Table at Third & Fairfax is a weekly dining column where Food and Drink editor Patricia Kelly Yeo will eat her way through the Original Farmers Market in 2023. Each column will drop on Thursday for a week-by-week recap of her journey through the classic L.A. tourist attraction. Last week, Kelly tried Bob's Coffee & Doughnuts and Nonna's Empanadas.
"Dude! It's closed!" Having returned to the Original Farmers Market for an early lunch this week, I'm finding that plenty of vendors have yet to open up shop (though their online hours state otherwise). Two friends groan at the sight of the unmanned Salad Bar, and even the breakfast-oriented French Crepe Company looks unattended. The chilly January air makes the narrow walkways feel drafty, and though I'm hesitant about showing up closer to peak lunch hour, the patchy Wednesday crowd largely consists of tourists and older folks taking advantage of the Senior Discount Wednesday shopping specials.
After weighing the available options, I walk up to Bryan's Pit Barbecue (est. 1961). Every time I've walked through the Farmers Market, the smell of sweet, smoky barbecue has wafted through the air. Though it's hard to truly tell if it comes from Bryan's or Pampas Grill, the ever-popular Brazilian churrascaria a couple yards away, I decide for once to just follow my nose and order what I hope is a plate of smoky, tender barbecue.
Though it's been around for over 60 years, the Texas-style barbecue joint is currently owned by the Chang family, who run nearby China Depot (est. 1948). Since taking it over in 1992, they've changed little of the menu and kept the recipe for everything from the “world famous” beef brisket to the extra-popular chopped pork sandwiches. After perusing the beef, chicken and pork barbecue sections of the menu, I land on the beef ribs with bread and sides of mac and cheese and coleslaw ($25.60).
The plate is abysmal. Within minutes of tucking in, the cartilage-and-meat mixture that falls off the bone starts to taste gamey and dry, with funky notes afterward that taste like oxtail. A generous dip into the side of barbecue sauce doesn't help disguise the poor quality of the meat. The mac and cheese solidly tastes straight out of a box of Kraft. Only the coleslaw and the buttery piece of bread are the plate's saving grace. Scrolling through Yelp reviews, which praise the chopped pork sandwich and beef brisket, I wonder if I'm missing something, so I order a quarter pound of the beef brisket ($7.24) to see if I've just chosen the wrong thing on the menu.
Unfortunately, the brisket, usually one of my favorite cuts in Korean barbecue or occasionally stuffed into a taco, is sad and flavorless on its own. The marbled fat doesn't disguise the dryness of the meat. After pairing it with the dipping sauce, I start to notice how overly sweet and one-note the sauce itself is. Though I don't consider myself a barbecue connoisseur by any means, the fact I can't bring myself to finish either dish speaks volumes. Still hungry, I leave the rest of the plate untouched and take another walk around the market in search of something better and somewhat filling for dessert.
Bypassing the chance for a freshly made crepe from the French Crepe Company or some delicious-looking pastries from Michelina, I make my way to Rick's Produce, one of the Market's newest vendors. In addition to locally sourced organic produce and flowers, the farmer-owned market offers an array of juices, smoothies and sandwiches both at its Original Farmers Market location and original outpost in Virgil Village. After scanning the short menu, I opt for the classic açai bowl ($12). For a dollar extra, you can upgrade to the seasonal açai bowl, which comes with fuyu persimmons on top right now.
After a few minutes, the açai bowl arrives in a tall paper cup—not my favorite vehicle for takeout smoothie bowls, since it requires some digging to get to the actual smoothie part. The sweet honey sticks to the top of the lid, and there are ample fruit toppings: sliced banana, strawberries and blueberries. Unlike other açai chains in L.A. like Oakberry and Ubatuba, you can't really taste the açai in the version at Rick's, though the sweet, refreshing almost non-flavor of it makes a perfect base for the ample honey, toppings and granola. For the price, though, it's a delicious sweet end to an otherwise disappointing lunch.
Meals from Table at Third & Fairfax fall into three categories: Skip It, Worth Trying and Must Have.
Vendor: Bryan's Pit Barbeque
Order: Beef ribs with macaroni and cheese and coleslaw, quarter-pound of brisket
Verdict: Skip It. According to Yelp, the crowd favorite is the chopped pork sandwich, but the barbecue plates haven't left me eager to return—especially when the iconic Bludso's is only two miles away.
Vendor: Rick's Snack Bar (inside Rick's Produce)
Order: Classic açai bowl
Verdict: Worth Trying. The no-nonsense smoothie bowl was affordable and delicious—and the other juices and smoothies, both available to order and in the cold case, looked appealing as well.