Two stops worth making in south county, and they couldn’t be any more different that David’s Bakery and Maria’s Produce. One is a tidy little sweet shop featuring pastries, breads, cakes, pies and prepared foods, while the other is a dusty parking lot-fronted, fan-cooled shed featuring a lot of produce you’ve never heard of and cows out back.
Cindy Rafey of David’s Bakery hails from Massachusetts, and she’s brought her talents to the Fountains Shopping Center, just a few doors north of Publix. David’s is classic Jewish-style, with babka, strudel, butter cookies, black-and-whites, seven-layer and marble cakes, onion pockets and boards, rye breads and even cupcakes, a holdover from the shop’s former identity as a cupcake shop. The black paint job inside is also from the former occupant; Rafey will be closing the shop for a short time next month to change it. She recently added soups, knishes and pot pies to the store, courtesy of Uncle Dan’s Catering. This is great local baking from the days before supermarkets started cranking out bread and pastries with no personality. Buy from David’s, and you know there’s someone like Cindy behind each bite.
David’s Bakery, 6647 Boynton Beach Blvd., Boynton Beach, FL. Phone (561) 732-5300. Hours: Sunday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday and Saturday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Maria’s Produce stands as one of the few remaining classic produce operations; it’s old and defiantly located in a residential/commercial area that’s sprouted around it. Air conditioning is not a feature Maria’s considers a necessity. But the parking lot, right next to the cow pasture, has plenty of expensive cars. Yes, it does seem odd to have Holsteins share space with Honda CRVs, and hear mooing next to a Mercedes. But everyone enjoys the allure of saving money. And that’s one of the reasons people come here. The other has to be for the variety of produce you’re not likely to see anywhere else.
Maria’s is basically one large shed with a cool room at one end (for potatoes and onions) and a cold room (for delicate greens and herbs) at the other. Refrigeration units are in the back of the store for highly perishable items and cold beverages. And the breadth and scope of what you will find here will have you Googling for hours, not only for ways to use the this food, but to find out just what it is and how to use it. Check out this list:
- Parval: Known as a green potato in India, this vine plant is similar to squash or cucumber and is eaten in soups, stews, curries or stuffed with meat and cooked.
- Tamarind: Maria's sells tamarind in pod and pulp form. The sweet-sour taste makes it good for ice cream, jams, chutneys and marinades.
- Nopal: The pads of the prickly pear cactus, these are often used in salads, soups and stews.
- Rambutan: This hilariously hairy little fruit, which is native to Indonesia and Malaysia, is peeled, cooked and eaten out of hand, and has a grape-like flavor.
- Guwar: Also known as guar, these cluster beans are a legume that look like pea pods. The leaves can be used in a salad and the pods eaten raw or cooked as any other vegetable. The seeds must be toasted before being consumed.
- Thai long beans: Grown in Thailand and the Dominican Republic, they can be cooked just like American green beans
- Thai eggplant: Not your classic oblong, but round and green (or white or yellow, in addition to purple), these are often halved or quartered and cooked in curry sauce.
- Honduran bittermelon: Start out with a small dose of this if you've never used it before. It's good in a stir-fry or stuffed with meat and deep-fried.
- Tindora: Known as the ivy gourd or baby watermelon, it looks like a very small, smooth pickle. It's used in curries, soups and can be deep-fried. Interesting note: the tindora vine is considered a noxious pest plant in Hawaii.
- Callaloo: The name of both the leafy vegetable and the very popular Caribbean dish produced from it. The leaves are steamed or stewed as a side dish.
- Jamaican yams: Not a sweet potato (the tubers belong to different species), these can be baked, boiled, broiled, grilled, barbecued or grated to make patties.
- Curry leaf: In the fresh form, they are chopped and cooked with onions as the basis for many Indian curry dishes.
And this is in addition to the fresh greens, local corn and tomatoes, fresh herbs, citrus, apples, onions, potatoes and ethnic seasonings, spices and sauces. Nearly all the produce is sold loose, so if you have no clue what it is, you can buy one and try it. Despite the downright simple surroundings, no one seems to leave here without bags of food. Vegetarians and fans of ethnic produce will have a feast in this field of dreams. Just be careful of the cows.
Maria’s Produce, 4361 Hypoluxo Road, Lantana (between Lawrence Road and Military Trail). Phone (561) 963-1137. Open daily 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.