Sitting in the shade with a bottle of arbequina olive oil, two duck tacos in my lap and a bag of fat red tomatoes at my feet, I have a moment of cultural synesthesia. Situated in San Antonio at the Eilan Hotel's new farmer's market on a hot summer afternoon, I have been spirited away to a strange hybrid of Texas and Tuscany.
The monthly, but soon-to-be-weekly, farmer's market is named “Ripe,” a title that is sensual enough to drive me immediately to the roundest, reddest tomatoes I could find there. Curated by Austin’s veteran food writer and cookbook author, Paula Disbrowe, Ripe is a well-crafted blend of Chef Stephan Pyles’ cooking demonstrations, fresh juices and gorgeous bushels of farm produce, enticing chocolate baked goods and a few well-vetted food trucks (duck tacos!).
A James Beard award-winning cookbook writer and former editor at Southern Living, Disbrowe has a keen understanding of local food culture throughout Texas, but particularly in San Antonio.
“After enjoying and reporting on the emerging San Antonio food scene,” Disbrowe says, explaining why she was drawn to Ripe, “I felt invested in the chefs and tastemakers here. I love the challenge of curating the right folks to create a great market. And once I saw the property, I knew it was a stage set that needed a serious dose of 'la dolce vita' — plenty of food, wine, music and good times.”
The different farm stands at the market reflect Disbrowe’s connection to Austin as well. The much-loved Johnson’s Backyard Garden has a booth bursting with fresh veggies, and Austin-based Farmhouse Delivery was peddling their farm bushels as well as Austin’s Confituras jams and Easy Tiger goods by top Austin baker, David Norman. I heard more than one San Antonian express glee that they could get Austin products so close to home.
It’s not that San Antonio doesn’t already have good farmer's markets (both the Pearl Brewery and the Quarry host weekly markets), but Ripe has its own allure.
“Farmer's markets in parking lots have their charm,” says Disbrowe, “but the setting at the Eilan makes for more of an experience than just a market. Here you have the spectacular Italianate setting, the top quality purveyors, the investment we're making in live music, free kids' activities and, of course, the connection with celebrity chef Stephan Pyles and his restaurant Sustenio — we'll have cooking demos with Stephan and other top chefs every week.”
The Eilan is located just off of La Cantera Parkway, a booming corner of town where you can find not only Six Flags and Sea World, but also the Spurs’ mega mansions and a high-glamour Spanish-speaking community. Not far from the Eilan, Spurs player Tony Parker has opened Nueve Lounge, a swanky playground for the party crowd, and the San Antonio restaurateur Johnny Hernandez is rumored to be opening a new project in Northwest San Antonio soon.
“Before, this area was known more for theme parks and a sea of chain restaurants than food with a genuine sense of place,” say Disbrowe. “And yet there are countless developments that house folks that want to eat and drink well. We're giving them a destination that's closer to home than downtown, with a heart and soul and local ingredients grown by passionate farmers and/or raised by area ranchers. The comment I keep hearing about Ripe and the culture of events we're creating is, 'this is amazing, and it's five minutes from our house!'”
The next Ripe Farmer's Market is scheduled for Saturday, August 18 starting at 10 a.m.