Dryades Public Market: It's *not* the new St. Roch.

Hey look!  It's a blog post that's not about the guide!  I know you've been waiting a little while...

Today we're talking about the finally officially open no-longer-mystery that is the Dryades Public Market.  The space has been a long time coming and hit many bumps along its path, beginning as a "local fresh food hub" and then at one point proclaiming that it would be the next yuppie paradise, complete with beer cave.  The chandeliers from that moment remain in the space, but on this day of its grand opening the market seems to have found its middle-ground footing.

So, what is that footing?  What is the market?  What's it look like?  How does is shop? 

It's a bit like a gourmet grocery store that isn't entirely gourmet.  When entering from the main entrance on Rampart Street, it lays out like this moving counter-clockwise and beginning on your right: produce stand, Esses pasta nook, groceries corner, meat and seafood counter, bakery, craft cocktail bar and oyster bar, meat and cheese counter and deli, more produce, hot and cold bars, and registers.  Various packaged groceries and household items are scattered throughout the store on shelves around the perimeter of the space.  It's a lot to take in.  One distinct plus is that, with the exception of the sit-there-and-consume bar and oyster bar, you pay for everything at registers up front like you would in any other grocery.

So is it... Accessible to the community it's meant to serve?  Vegan-friendly?  Locally focused?  Good or bad, on the whole?  Yes and no on all fronts.  The answers seem to be that there is something for everyone... but maybe more for some than for others.  Some observations from my visit today:

On accessibility: Accessibility is probably the biggest question, given the gentrification that parts of OC Hayley are currently experiencing and the community that the market is claiming to serve.  The groceries seem to be reasonably priced, if maybe a bit difficult to shop, and the produce is downright competitive.  The trade-off for low prices is that there isn't much that's local.  That will likely fluctuate depending on seasonal availability.  Of course, there are many items in the space that are far beyond the reach of low-income neighbors and even a bit of a splurge for the young hip middle class folks attracted to the space ($8 lavender craft cocktail to go with your $9 bowl of pasta, anyone?).  But I feel like I can live with and maybe even support a model where higher-end options provide the revenue to make affordable options feasible while keeping the business afloat.

On vegan-friendly-ness: That's a solid meh, but with a few shining standouts.  I'm a big fan of Esses pastas, which are fresh but do not use egg and are generally vegan (with the exception of those that use squid ink for coloring - they're obvious).  At their build-your-own pasta bar in the Esses nook to the right of the entrance, you can choose between the marinara or the spicy marinara sauces (all others have cheese) and then add any number of veg toppings.  The other truly exciting vegan feature is the presence of VEGGI Co-Op tofu, aka the best tofu in existence.  The hot and cold bars likely hold vegan options, but there are no ingredients lists so it's difficult to say.  And the bakery "sometimes" has vegan items.  Ask if you stop by?  Finally a word of warning: the butcher counter is pretty brutal.  If you are sensitive to seeing things like hog's head cheese, steer clear.
On local: Kinda?  The people working there seem pretty local, and that's a nice change from some other spots.  The produce and groceries by and large are not, as discussed above.  The seafood, if you're into that sort of thing, is as local (from the Gulf) as possible - obviously the salmon isn't locally caught, you know?  They oysters seem to be local, and I hear the marble oyster bar serves up delicious fare, again if you're into that sort of thing.
In the end, I can't say I'm totally in love with this space.  I'm not repelled by it either though.  Other than the too-typical affront of animal heads peering at me with dead eyes, there is nothing that makes me want to run from the building.  Thus, my worst fears of what the space might become, when talk of chandeliers and various cave types began swirling, have been assuaged.  It will be interesting to watch the space as it develops and responds to customers' needs.  If you stop by, I'd love to hear your impressions.

One last note: I must give them a shoutout for being inclusive in this way.  Thanks for making the space that much safer for everyone.  Way to be progressive y'all!

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