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It's the first day of the newest city-sponsored farmers market along the riverwalk outside of the Trump Chicago hotel, 401 N. Wabash.

The market is ideal for commuters, as it's open from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. It's the only downtown market to keep early evening hours.

The downside: It will only be held once a month this summer, on the final Thursday of each month. And Frank Brunacci, the chef at the hotel's swank Sixteen restaurant who pushed to get the market going, won't be there.

Brunacci's last day at Trump was Tuesday. He left to join his wife, Lillian, in their year-old truffle importing business, the Chefs Diamond. 3-19_Stewart_Bruno28_6.jpg

The Brunaccis, both native Aussies, are the sole importers in Chicago of Australian truffles, whose season is now (it's winter there now). They source truffles from elsewhere -- Hungarian honey truffles starting about two weeks from now, white truffles from Italy later on -- but the truffles from Down Under are the crown jewel of their business.

Brunacci might best be described as a truffle junkie. He'd already been helping his wife sell to fellow chefs while at Trump. He had a habit of bringing a cooler of truffles to events where he was cooking.

"For the last year and a half, it's like I've been simmering in a pot that's been a pressure cooker," says Brunacci, who is looking forward to spending more time with his two young kids. "Just this week, we've opened up the pressure cooker, opened it all up, and it's like a huge weight off my shoulders."

Not that he's giving himself much of a break. In the last 18 hours, Brunacci has sent out two emails about the business and background on the Australian truffle. He has plans to open a combined retail space/restaurant, similar he says to what the Petrossian caviar folks do in New York, out of which he could sell specialty, ready-to-eat products, handle distribution to restaurants and serve a single, luxe truffle menu for diners.

"Maybe I'll have a truffle booth [at the Trump farmers market] next year," he says with a laugh. Maybe...


The doughnuts, it's been established, are out in force. But the snow cones and popsicles aren't far behind.

Melissa Yen, creator of Jo Snow Syrups, will be setting up shop at several farmers markets starting in June with her Japanese hand-cranked ice shaver (below) and syrups inspired by the markets.

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She'll sell snow cones ($3) -- think blackberry lavender -- and a Taiwanese dessert called bao bing, shaved ice topped with her syrups, sweet red beans and condensed milk.

If you've never partaken in the colorful, delicious tradition of Asian shaved ice desserts, you're in for a treat; it's been too long since I've had halo-halo, the Filipino version loaded with jackfruit, young coconut and other fruits. Yen's bao bing will range from $5 to $6, depending on the ingredients.

Yen will be at the Lincoln Square market on Thursdays, the Forest Park market on Fridays and Logan Square on Sundays. She also will sell her syrups at the Andersonville market every third Wednesday.

Also at the Andersonville and Lincoln Square markets, and giving helado vendors a run for their money, will be Salted Caramel's Ginna Haravon, who will be offering chocolate mole pudding pops and Thai mango yogurt pops, as well as inspired ice cups (watermelon coriander, lemon-rasberry-goat cheese). Haravon, who built her company around a bag of bacon bourbon caramel corn, also will sell at the Park Ridge and Jefferson Park markets.

Her pops and ices will sell for between $3.50 and $4.

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[Expect a lot more people than this at the Green City Market barbecue.| Photo by Jean Lachat]

Ahh, sun. It is the second jacketless day for me, and it is lurvely. But if skeptical you remains unconvinced that spring really, truly has sprung, here's another sign: Tickets for the annual Green City Market chefs' barbecue are on sale now.

The alfresco event at the south end of Lincoln Park has grown immensely since its inception 11 years ago. Tickets back then were something like 25 bucks. Now, they're $100, and there are crowds. But there also is really delicious food and ample opportunities for chef-spotting, if you're into that sort of thing.

The barbecue is from 5:30 to 8 p.m. July 21. Tickets are on sale at brownpapertickets.com and at the market itself, which runs Wednesdays and Saturdays. (For our full guide to area farmers markets, click here.) Worth noting: Tickets won't be sold at the door.

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[Get ready for radishes along the riverwalk.]

Farmers market devotees can add another urban location to their shopping list this summer, and a swank one at that.

The newest city-sponsored farmers market will open in June along the riverwalk outside the Trump International Hotel and Tower, 401 N. Wabash.

The Trump Bridges to Bridges Market will be held on the final Thursday of each month, running at least through September and possibly into October, a spokeswoman says.

It will operate from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The later hours are ideal for urbanites who can't get to the markets until on their way home from the work.

The hotel hopes to host about 20 regular vendors, Nichols Farm and Orchard and Slagel Family Farm among them, says chef Frank Brunacci.

This is an extension of a one-day market the hotel held one drizzly morning last summer on its 16th-floor terrace.

Watch for our complete guide to farmers markets in May.

