’t pass it up. Call it the southerner in me, but I am absolutely powerless to a good pulled pork sandwich.
After some minor confusion with the “cash only” policy, our food appeared at the end of the counter on a red plastic tray. The generous portion of pulled pork sat perfectly molded on its bun, with two small cups of cole slaw and vinegar-based barbecue sauce next to it. I grabbed a fork, knowing this monster sandwich was not going to hold together for long.
My first bite was bliss – this was not too far from the pork I knew from home. The sauce was not overwhelming in vinegar, and paired nicely with the pork. As I predicted, the bun fell apart instantly, but the pork was too damned delicious for me to care. Perhaps if the bun had been toasted, it would have been sturdier.
The fries were great, as well. Full and satisfied, I left Paul (who enjoyed his cheeseburger as well) at the table to gaze at the whole fish again. On my way, I heard live bluegrass music coming from another part of the indoor market.
Returning back to an also full and satisfied Paul, we scurried out of the market before I could spend the rest of my money on the fish (they weren’t cheap!).
The Market Lunch serves up comfort food at its best, which is way better than a soggy chicken sandwich, if I do say so.