You can thank asparagus.
The Baltimore Farmers' Market & Bazaar opens Sunday, its earliest opening date ever. Until 2003, when it was moved up to the first week in May, the opening came in early June.
Bill Gilmore, executive director of Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, says the market's earlier opening is a response in part to its increasing popularity. "We've had such a huge increase over the years," Gilmore says. But farmers also pushed for the change. This might sound counterintuitive to marketer-goers whose senses remain dulled until they see the season's first strawberries.
The truth is, by the time May comes, asparagus, one of the most popular crops, has just about run its course. Eastern Shore farmers, whose asparagus season starts earlier, will especially benefit from the April starting date, according to Shannon Dill of the University of Maryland Extension, the statewide agricultural information service.
"Any opportunity for local farmers to get their products out in front of consumers is a positive thing," says Dill, the senior agent for Talbot County, who adds that farmers will also be able to market cold-weather crops like winter lettuces, radishes and beets, and year-round farm products like jellies, sauces and meats.
Amy Crone, marketing specialist for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, agrees: "The earlier the markets open and the longer they can extend the season, the better off everyone is."
The early opening date suits veteran vendors like Thomas Rhodes of Zeke's Coffee.
"I'm looking forward to being there at 4:45 a.m. to start setting up; it's a great revenue source," he says, but also concedes, "I enjoyed having four months off."
Joining the farmers under the Jones Falls Expressway are a handful of new vendors, who will be selling vegan baked goods (Dirty Carrots), relishes, jellies, ketchups, and jams (Infused Spreads), and quail, pheasants, poussin chicken and chuckers (KCC Natural Farms). Keep your eyes peeled for Red Zebra, a mobile wood-burning pizza oven operated by Linda Painter, who fell in love with a similar get-up she saw in Boulder, Colo.
"I had to have one," Painter says.
By opening week, she hopes to have lamb sausage ready to top pizzas with. "I'll be doing them with mint pesto and goat cheese from Firefly Farms."
There's another big change to this year's farmers' market. The section of Holliday Street that runs between the east and west market will be closed to vehicles.
"We'll have more of a festival atmosphere," Gilmore says. "For some people, it will feel like summer has arrived early."
Chef changes Patrick Morrow has left Bluegrass to take over the kitchen at Tapas Adela and Meli for Kali's Restaurant Group. He will also serve as chef for the group's forthcoming Admiral's Cup project.
Morrow succeeds Rashad Edwards, who will return to the group's flagship restaurant, Kali's Court, where he started.
Meanwhile, back at Bluegrass, stepping up from chef de cuisine into Morrow's executive shoes is Ray Kumm, who formerly worked at Alizee under Christian deLutis.
All of the parties involved have publicly expressed contentment about the turn of events.
New in Fells Point Sharp-eyed Table Talk scouts in Fells Point phoned in about the closing of Talay Thai and the almost immediate opening of an Indian restaurant named Darbar in its place.
Darbar's owner, Vinay Wahi, a partner at Akbar, was surprised I had heard about the opening.
Darbar opened March 21, Wahi confirmed, and a grand opening will be held in several weeks, after the customary kinks are worked out. A lunch buffet began Monday.
Darbar is at 1911 Aliceanna St., and the phone number is 410-563-8008.