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Chicago's Downtown Farmstand turned 2 last weekend, but it's celebrating all month long.

Available only in October, and only at the market at 66 E. Randolph: a pumpkin cupcake from Sweet Miss Givings bakery, topped with cream cheese frosting and candied ginger ($3); and Intelligentsia's Farmstand coffee blend.

The festivities ramp up this week with samples galore from other local vendors. Wednesday's the big day, with tastings from Pasta Puttana, Co-Op Hot Sauce and Chicago Rooftop Honey, and a farm-to-table talk at 6 p.m. led by David Cleverdon of Kinnikinnick Farm and Seedling Orchard's Peter Klein. Also on the panel: Alison Bower of Ruth and Phils Ice Cream and Cleetus Friedman of City Provisions, both of whom use products from Cleverdon and Klein.

The Farmstand is a pet project of the city's cultural commissioner Lois Weisberg. Judith Dunbar Hines, the city's director of culinary arts, has been charged with carrying Weisberg's vision through.

One way she's doing that is by partnering with our food pages. In May, we introduced the Low Mileage Kitchen recipe column, written by Hines. It's been a win-win: the Farmstand gets a boost, and we get recipes -- good, solid recipes using seasonal, local foods.

The Downtown Farmstand isn't the only shop of its kind in the city -- something to applaud, isn't it, that local food producers and entrepreneurs are getting more shelf space? There's Green Grocer Chicago in West Town, which opened a few months prior to the Farmstand; the Dill Pickle Food Co-Op in Logan Square; Provenance Food and Wine, and Friedman's recently opened City Provisions Deli. There is, too, the Chicago French Market -- but that's another story.

All this, of course, is a shameless plug for the Farmstand and the aforementioned businesses. Ever heard of Wind Ridge Herb Farm? B True Bakery? Neither had we -- until places like the Farmstand came around.

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Vendors you won't find anymore at the Chicago French Market, 131 N. Clinton:

Zullo's. Necessity Baking Co. Wisconsin Cheese Mart.

"It just didn't work out, and we wish that market and the people in it great success, we really do," says chef Greg Christian of Zullo's, which joined the market in late February, then up and left in early June.

Ellen Carney Granda, owner of Necessity Baking Co., a staple at several suburban farmers markets, says while the location was great, the flow of business could be tricky (busy with train-hopping tourists on the weekends, but much slower as the weather warmed up). Ultimately, Granda says, the numbers just didn't add up; the bakery left last month.

"We didn't have the variety of product that allowed us to attract the lunch crowd outside of just the bread consumer, and for us that was a challenge. It was also straining our resources to get down there," she says.

Market operator Sebastien Bensidoun says turnover is to be expected as the market finds its footing.

"Remember one very, very important thing: This market has only been open since December. It's a very young market. As long as you get movement of some leaving, some coming, I'm definitely not worried," Bensidoun says.

Breaches of contract are another thing. Vendors are under a three-year lease. For those that have left, whether or not they will be sued, "I just don't know what will happen," says Bensidoun's father, Rolland Bensidoun.

The Bensidoun family operates indoor and open-air markets in France, New York, Connecticut, Michigan and throughout suburban Chicago. It takes a good three to four years for a market to find its groove, and at least five years for it to start turning a profit, Rolland Bensidoun says.

The Bensidouns acknowledge this summer has been tough as the market competes against all the outdoor farmers markets. But Sebastien points out that while they've lost vendors, they've also gained a few -- Fasta Pasta opened last month, and Gramp's Gourmet Foods came in the spring. There are plans to welcome a wine bar and another baker who will bake on-site; the market also is thisclose to adding an outpost of a French restaurant currently ensconced in a tres trendy North Side neighborhood, Sebastien says.

More on the upside: the Saigon Sisters. Demand for owner Mary Aregoni's banh mi sandwiches has been such that she is opening a 40-seat storefront serving small plates and even beer and wine at 567 W. Lake, just around the corner from the market, in the fall. She also is expanding her space at the French Market, and will add bao to the menu there.

Zullo's, meanwhile, whose sugar-dusted zeppole happily can still be found at the Green City and Logan Square farmers markets, is building its catering business and is working on a storefront concept as well, says owner Adriana Marzullo. Don't look for the stand-alone zeppole shop in the near future; it's ok to pray for it (and the future of the Chicago French Market), though.

The kickass produce and breadth of offerings at the Nichols Farm and Orchard stand at the Daley Plaza farmers market is to be expected. Their jaunty sense of humor isn't half-bad, either.

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by guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes

Even while packing for her trip to Peru, where she'll be learning about pisco, Southern Wine & Spirit's Bridget Albert can get excited about farmers markets.

