If you live in LA or follow food news, you’ve caught the recent buzz surrounding the Grand Central Market, most notably, the attainment of a coveted spot on Bon Appetit’s “Best New Restaurants” list. The resurgence of customer flow into the market brought on by new businesses drawing in varied demographics has revived the landmark, bringing life back to a historic remnant.
When Nick and I first moved to LA in January 2012, we did a lot of exploring, particularly along stops of the subway line. The metro and I have become fast friends over the last couple of years, and I remember the day it introduced me to the Grand Central Market. I got off and investigated the destination for Angels Flight and the GCM. At that time the market was still in a lull.
I poked around the somewhat dilapidated open air marketplace with a few other stragglers, and felt remorse for not having caught this place in it’s heyday. The layout still bore residual nuances of a thriving community of eateries and vendors, but the potential seemed to have petered out over time. While I found a few options for dry goods, a mere handful of places offered extremely cheap and greasy prepared food. Being the health-conscious person I am, I had to scratch it off my list of places to re-visit. There was simply not enough for me there to draw me back.
Just over a year later, my good friends Chelsea and Kenny asked me if I had been to the Grand Central Market, commenting that it was undergoing a revival since a few new eateries had established themselves there. Based on my first experience, I was apprehensive, but curious. We went to check it out and I was floored by what could only be described as a transformation.
Sprawled out before me were busy bars and tables full of munching neighbors amongst the fruit, veggie and dry goods vendors, instead of empty stalls. The establishments which seemed to be on their last legs with meager frequenters during my previous visit, were now flooded as the recent neighboring establishments had buoyed the entire space with renewed patronage. I was ecstatic to bear witness to the rapid revolution of a place so rich in history.
The arcade has been home to the undisturbed continuance of the market since it’s establishment in 1917. The historic Angel’s Flight rail car, which descends from Bunker Hill, was a direct route for the wealthy residents to visit the market and shop. The interior of the market has shifted and changed over the years, but the exterior remains a vestige of a bygone architectural era. The Homer Laughlin Building was designed by architect John B. Parkinson and built by Homer Laughlin, a retired Ohio businessman, potter and owner of the Homer Laughlin China company.
The building was praised at the time for it’s sturdiness as it was the first reinforced concrete building in LA, and has stood the test of time, though it has undergone several modifications. Another layer of historical significance for the Homer Laughlin is the one time housing of Frank Lloyd Wright’s office.
As the structure remained constant amidst the wear of decades and alterations, the true pulse of change was in the ebb and flow of prepared and fresh food market fronts within. Throughout it’s history, the GCM has housed fresh fare and quick bites of all kinds- from malt shops to fish shops. The current staples of seasonal produce from vendors like La Casa Verde, nuts, grains and dried goods from La Huerta are great local, inexpensive options. While Jones Grain Mill offers a selection of vitamins, herbs and supplements.
As far as prepared bites, there’s quite an array of options here now, from the aforementioned greasiest of greasy spoons to the recently added healthy offerings of Press Brothers Juicery and kombucha bar, Better Booch.
Being on, arguably, the most restrictive diet imaginable, (or at least that’s how it feels some times) wading the sea of eats can be tumultuous water. But as always, not-so-far-off options and occasional treats do exist.
The number one option for the sugar hyper-sensitive and low-carb-honey is the shop that many attribute to leading the surge of new restaurants at the market: Eggslut. A “Chef driven, gourmet food concept” starring the egg. While the me of yesteryear would have relished the thought of eventually conquesting one delectable, juicy sandwich on fresh-made buns after another, the me of today rejoices with the prevalence of their accommodation to offer everything on the menu as a salad. “The Slut” is another breadless and gluten-free option, though not necessarily lower carb, as the egg is bedded on potato, but as long as you watch your consumption through the rest of the day, I say go for it. With quality ingredients and freshness, the salad options don’t feel like slapped-together afterthoughts which are what usually make a salad “sad”. Essentially, you can eat here and feel neither deprived, nor anxious.
Sticky Rice is organic, free-range, locally-sourced Thai comfort food which could only be slightly improved by the advent of brown rice options. Although I know it poses a challenge in that brown rice is not naturally as…well, sticky. But it breaks down slower and is more blood sugar-friendly.
