Weekly Market Digest: Bananas & Meyer Lemons

Vista Punta Gorda owner Andy Shaeffer is the newest vendor at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, bringing bananas from his La Conchita plantation. Plus, Jason Neroni, chef-owner of the revamped Rose Cafe in Venice, picks out Meyer lemons for his seasonal, California-inspired menu.

Andy Shaeffer, of Vista Punta Gorda, can hardly contain his excitement. It's his first day at the Wednesday Market.
Andy Shaeffer, owner of Vista Punta Gorda, can hardly contain his excitement. It’s his first day at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market.

Talk of the new “local banana guy” created quite the buzz at this week’s Santa Monica Farmers Market, so we dashed over to meet Andy Shaeffer, owner and banana grower at Vista Punta Gorda in La Conchita, California.

Bananas are a temperamental fruit that don’t particularly like the Southern California climate, but Andy’s plantation has a unique microclimate well-suited for bananas. Its close proximity to the ocean maintains a temperate, humid climate in the summer, while its hillside location allows airflow to breakup any frost during the winter.

Bananas are the most popular fruit in America, yet an overwhelming majority of markets only carry one varietal, the Cavendish, a commercial banana grown in a tropical environment near the equator. Cavendish bananas are picked green and ripen before they’re shipped across the country. Andy’s bananas are local, hence not shipped, so they are allowed to ripen on the tree and can develop much richer, deeper, earthier flavors.

Andy grows up to ten different types of bananas. Right now, he has Dwarf Brazilian, Ice Cream, Cordoba, and Blue Java, with Haha and Goldfingers coming soon to both the Wednesday and Sunday Santa Monica Farmers Markets. I have to mention that I am a big fan of whomever came up with all these eclectic banana names.

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The reopening of Rose Cafe in Venice is another local buzz topic. Chef-owner Jason Neroni revamped the classic Venice eatery and put together a seasonal, California-influenced menu based on his world travels.

The market is brimming with winter citrus, and Jason has taken notice. He’s been shopping for Meyer lemons, which are sweeter and more fragrant than other lemons. Originally imported from China, Meyer lemons are thought to be a hybrid of lemons and mandarins.

Jason features Meyer lemons on his menu in a couple of different ways. If you stop by for lunch, you can try his grilled avocado served with a Meyer lemon ponzu and shaved tuna prosciutto. And to really get your citrus fix, you can order his Meyer lemon curd with cookies for dessert.