The Santa Rosa Downtown Market launched its 17-week run last week, with a farmers market located at the market’s east end, on E Street between Third and Fifth streets. To the south, at the corner of E and Third, it is flanked by the Street Eatz food truck and to the north by the new wine tasting area, heavily guarded by husky security dudes and metal gates.

The year's first apricots were among the highlights of the market's opening evening.

As far as produce goes, a handful of vendors do the heavy lifting when it comes to diversity and abundance. The French Garden Farm, with its always beautiful display, is currently harvesting snow peas, fresh fava beans, spinach, rainbow chard, red cabbage, mustard greens, lacinato kale, Russian kale, tiny red beets, snowball turnips, leeks, fennel, Satsumas, Meyer Lemons, microgreens and a selection of herbs in pretty bundles. The farm, located in west Sebastopol, also has an great selection of lettuces, including  buttercrunch, oak leaf, red flame, speckled troutback and salad mix.

Bloomfield Farms delicious strawberries and artichokes

Bloomfield Farm’s stall is sweet and pretty, with a colorful sign painted on what I think is an old headboard. Their beautiful little strawberries are everything you want a strawberry to be, sweet and fragrant with a pristine texture that is neither mushy nor crunchy. Artichokes sit next to the strawberries and alongside are several bunches of very fresh Italian parsley, a basket of fresh favas, and a basket of Russian kale. On another table, tiny  lettuces, 50 cents each, beckon alongside bouquets of fragrant sweet peas, a box of spinach and heads of larger lettuces.

Young Nantes carrots from The Patch

The Patch, which is located in Sonoma, had beautiful young carrots, the beloved Nantes variety, sweet red onions, golden beets, red beets and juicy fresh garlic. Ortiz Brothers, located in south Santa Rosa on Stony Point Rd., had their always-delicious radishes, including the French Breakfast variety, broccoli, spring garlic, spring onions, favas, white turnips, fat red beets, spinach, kale and bouquets of colorful ranunculus, among the only cut flowers at the market on opening night.

Several vendors focus on a single item, such as Bohemian Well-Being Farm of Occidental, which has an always interesting selection of both wild and cultivated mushrooms. Two vendors had the year’s first apricots and they are surprisingly good for this time of year. They seem to be about three weeks earlier than usual. Two vendors had cherries, including the first Queen Annes (aka Ranier) of the year.

Ortiz Brothers always has a great selection of produce grown in south Santa Rosa

There are two honey vendors and two bakeries, surprising for such a small market. Hector Alvarez, whose award-winning honeys are well-known throughout the North Bay, also had  produce, including Asian chives, which I’ve never seen at a local farmers market before, and branches of fragrant bay leaves. Bear Foot Honey, located in east Santa Rosa, had a big selection of honey and honey products, including honey sticks, flavored creamed honeys and little jars of varietal honeys. Full Circle Baking Company had a big basket of beautiful hearth breads and Bennett Ridge Baking Company offered hearth breads, sliced breads, flavored cornbread, muffins, cookies and several other products.

Kimberly Cook-Fallon of Cook’s Spices has added drapes of colorful fabric to her tent and on opening night they fluttered evocatively in the cool breeze, adding a exotic feel to the beautiful display of her popular spice mixtures and single spices. For gardeners, there were plenty of spring plant starts.

Cook's Spices

Home Maid Ravioli Company, which is located in South San Francisco, had a selection of sauces and fresh pastas in addition to their ravioli. This company, founded over 75 years ago and still operated by the same family, attends dozens of farmers markets each week throughout northern California.

There were other prepared foods, too, some to eat on the spot, others to add to your home pantry. F. A. Ninos of Petaluma–aka “The Godfather of Sauce”–had two dry rubs and six sauces which range from the mild Bourbon, Sage and Tarragon and moderately spicy Green Chipotle in Chocolate Adobo to a fiery Picoso, made with the infamous ghost chile, considered the world’s hottest, the habanero and the Thai red chile. Tucked at the north end of the market, next to the wine tasting entrance, St. Rose of Sebastopol sells its Nunes Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir and a very interesting “culinary” pinot noir. This wine has been aged in neutral oak barrels for three years so that its complex flavors develop but without the influence of oak; it is meant to be used in sauces, soups and stews. Although you can’t taste the wine, there are samples of stewed cherries, which are rich and sweet but not overly so. Opposite St. Rose’s stall, Valley Ford Cheese Co. offers samples of their best known cheese, Estero Gold, and the lesser known but equally delicious Highway One.

There are a huge number of food stalls at the Downtown Market, including several in the farmers market area. One that offers Greek food is familiar from the Santa Rosa Original Farmers Market but many seem more like stalls you’d see at a county fair or carnival. Harvey’s Gourmet Mini Donuts of Glen Ellen, offers doughnut sundaes, a concept I find a tad frightening, though watching Harvey, dressed all in black with a whimsical black top hat, shepherd miniature doughnuts through a semi-automatic deep fryer is rather mesmerizing. The hot doughnuts are served in a large paper cone and can be topped simply, with cinnamon and sugar or a glaze, or can be slathered with a variety of toppings, including marshmallows, crushed Oreo cookies, rainbow sprinkles, whipped cream, fudge, chocolate chips, whipped cream, cherries and more. There’s also a corn dog stall in the farmers market area and a large stage for live music.

Harvey of Harvey's Gourmet Mini Donuts chats with Bite Club's Heather Irwin (not in the photo)

I was surprised to find no egg vendors and no vendors with eggs, given the abundance of eggs at other farmers markets this year. Perhaps Hector Alvarez will bring some of his in upcoming weeks. There are no meat, poultry or seafood vendors, either.

If your main reason for stopping by the Downtown Market is to shop for fresh produce and such, it is best to arrive early. As the evening wears on, the carnival atmosphere begins to eclipse the shopping and when the live music starts, it can be hard to chat with farmers. But early on, it is a convenient place to get excellent produce, much of it local and organic, if you live near downtown Santa Rosa and can’t make it to a morning market.