Welcome to Hometown Appetites, a recurring look at the way this country eats, neighborhood by neighborhood.
The most underappreciated farmers market in America is in my hometown, the North Carolina state capital of Raleigh.
Open every day, all year round, the beating heart of the place is the 30,000-square-foot covered shed for farmers that grow produce and plants, nearly all from North Carolina. The 75-acre complex also has three restaurants: a biscuit and hot dog stand; a meat-and-three where most of the threes are procured on-site; and a Calabash-style seafood restaurant where the catch comes from the coast, just two hours east. It has an air-conditioned hall where stalls dressed up like country stores sell old-fashioned candy and canned okra, but also grass-fed beef and undersung species of local fish. It has an outpost of North Carolina’s Nahunta Pork Center, a garden furniture store, and an outdoor crafts area where you’ll find small food businesses selling West African-style doughnuts plus kettle corn and shaved ice.
When I stand under those airplane hangar-sized ceilings where the honeyed scent of the scuppernong hangs in the summer; where Vang Flowers sometimes sells Hmong greens in between their dahlias; where I can buy both a hot-pink Carolina slaw dog from the Market Grill and postured proteins from Mae Farm Meats every single day of the freaking week, I’d swear to you, it’s the best farmers market in the whole damn country.
It might also be one of the least pretentious. Yes, it is still a favored source for high-end chefs; Ashley Christensen, the James Beard Foundation 2019 best American chef, works just down the road. But almost everybody in town gets some of their food here, too, whether or not they realize it.
In addition to home cooks and chefs, small groceries and roadside produce stands also come here…