Take a cooler next time you head for Monterey County. You’ll fill it up at the Wharf Marketplace, a largely undiscovered cornucopia of artisanal and seasonal goods from area farms, orchards, dairies, vineyards, ranches, bakeries, fishmongers and more. It lives up to its slogan, “Bounty of the County.”
The marketplace opened in August inside a refurbished Southern Pacific Railroad passenger station dating from the late 1800s. It’s owned by the giant Tanimura and Antle, one of the nation’s largest produce growers and shippers. The company is also into winemaking: Antle Wines makes the estate-grown Pinnacalitos de Chalone varietals in the nearby Gabilan Mountains.
“We carry wines from about 50 local wineries, rotating them in and out,” said marketplace general manager Brant Good. “We hold a wine-tasting every day.”
On the market patio are bins heaped with gorgeous produce, from asparagus and multicolored cauliflower, to red and green bell peppers and fragrant shallots. Inside is more produce – trumpet mushrooms, garlic, onions, fingerling potatoes, pomelos, blood oranges – and a well-stocked seafood market (do Dungeness crabs really get this big?).
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“Everything is as local as we can get it,” Good said. “Most of our fish comes out of Monterey Bay. Most of our produce is picked in the morning and delivered to us the same day. Several restaurant chefs shop here.”
What about prices? “They’re the best in town because we buy directly from the growers, not the brokers,” said Good.
We cruised the grocery area and saw almonds, sun-dried tomatoes, jars of honey, olive oils, salts in many hues, olives, caramels, coffees, freshly baked loaves of bread and much more. It being Monterey, we couldn’t resist buying a tin of sardines in extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice.
Breakfast and lunch are served at the cafe. A bowl of short rib and vegetable soup was rich and satisfying, but we could have gone much further. The menu is loaded with salads, signature sandwiches (including Dungeness crab cake), panini (roasted portobello, caprese, muffuletta with Corralitos ham), pizza and small plates of cheeses and charcuterie.
Maybe we should have brought a truck.