Union Market, the new food bazaar on Neal Place NE (between 5th and 6th streets), opens Saturday with all the makings of an artisanal food paradise in the middle of one of D.C.’s up-and-coming-but-not-quite-there-yet neighborhoods. This corner has been used as a market space for decades — most often called the Union Terminal Market — but it has transformed over generations from an outdoor meat and egg bazaar to a tamer indoor space. Eventually, 40 vendors will sell baked goods, produce, local meat and dairy and other food-focused goods from stalls arranged throughout the space (which will also include areas for customers to sit and eat food bought on the premises). Here are a few of the first vendors open for business.
Buffalo & Bergen
Bartending luminary Gina Chersevani’s newest endeavor is an 18-seat soda shop, complete with a staff of soda jerks. Buffalo & Bergen is named after the intersection where Chersevani’s mom grew up in Brooklyn.
“There was a soda shop there called Norma’s, and my mom always said it was the best soda ever,” Chersevani says. “In 2007, I made a chocolate egg cream soda with tequila. My mom tasted it, and she said, ‘It’s good, but it’s not like Norma’s.’ ”
Her mom’s judgment inspired Chersevani to try to impress at her own soda shop. Sixteen fizzy drinks will be available — as regular sodas or as floats, creams or cocktails. More than 100 combos are possible.
Food-wise, Brooklyn is still an inspiration: Chersevani will offer various versions of knishes, from traditional potato to Indian barbecue. F.Z.
Rappahannock River Oysters
Cousins Travis and Ryan Croxton were born into an oyster family: Their grandfather started Rappahannock River Oysters on the coast of Virginia in the 19th century, and, when the state leases came up for renewal, Travis and Ryan had to make a choice: take over or give up the family tradition.
“So we started researching how to grow oysters,” Travis Croxton says. “We made it our mission to re-establish oysters in the Chesapeake and get them to be a thing of pride again.”
Rappahannock River Oysters’ stall at Union Market — which will seat 20 — will focus (obviously) on the raw bar, with seafood-heavy small plates and artisanal beers rounding out the menu. Rappahannock River Oysters are key, but Travis says the bar will feature other varieties of local oysters as well. F.Z.
Settling into its first fixed location, D.C. Empanadas will sell many of the deep-fried, stuffed pastries regulars know and love from the company’s sky-blue food truck — along with plenty of new menu additions. Anna Bran-Leis, who owns D.C. Empanadas with her husband, Shawn Leis, will manage the Union Market location while Leis will keep the truck on the road.
At the market, D.C. Empanadas’ menu will feature the classics (such as the truck’s most popular “traditional” empanada, containing seasoned shredded beef, tomatoes, raisins, onions, green olives and cilantro). Expect a few new empanadas with higher-end ingredients and flavor combos as well (such as a beef Wellington-inspired empanada and another containing duck meat).
Over nearly two years in business, “we’ve had a lot of requests for baked empanadas,” Bran-Leis says, so the shop will also sell pre-made, pre-packaged turnovers that customers can pop into the oven at home.
After the market has been open for a few weeks, the shop might also branch into brunch on the weekends, she says. “I picture one of the things that we’ll do is an arepa [a flat, round patty of cornmeal or flour] filled with cheese and a fried egg on top and chorizo hash,” Bran-Leis says. K.A.
Mix educational cheese tastings, wine and beer flights and gourmet food shopping, and you’ve got Righteous Cheese, fromager Carolyn Stromberg’s new business. Stromberg has worked with cheese in and around D.C. for seven years, honing her expertise at Cheesetique and Cowgirl Creamery, among other dairy destinations.
Most recently, she’s offered cheese-tasting instruction to sold-out crowds through her business, the Cheese Course, and run the cheese program at Seasonal Pantry. At Righteous Cheese (whose name pokes fun at the self-righteous nature of foodie culture), Stromberg will continue to help “demystify cheese.”
“I want guests to be comfortable and be able to explore new things and try new things and not be intimidated by pronouncing the name of the cheese wrong,” Stromberg says. Visitors can expect to find between 40 and 50 cheeses for sale, many small-batch, seasonal and local.
For those who can spend a little more time considering Camemberts, Stromberg will offer three daily cheese flights (paired with beer, wine or non-alcoholic drinks) at her 10-seat bar. K.A.
TaKorean has been an exclusively wheeled operation for the past two years, but, as with D.C. Empanadas, nothing’s changing just because the business is parking. The truck will keep rolling.
TaKorean’s stall at Union Market will basically be the “exact same concept and the exact same food that people expect,” owner Mike Lenard says. He predicts the fusion cuisine — soft tacos made to order with customers’ choices of veggies, Korean-style proteins and sauces — will translate equally well to the Union Market crowd.
“There’s a limited amount of ingredients total,” Lenard says, “but there’s an unlimited amount of customization that the customer can do.” If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Still, he’s considering introducing a few new ingredients after things settle down, including Korean-style braised pork. K.A.
Get the Scoop
Just a day after its grand opening, Union Market hosts the second annual D.C. Scoop, an ice cream competition among various frozen dessert purveyors, including Pitango, Sinplicity and Taharka Bros. A panel of VIPs will judge, but all visitors will receive three free tasting tickets and can buy full-size servings. Sun., 1-4 p.m. free.
Union Market, 1309 5th St. SE; opens Sat. 8 a.m.-8 p.m. (NoMA-Gallaudet)
With Fiona Zublin