Shelf Life 

Food Review: Three new markets bring fine foods to discerning consumers.

click to enlarge At Cask Café & Market, taleggio and Welsh cheddar cheese accompany bratwurst and a DC Brau 9th Gate dark mild beer. The Fan area business fills a niche for dine-in or carry-out brews, meats and local foods.

Scott Elmquist

At Cask Café & Market, taleggio and Welsh cheddar cheese accompany bratwurst and a DC Brau 9th Gate dark mild beer. The Fan area business fills a niche for dine-in or carry-out brews, meats and local foods.

The Cask Café & Market

It's less of a market and more of a beer Mecca. But don't be mistaken, the Cask Café & Market will take care of certain needs quite nicely. A deli case holds SausageCraft links ($3) and hot dogs ($2), plus a cheese selection that will make it difficult to choose just one. Solve that by ordering a cheese and meat board (one/$4, three/$10) and then get a half-pound of your favorite to go. Purveyors Flour Garden Bakery, Pizza Tonight and Billy Bread ensure that the limited menu has local flair. You can sub out tempeh or turkey on a pastrami Reuben panino ($7), but you'll miss out on the snap of peppery pastrami playing off sauerkraut that made it a classic. I could easily make a habit of choosing the spicy beer and sriracha-laced Saturday nite for the sausage and cheese panino ($7), each bite swooningly satisfying.

One of the owners, David Garrett, was a longtime River City Cellars staffer, so the thoughtful wine list ($10-$19, and $5 corkage fee) reflects some of his favorite finds from those days. If your shopping list includes beer, pick up a growler ($2.50-$4.50) and fill it from one of 12 rotating taps ($9-$21, $17-$52) or mull over an ever-changing array of bottled beers. Situated in the emerging SoCa, which stands for south of Cary, neighborhood with a bar, dining room, garage doors for balmy days and a view of red trolleys pulling into the depot, it's the kind of place you might stop by to shop and end up lingering. If need be, pick up a Munz chocolate bar on your way out to prove you were at the market. Better yet, bring home a growler.

206 S. Robinson St.
Open daily from 11 a.m.


Union Market

Union Market aims to be an all-purpose neighborhood market with essentials such as toothpaste and cat food as part of a thoughtful inventory featuring local products. Sweet potatoes, apples and onions provide the welcoming committee at the front door of this sunny, two-sided space. On the market side, Virginia represents with Woodson's Mill three-grain pancake mix, Bombolini sauces and ravioli, Virginia chutneys and Shepherd Hill farm eggs. Revisit a happy childhood with Old Church Creamery's deeply rich chocolate milk or Mimi's cinnamon rolls.

Through a wall with arches is the cafe, with a coffee station offering Black Hand, Lamplighter, Counter Culture and even Café Bustelo for the thrifty set. The bar has eight beer taps, mostly Virginians, and three kombucha taps. Ask to sample the elder flower sunrise, a slightly sweeter offering, if you're new to the fermented beverage. There's seating for 28 inside. But on days when you find the windows open — such a delightful rarity in a 21st-century business — to the white picket fenced yard, grab an outside table for the most charming meal possible.

Prosciutto, fontina and fig ($8.50) arrives hot and pressed, sweet and salty, as masterfully balanced as a Russian gymnast on a beam. Whether you intend to eat virtuously with a spinach and arugula salad ($7.25) laced with bacon, onions, tomato and warm bacon vinaigrette, or need a satisfying dose of excess with a hot mortadella, salami, prosciutto, fontina and mustard sandwich ($8.50), you'll find yourself agreeing with the server who told me, "Our menu is that good." Church Hill adds another jewel to its food crown.

2306 Jefferson Ave.
Open daily from 10 a.m.


Urban Farmhouse Market & Café

Yes, it's hidden. Under the groovy-sounding Lava Lofts is the third iteration of Urban Farmhouse Market & Café, a bright, subterranean space divided into small rooms, some sporting shelves laden with groceries, others configured with tables and chairs and some with both. A central counter tempts with a juice bar, an array of baked goods including bagels, pastries and cookies, and a simple menu of soups, salads and sandwiches.

You'll have to go looking for the mixed greens in a seasonal candied walnut gorgonzola salad ($8.95), a plus or minus depending on your preference, buried as they are by cheese and nuts and sweetly dressed in raspberry vinaigrette. Any thoughts of meat will evaporate when you bite into a havarti and mushroom sandwich ($7.95) given the earthy goodness of a house-made spread of assorted winter mushrooms, garlic and olive oil with a dash of house red wine. For a fresh take on an old standard, tangy curry tuna salad ($9.95) is both familiar and out of the ordinary.

Hill residents will get used to a neighborhood market with wine and beer selections that include Virginians on both counts, basic produce such as carrots, lemons, apples and onions, and clever recycled paper greeting cards. Color yourself green with local products such as Bearer Farms honey, Health Warrior energy bars and Blue Bee cider while keeping Fido just as environmentally correct with Clementine's Mobile Munchies dog treats. Word is getting out on this basement gathering space.

310 N. 33rd St., entrance on Marshall Street
Open weekdays from 6:30 a.m., weekends from 7 a.m.


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