Albert's big on the seasonal. A taste of her cocktails or a browse through the pages of her book, Market-Fresh Mixology , reveals that. When she talks, it's apparent that her enthusiasm is genuine and not just a marketing ploy. If Bridget Albert's sending you anywhere, then it's to the Green City Market.

Now is prime time for shopping at the market. "Living in the Midwest," Albert observes, "our market season is short - it's very different than living in San Francisco, where their markets are open just about all year-round - and so we need to gravitate to them as soon as they open and see what the farmers have to offer, the best of the season."

If you want each farmer's best, then Albert recommends engaging in conversations. "Talk to the farmers," she says. "Talk to the people that run the stand. Get to know what's available and what they'll be bringing out in the following weeks. Become friends with them - and you'll be surprised, once you form those relationships, the types of fruits that they'll either hold for you, or they'll be excited to see you and show you what's new. Build on that and you'll always get the best of the season."

What's drawing Albert to the market? Strawberries, which are "really the most friendly flavor there is." Right now, Albert says, the berries are very sweet, with an enticing color. Mick Klug Farm and Ellis Farms have gorgeous strawberries.

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When you bring those beauties home, Albert says you should put them in a daiquiri. Keep it simple: "a nice silver rum, some fresh lime juice, simple syrup, throw in a couple of strawberries. . . dump it in a glass and mush it up."

Asked about proportions, Albert admits that she likes her daiquiris "a little boozy." To follow her lead, take 2 ounces of silver rum, add equal parts fresh lime juice and simple syrup, chop up 1 or 2 berries and "shake that cocktail to death and strain it." How much lime and syrup you should use is a matter of taste - but finding the perfect balance should be no hardship.

Simple syrup is easy to make -- melt a 50-50 blend of sugar and water. Albert has an even more market-friendly option: honey. There are health advantages to using local honey, but the mixologist notes an economically comforting point: Honey is shelf-stable. Before using honey in cocktails, loosen it up with hot water. ("You don't want to have it be like you're working with Crazy Glue," she says.)

To find honey at the market, look for Heritage Prairie Farm or go urban with Chicago Honey Co-op.

According to Albert, honey is adaptable stuff. It plays well with bourbon, rum . . . everything. She likes it in margaritas. If you're having a party, then tell your guests that you're using local honey and fruit in your drinks. It's a great talking point. And that's a perfect concoction: conversation, a long summer evening and a fresh strawberry daiquiri - just what the mixologist ordered.

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(photos courtesy Kate Gross Photography)

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Katherine Duncan, purveyor of caramels and truffles that will make you go, "OMGthoseareamazing" as you drool all over yourself, is back at the farmers markets this season, this year with an ambitious goal: She vows she will make a new, market-driven truffle every week.

But fie the cold Chicago spring weather and slow-to-come harvest. At last week's markets, "all there was was rhubarb!" she lamented (if you could even get your hands on some, and unless you showed up super-early to Saturday's Green City Market, you probably didn't). So she went with ginger-blood orange, rose and fleur de sel and (locally ground) peanut butter and fleur de sel truffles.

She's still experimenting with the rhubarb, so this week, expect the ginger-blood orange again plus a Champagne-raspberry number -- using raspberries frozen from last year's haul.

Find Katherine Anne truffles at the Andersonville market on Wednesdays, Daley Plaza and Sears Tower on Thursdays and Division Street and Glenview on Saturdays.

"Can't wait for strawberries soon," Duncan says. Same here.

Here are quick links to the farmers featured in today's cover story on these unlikely adopters of social media, plus a few that didn't make it in:

Dietzler Farms: on Twitter
Green Acres Farm: on Facebook
Heritage Prairie Farm: on Facebook and Twitter
Three Sisters Garden: on Facebook
River Valley Ranch: on Facebook and Twitter
Seedling Orchard: on Facebook, and Twitter
Ellis Family Farm: on Facebook
Nichols Farm and Orchard: on Facebook and Twitter

We're particularly tickled to see Nichols Farm on Twitter. Looks like they signed up the day after we'd chatted with Todd Nichols (at right), one of the sons of the farm's founder, Lloyd Nichols. 5-18 podgo farm 8.jpg

Todd, 28, who's had a personal Facebook account since the site's get-go, says he took it upon himself to start a Facebook page for the farm earlier this year.

Pa Nichols "is so computer-illiterate. At his point in life, he doesn't even want to learn. In fact, he was surprised when he heard your message about this story, because he didn't know we had a Facebook page," Todd Nichols says.

We'd like to think we had something to do with the new Nichols Twitter account; but alas, as their second tweet says, it was Oak Park locavore-to-the-core Rob Gardner who's responsible. Anyway, Pa Nichols, if you're reading this (which you probably aren't, based on what your son is saying about you), consider yourself informed.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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