Back in 1779, when Gut Check was a little tyke, farmers would gather in Soulard -- basically an open field just south of downtown -- to peddle their wares, and thus St. Louis' first farmers' market was born. History! Soulard Farmers Market (730 Carroll Street; 314-622-4180) is still going strong and is without a doubt the largest and most eclectic market in the region -- you can buy everything from a sack of apples to a new pair of sunglasses. This is truly an iconic spot, so if you haven't visited yet this season or (gasp!) if you've never been before, Gut Check is here with a handy guide to help prepare you.
The days and hours of operation are a bit confusing: Wednesday through Saturday, the Grand Hall, or the central inside shops, are open, along with a smattering of outside vendors (varies daily), from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the afternoon hours usually offering the best options.
But if you seek the full experience, your best bet is to embrace the crowds and go on Saturday, when every booth is occupied and each wing of the market is overflowing with produce and purses and rugs. That's right: beautiful, intricate rugs.
The perfect way to start your morning is to head straight to Julia's Market Café for Riverfront Times' "Best Bloody Mary" and a beignet. There's always a line, but it goes quickly and your patience will be awarded handsomely -- it's simply a smart way to start off a Saturday.
After downing your drink, you'll want to peruse the boxes of vegetables and fruits that line each wing. Not everything sold here is locally grown or organic. You'll find a lot of produce that isn't in season. To some, that's a knock on Soulard (not a farmers' market!). To others, it's simply a fact, and one that tends to attract a more diverse crowd. Regardless, there are really too many family farmers here to mention; trust us, you'll have no problem finding your local and organic fix. The northwest wing alone contains sixteen produce or farm vendors, plus Siebert's Meats, which specializes in...meat. The crazy amount of options here will make you feel like you've stepped into the farmers' market equivalent of a Super Wal-Mart, filled with friendly family farmers who would just love to sell you a head of lettuce.
But it's more than just produce. In the southeast wing, you can choose from three bakeries, pick out a new shirt at E'D Accessories or select your very own whole chicken at Sheri's Poultry. You can also buy live baby chicks. Just sayin'.
The Grand Hall -- open year round -- is a good place to get your bearings and take stock of your purchases so far. There's a bit of everything here, including a florist. At Frandeka Meat Shop you can buy bison burgers, brats and jerky, or stop at Joyce's Corner for a cold, frosty Busch. (The restrooms are located inside as well, BTW, now that you've consumed a bloody mary and a beer.)
Soulard Market represents the best of St. Louis -- beignets and Busch beer at the same location is pretty special. "It's a St. Louis Thing" is capitalizing on that craving for those idiosyncratic St. Louis-centric products that we all love so much: Gus's Pretzels, Pasta House cheesecake, Billy Goat Chips, gooey butter cake -- the list goes on. And on.
It's vendors like this, and the fact that you can buy some big ol' goose eggs (verdict: delicious when scrambled), that makes Soulard Market one of the coolest places in St. Louis. Don't take Gut Check's word for it: Go out and experience your city!