Some food products are classics and should never be messed with. As our Grubby Bitch, Amy T. Granite, pointed out in her Jan. 2 roundup of food trends she'd like to see tossed into the dumpster, no fancy, chef-prepared ketchup will ever be as good as tried-and-true Heinz. I strongly agree. I curse the heavens after dipping my burger into a subpar ketchup experiment expecting Heinz's tangy sweetness to dance upon my taste buds. But there are specialty foods that you can buy locally and that are damn delicious—maybe even better than the classics they're modeled after.
The folks at Barons Market (4001 W. Point Loma Blvd. in Point Loma) recently supplied us hard-working, thirsty writers at CityBeat with a bunch of specialty sodas to sample. One was Virgil's Special Edition Bavarian Nutmeg Root Beer. Barons sells it for $2.99, but I've seen the soda for as much as $7.99 a bottle. While I'd rather pay the lesser amount, the smooth root beer is worth the extra few bucks. The flavor is complex, not too sweet and has a nice crispness. Plus, the 500-milliliter bottle can be enjoyed little by little without going flat, thanks to its Grolsch-like cap.
Giving Virgil's a run for its money is Sioux City Sarsparilla, which is considered the "Granddaddy of root beers." Go ahead and put down your two-liter Barq's because this soda pop is ridiculous. It's made with cane sugar, so you get an earthy flavor in each sip. A 12-ounce bottle sells for $1.39 at Barons. And to prove I'm not biased toward root beer, I also sampled Maine Root Ginger Beer. It's made with fair-trade-certified organic cane juice, making this the most granola sentence about food I've ever written. Don't let that fool you, though. This pop has some bite. It's spicy, making it perfect for a Moscow Mule, and it's only $1.89.
South Park favorite Grant's Marketplace (2953 Beech St.) is another local market that carries tons of great specialty foods. I walked in one morning and asked the clerk what her favorite locally made products were. Without hesitation, she pointed to a glass case filled with Carley Cakes, French-inspired pastries created by recent pastry-school-grad Kevin Montoya. Montoya makes insane confections, like pumpkin muffins with cream-cheese filling and salted caramel tarts, using zero fillers, preservatives or artificial flavors. You can taste it, too. The pumpkin muffins had layers of streusel. Deliciousness overload. I almost died. Carley Cakes are delivered to Grant's regularly. Grab a cup of coffee and try one.
Farmers markets are great places to find quality food. On my last jaunt to the Third Avenue Farmers Market (325 Third Ave. in Chula Vista), I bought a jar of honey from The Bee's Knees. I put it on bagels, cheese, sandwiches and even straight onto my finger. Winnie the Pooh and I have this affinity in common. I was amazed by the flavor of this local, organic honey. It has a bit of a grainy texture that gives the sweetness some balance. The market is open from 3 to 7 p.m every Thursday.
SoNo Trading Company's delicious mustards, which are simply called "The Mustard," were featured in our pages when co-founders Zach Negin and James Magnatta used Kickstarter to get their business going. At that time, they had only two flavors, Champagne Garlic and Hong Kong Habanero. Both pack a hard kick of flavor; the latter's really not for weak tongues. They've since added a whole-grain mustard to their lineup. This savory sauce has a ton of texture and includes Stone Brewing Co.'s Smoked Porter in the short list of all-natural ingredients. You can find The Mustard at various locations around town, including Bottlecraft (2161 India St. in Little Italy), Venissimo Cheese (754 W. Washington St. in Mission Hills), Iowa Meat Farms (6041 Mission Gorge Road in Grantville) and online at sonotrading.com.
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