Bountiful planet: World Market Cafe a perfect launch pad for taking a test bite
Forget those hoity-toity cooking schools. Hang around the DeKalb Farmers Market long enough and you'll acquire a culinary -- and cross-cultural -- education like none other. Since its original days in a cramped, dark building at Medlock Road and Scott Boulevard, the market has enjoyed a strong following among immigrants, gourmands and those who just like fresh produce.
In its current incarnation, a hangar-like building near Scottdale on East Ponce de Leon, you can find nearly any kind of food you can imagine, and some you can't. The market also houses the World Market Cafe, a colorful place to refuel your hunger-stricken tummy. As for the cafe's atmosphere, think international bus terminal. The giant fluorescent lights and an underlying note of fishiness wafting from the nearby seafood counters make it even more "colorful." Market patrons, however, focus on the food and the prices, not the surroundings.
In the cafeteria-style line, you'll hear employee and customer conversations in Urdu, Hindi, Spanish and Chinese, among others. On any given day, you will see men in suits and ties, mechanics in coveralls, Africans in dashikis and rock 'n' roll guys who look like they just woke up dining here, most of them paying less than $6 for a good-sized meal.
Most cafe entrees and sides are priced, like the bountiful salad bar, by the pound ($3.99). I recently spent $4.83 for a plate full of vegetables, $1.50 for a vegetable samosa, 50 cents for a drink and 65 cents for a chunk of moist, rich banana cake -- a grand total of $6.66 with tax. The samosas, available in either vegetable or meat varieties, are a big, delicious handful. Particularly good is the veggie version, filled with the traditional potatoes, carrots and peas and mildly spiced with cumin seeds.
The cafe's vegetable selection -- both cooked and raw at the salad bar -- is quite diverse. This is where I first tried crunchy raw jicama; perfectly sauteed Swiss Chard, slightly tart and sweetened by the addition of caramelized onion; and tangy tabbouleh salad, slightly nutty in taste and full of cucumber, onion, tomato and parsley, with a splash of lemon juice. Many days, you can also find sauteed mixed mushrooms, with dense, meaty and earthy flavors; garlic mashed potatoes, skin-on and hearty, but often nearly glutinous, so they're a bit of a gamble; serviceable if bland vegetable stir-fries, usually featuring cabbage, celery and snow peas. If you want to spice anything up, look no further than your table, outfitted with Sriracha hot sauce, Tamari, sea salt and more.
The market's more substantial offerings do not generally disappoint, either. The fried chicken is just salty enough, with a subtle buttermilk bite to its coating. Roasted duck, served in dark chunks, can be somewhat dry, but tastes rich as duck should. Keep an eye out for daily specials here, too. Beef lasagna appears on Monda, with the substantial serving being properly cheesy and chock full of tomatoes. Wednesdays mean tangy-sweet smoked barbecue chicken.
You'll find that the World Market Cafe makes it easy to experiment and taste new foods. You can try a tiny bit or a huge, heaping plateful, and if you're not sure about something, just ask. You're on the brink of culinary worldliness.
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