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Freeway Rescue: The San Francisco Ferry Building and Farmers Market

An earthquake 60 miles away would set this building free
Little did anyone know that when the devastating Loma Prieta Earthquake struck the Bay Area region in October of 1989, it would free an iconic building from a concrete prison.

Opened in 1898, the San Francisco Ferry Building acted as the gateway to the city for those arriving by train and ferry boat well into the 1930s. However, with the opening of the San Francisco Bay Bridge in 1936 and Golden Gate Bridge in 1937, usage of the building eventually dwindled to a minimum by the 1950s. The construction of Interstate 480 over top of The Embarcadero, the roadway next to the Ferry Building, put a cold, double-decked gray facade across the building's beautiful exterior and seemed to complete its journey into obscurity.

The Loma Prieta Earthquake, which took place before a national audience (it struck minutes before Game 3 of the 1989 World Series was due to start,) damaged the Embarcadero Freeway. This, along with its structural similarity to the section of I-880 across the bay in Oakland which tragically pancaked onto itself, crushing the vehicles below and leading to 42 fatalities, caused city officials to condemn the structure.

By 1991, the freeway had been completely torn down, freeing the Ferry Building from its concrete prison. As the Embarcadero roadway itself began its renovation project, city officials began to re-discover the visual splendor and potential of this historic building. Renovation plans were officially approved in 2000 and the building re-opened with its mix of business tenants, ferry terminal facilities, and retail establishments in March 2003.

Perhaps I myself have regained a new appreciation of what had been seemingly always been there; my work in San Francisco began just a few months before the building's reopening, and my foot travels often took me through the building's expanses. Now that I only get to visit it on an infrequent basis now, I count each visit back as a little special, including this latest trip back to California with my spouse.

Fresh produce was in abundant supply at the Ferry Building Farmers Market
and even brought some truly far away "locals" (the dates were brought
courtesy of a vendor from Southern California's Coachella Valley.)
Held at regular intervals throughout the year, the Ferry Building's Farmers Market, started initially as what was intended to be a one-time event September of 1992, has become an attraction in its own right for locals and visitors to the city, with vendors and booths situated outside of the main Ferry Building structure. Obviously, California's large size and varied climates have their advantages, as numerous fruits and vegetables that would never be found in Ohio's winter farmers markets were at ready for purchase. Other products like cheese, honey and prepared food were also present, many familiar to me (Roli Roti and their rotisserie chicken, Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, and the Mission District's pastry purveyor Craftsman and Wolves, for example) and a few new vendors whose wares looked promising.)

The regular Ferry Building vendors have a lot to offer visitors on a daily basis,
very much like Columbus' North Market tenants.
Then there are the regular daily vendors of the Ferry Building Marketplace itself. Like Columbus' own similar enterprise (The North Market), some of the vendors have changed over time, but the vendors as a whole cover pretty much every food-related item, from the tools of the trade (Sur La Table and Heath Ceramics) to the basics (fish, produce, cheese, meats, mushrooms and even heirloom beans), from little noshes (Pepple's vegan organic donuts, or the gluten-free goods of Mariposa Baking) to the more fancy (Hog Island Oyster Company's seafood offerings, or The Slanted Door, Charles Phan's renowned upscale take on Vietnamese standards.)

In thinking of the two markets, it is almost impossible not to compare and contrast related vendors. How does Columbus' long-time stalwart coffee roaster Stauf's rate versus Blue Bottle? Maybe crunch out the best breads from the Bay Area's Acme Baking and Columbus' Omega Artisan Baking? What about meticulously crafted ice creams of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams versus the even more outlandish creations of Jake Godby and Humphry Slocombe? Miette Patisseries sweet creations against the lavish creations of German Village's Pistacia Vera? Everyone will reach their own opinions, of course (I have my own, naturally.) The real fun part is the fact that this comparison matrix exists and can be undertaken by anyone willing to do so.

Breakfast this day was Cowgirl Creamery Milk Bar's cheesy creations
and a couple cups of Blue Bottle's java
Our breakfast this day was courtesy of the offshoot of preeminent cheese maker Cowgirl Creamery. Originally based in Marin County at Pt. Reyes Station, this artisan cheesemaker setup the Sidekick Cafe and Milk Bar as a way to branch out from its base business with cheese-oriented preparations and a dairy bar featuring a variety of milk-based beverages (milk is provided by the Straus Family Creamery based in Marshall, CA, which is essentially equivalent to local creamery Snowville out of Pomeroy, OH.)

The Cheese Toasties, essentially an open-faced grilled cheese made with cheddar, caramelized onions & maple mustard and the Baked Egg Sandwich (both items $7.95 and featuring the excellent bread of next door neighbor Acme; I added pancetta to mine for $2 extra) were gloriously gooey and cheesy, and a definite tummy filler. We added a couple of typically well-made java beverages from one of the two Blue Bottle Coffee stands at the Farmers Market (Blue Bottle also has a regular space at the Marketplace; this space is due to be renovated starting January 2015) to add some extra caffeination; this visit was just the start of a big day of touring the city.

Ferry Building Marketplace 
One Ferry Building (Embaracadero/Downtown)
San Francisco, California 94111
(415) 983-8030
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Ferry Building Farmers Farmers Market
Operates Year-Round (except major holidays)
Saturday: 8am–2pm
Tuesday: 10am–2pm
Thursday: 10am–2pm
(415) 291-3276
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Cowgirl Creamery's Sidekick Cafe and Milk Bar
1 Ferry Building # 17
San Francisco, California 94111
(415) 362-9354
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Sidekick Cafe & Milk Bar on Urbanspoon

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