Another option is Berlin Currywurst which utilizes all organic ingredients and comes in reasonable portion sizes. I’ll admit there may be some favoritism for this one, as my German heritage swells with pride, but I really enjoyed eating here. While the use of ketchup and a splash of orange juice in the curry, which is generally served with either a slice of whole wheat bread and/or potato fries, makes it a bit risky for Candida dieters, it’s worth the rare visit once gut equilibrium is achieved. As far as generally healthy diets go, you’re not too far off with Currywurst, at least Berlin’s version of it. The sugar in the sauce and the deep fried potatoes are the most troubling thing. While I wouldn’t say it’s a “health food”, it’s healthier based on the quality of the ingredients.
Bread is a whole mysterious animal on the Candida diet. Some claim that eating whole grains is the only way to go as they offer the highest nutritional value and break down into sugar in the body the slowest. However, with the recent consensus on gluten complicating digestion, many others advocate avoidance of wheat, while others still oppose grain consumption at all for those with Candida over-growth as it most likely aggravates leaky gut syndrome. Ultimately, it’s a matter of individual experimentation and finding what makes you uncomfortable and what doesn’t. I find that after over a year on the diet and eating grains sparsely, I can handle the occasional slice of wheat bread.
Currywurst itself is an interesting slice of history and melding food culture as a modern German street snack food which was invented 60 years ago (according to the Currywurst Museum) by Herta Heuwer. Herta was a “rubble woman” one of the tough, entrepreneurial type woman who re-built Germany post WWII. She set up the original stand in 1949, combining traditional German food and English curry. She bartered to attain the curry from English soldiers, which, of course had become a staple in English spice cabinets during the British occupation of India. Northern Germany’s Hamberg also claims currywurst was invented there.
Wherever it started, it’s interesting how it has evolved from a fast food into more of a high brow meal over time. Of particular interest is what might be inferred as LA’s influence in this evolution, as an organic, mainly whole-food option for health-conscious Angelenos.
Another element about which appeals to the diversity-curious who inhabit LA is, not only the unique melding of disparaging flavors, but the range of options including different meats for the sausages, savory or sweet sauces, various heat levels, and sides including house-made buns, breads or fresh cut fries.
Or if you’re looking to make your own sausage at home, Belcampo Meat Company sells organic meats from the local Belcampo farm.
And speaking of locally sourced, DTLA Cheese has an army of local and imported cheeses and dairy products as well as made-to-order meals with those cheeses. While the majority of these items should stay off the menu for Candida dieters, it’s the only place I know of in town that sells raw organic goat’s milk, which can be used to make highly beneficial homemade yogurt, full of immune-boosting bacteria. They also have local raw cream, which can easily be churned at home into raw butter.
Coffee is mostly off limits for Candida sufferers as it is a stimulant which releases sugar into the bloodstream. Bummer, right? I’ve weaned myself off of it, but it’s one of those foods that I simply don’t want to live without. I just genuinely enjoy the flavor more than I need the effect. So once in a while I’ll allow myself a cup of coffee. As you might imagine, that makes my selection of that cup extremely important. I want a darn good cup of coffee if I’m going to have one. And that’s exactly what G&B Coffee offers.
Excruciatingly selected and expertly executed, this coffee is worth the stray from the diet. They even offer it with almond milk which they make there! Fresh almond milk is so much better for you than the grocery store shelf stuff because it’s not packed with fillers and preservatives. They sweeten it with a minute amount of date sugar, which I would stay away from in the early phases of the diet, but I’ve had it only in small amounts like in this coffee after over a year on the diet, and I handled it okay. I got carried away thinking I was invincible with it once and it caught up with me. So be warned! Just so long as it’s not a regular thing, you’re probably good. Again, play it by how it affects you and be honest with yourself.
I’m so excited for my next trip to the market. As old traditions and new developments coalesce into one great step in the revival of Downtown LA, I’m proud and happy to be a part of it. I can’t wait to see what other healthy options will pop up here in the coming months.
What are your favorite spots in DTLA? At the Grand Central Market? What keeps you coming back?