From April through October, Thursday evenings on lower First Street take on a magical quality. Local residents chat with each other, unrushed, in the glow of golden light. The Carquinez Strait sparkles beyond beautiful heritage buildings. And rows of vendors greet curious passersby with smiles—and plenty of tasty samples.
Now in its 26th year, the Benicia Farmers Market is a central element of what makes this city special. If you attend frequently, you know that many of the businesses are as loyal to the market as you are; some have been setting up shop each week for years. Here, we’re highlighting four family-run vendors who provide Benicians with fresh, delicious food throughout the market season. If you haven’t tried them yet, bring your appetite downtown this summer and indulge.
Rose Lane Farm
When Vince and Penny Granberg bought their five-acre property in Knightsen 30 years ago, they didn’t have a plan for the land; they simply knew they wanted to grow things. “Neither of us were farmers,” says Penny, “but I learned canning from my grandma when I was a little girl, and always enjoyed food preservation.”
What began as an effort to provide fruit for their family members turned into a full-fledged farm, complete with 375 orchard trees, 40 kinds of heirloom tomatoes, acres of almonds, walnuts, and pecans, 80-plus bee hives, and a variety of vegetables, herbs, and flowers—including 100 rose bushes.
At the Rose Lane booth, you’ll find Vince, who is happy to chat about the products on offer. Items differ from week to week, but you can likely choose from jars of raw honey, homemade jams (with unique flavors like spiced pear and cherry berry), a variety of pickles, canned fruits, dried and fresh herbs, salsa, pasta sauce, and honey-spiced almonds. (And don’t forget to grab a bouquet of cottage garden flowers!)
For Penny, the magic of growing things never fades. “You put a little seed in the ground, and six weeks later it’s a viable plant, and six months later you get these big 2 lb tomatoes off of it,” she says. “It’s exciting.”
The batter comes from an authentic French recipe. The family is from Greece. And their crepes are the best new addition to the market.
Sotiria Trembois and her brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Antonis and Angela Giakoumis, have been in the businesses of making crepes for more than 20 years, serving them at farmers markets and catering events. But this is Europa’s first season in Benicia, and they offer around 20 crepes, each made with fresh ingredients from California markets.
“We love to cook and make people happy,” says Sotiria.
While the menu features plenty of sweet options, like nutella mixed fruit (with strawberries and bananas) and lemon (a squeeze of fresh lemon with powdered sugar and butter), their savory options are an opportunity to try something new.
The California comes with turkey, egg, avocado and fresh tomato, and the Vegetarian has spinach, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, sundried tomatoes and feta (you can also add avocado and mushrooms). Not to mention the crepe with bacon, egg, cheese and avocado. Sotiria calls these dinner crepes, and is quick to point out that they can be followed up with a sweet one for dessert. Note: Nutella can be added to anything.
Julie's Roasted Corn & Potatoes
When you pass by Benicia market-goers digging into potatoes piled with cheese, sour cream, green onions, jalapenos, and crumbled bacon, you might think it’s the toppings that make this item so popular. But the real key is their cooking method: a roaster. “They’re dry-heat baked potatoes,” says Hortencia Lizaola, who owns Julie’s Roasted Corn & Potatoes with her husband Humberto. “That makes them fluffy, not sticky like the steamed ones.”
The couple have been serving their roasted goods at the market since 2004, garnering fans who return each season. “We’re one of the oldest there,” says Hortencia, “almost like a landmark.”
The business is named after the Lizaola’s youngest daughter, Julie, who was born premature, weighing just three pounds. (Today she serves customers alongside her family.) When Hortencia developed health issues in the years after Julie’s birth, she had to stop working. The family started Julie’s Roasted Corn & Potatoes to make ends meet, and it was a hit.
The corn is roasted with the husk on, a method that brings out its natural flavors. Enjoy it plain or add butter (unsalted), grated cotija (a Mexican cheese), or mayonnaise. Warning: once you’ve tried these dishes, Thursdays may bring on a craving for more. Don’t fight it.
The Upper Crust Baking Co
Bread lovers: Have you stopped by the Upper Crust Baking Co. booth? This is a company that won a national award for their birdseed loaf. They bake challah and honey whole wheat and Jewish deli rye (for starters). And they make a salted rosemary loaf that literally stops people in their tracks. “When we sample the salted rosemary at markets, people taste it, stop, turn around, and ask, “what is that you just gave me?” says owner Lorin Kalisky. “It stands out.”
Based in Davis, the baking company was started by Trudy and Mo Kalisky, Lorin’s parents, in the mid-1980s. Their goods can be found at more than 40 farmers markets (they have been part of the Benicia market for several years) and they source 85% of their ingredients locally. The family has long had a love for France and its baking traditions, making for a unique Jewish-French hybrid of items.
On the sweet side, there’s traditional French apple tart (with a sugar-cookie crust); four varieties of oatmeal cookies; and a New York cheesecake called OMG Cheesecake. It’s the same cheesecake that was served at New York’s famous Carnegie Deli. “Bakeries have this traditional place in society that is very connected and woven into the fabric of a community,” says Lorin. “Farmers markets allow us to do that in a way that makes sense in the modern world.”