Budget Beat: Downtown Phoenix Public Market

By Jay Bennett

On Saturday mornings, I like to head downtown to what is casually referred to as the farmers market, at Second and McKinley streets. It's really called the Downtown Phoenix Public Market, a more suitable name than "farmers market" because, in my opinion, it's way short on farmers and way long on stuff I don't want, namely arts 'n' crafts and Jamba Juice.

Regardless, the handful of farmers who do show make the trip worthwhile for me because the inexpensive produce they provide is so good. Even the high-end groceries can't match the flavor, freshness, and price of these locally grown goodies.

Anyway, I make sure I'm a little peckish when I arrive at the Public Market because there are a couple of non-farming vendors there who sell tasty prepared foods.

One such vendor is the wonderfully named Go-Go Burritos. The booth is run by Martin and Maria Osete, chefs and owners of Mi Catering (www.micatering.com), a new-ish business in town that specializes in European and Spanish cuisine. They say they've been at the market for only four or five weeks.

For $5, you can buy a pork breakfast burrito, potato burrito, or the "peppers frittata" burrito. This dandy contains roasted red peppers, poblano peppers, sautéed mushrooms, lotsa cilantro, spinach leaves, Peruvian beans, and a slice of pre-heated fritatta, all wrapped in a wheat tortilla. The fritatta (I can't recall ever having that in a breakfast burrito) is a pretty cool idea because it precludes Martin and Maria from having to scramble eggs on the spot. So, you get your burrito quicker and it tastes just as good as scrambled.

The "peppers fritatta" burrito. Filled with fresh goodness.

Martin Osete says he and his wife are all about healthful cooking and fresh food. They have two teenagers who are used to having the freshest food at home and can't abide the stuff they're served at school. "Currently, we are working with the unified school districts to encourage their schools to have healthy food options." Awesome burritos and a social conscious? We're glad they've joined the market.

A few yards away from Go-Go Burrito is a longtime fave at the Public Market, Grady's BBQ Meat.

Grady Blair and his wife, Caroline, are at the market just about every Saturday, serving up his killer pulled-pork sandwiches. For $7, Blair loads these things up with a gigantic serving of juicy pulled pork, his own tangy barbecue sauce, and ("If you want it served Southern-style," he says) a dollop of peppery coleslaw. For sure, you're gonna need a fork when you eat this sandwich. There's so much stuff on it that the poor bun always ends up failing its mission.

Like Maria and Martin Osete, Blair runs a catering business in addition to setting up shop on Saturdays at the market. He also sells his BBQ sauce (www.gradysbbqsauce.com) and teaches basic French cuisine at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute. French cuisine? "Yeah, but barbecue is my passion," Blair says.

Grady and Caroline Blair: A passion for the 'cue. (Photos by Laura Hahnefeld)

Blair is a congenial fellow who, upon noticing my wife's Boblo Island T-shirt, regaled us with the story of how he got into cooking and how Boblo Island (the site of a beloved but now-defunct amusement park on an island in the Detroit River, back in our home state of Michigan) played a role in his future vocation. Blair was visiting Detroit in the early 1960s because he wanted to see the home of Motown music. "I hopped on the boat [that carried passengers to Boblo] but I had no idea where it was going. I went to Michigan for three days and stayed 35 years."

There, he tasted an uncle's barbecue sauce. "I learned that recipe in high school and have spent 40 years perfecting it." Seems it's pretty much there already.

If you're down at the Public Market on a Saturday morning, stop by to see the Blairs and the Osetes for a mid-shopping food break. Nice folks and good, cheap eats abound in their booths.

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