For almost a century, food vendors have clustered under the elevated tracks running over Park Avenue between 111th and 116th Streets. First came "the cries, the jostling, and the hubbub" of Jewish and Italian pushcart peddlers. These were swept away by Mayor La Guardia, who built a "modern, sanitary market" here. By the 1960s, this had become La Marqueta, the city's premiere market for tropical produce and meat, selling everything from guavas and breadfruit to giant Equatorial tubers to pig snouts to the city's Caribbean community. But La Marqueta fell into a decline, and the number of vendors dropped to a handful. Numerous attempts to resuscitate the market never gained steam. Then the city decided to try something different at the back of the remaining market space: an incubator kitchen with a bakery, Hot Bread Kitchen, as its anchor tenant.
Until recently, we've only been able to buy Hot Bread Kitchen's excellent loaves at local greenmarkets and various area stores. Supplicants who turned up at the East Harlem kitchen were turned away with empty hands. That is, until Monday, when the bakery held the grand opening of its Hot Bread Almacen, a retail bakery and café in La Marqueta.
City Council President Christine Quinn helped cut the ritual six-foot baguette and remembered that her father used to come to the market "to buy candied cherries for the fruitcake that nobody ate at Christmas." However, what was more important was happening now: Hot Bread Kitchen has shown the future of La Marqueta as a dual food manufacturing and market space.
Open from Monday through Saturday, Hot Bread Almacen is primarily a retail store where you can buy the bakery's incredible range of over a dozen breads, all fresh, and sometimes hot, from the oven. These include its delicious New Yorker Rye ($5.50), ciabatta ($3.50), and heavenly m'smen soft flatbread ($2.50). You can also purchase coffee and, for a nosh, a new creation called the Bialy al Barrio. The base is one of HBK's bialys, already recognized as the city's best, topped with a grilled local egg and cheddar cheese and doused with hot sauce--fusion food at its best.
During weekday lunch, you can also sample the Almacen's rotating cast of blue plate specials ($7), featuring foods reflecting the many ethnicities occupying Upper Manhattan. These will include tlacoyas, a kind of Mexican stuffed masa cake (Tuesdays), and HBK pizza (Thursdays). Wednesday is Ethiopian day, with the special prepared by Smorgasburg regular Taste of Ethiopia in La Marqueta's kitchens. A recent lunch included couscous flavored with mint and pistachio, a slightly sweet cabbage and carrot stew, and deeply spiced Ethiopian lentils, all mopped up with a fresh injera flatbread. The Almacen also sells products made by the start-ups working out of the Hot Bread Kitchen incubator, among them Hella bitters, Pipcorn gourmet popcorn, and Brazilian bonbons made by My Sweet Brigadeiro.
And while you're visiting the Almacen, be sure to shop at La Marqueta's other stores, like La Bodega Gourmet, featuring Breezy Hill Orchard products, and a handful of small butchers and grocery stalls. Remarkably, despite all the changes to East Harlem and La Marqueta, pig snouts are still available.