Every Saturday from May through October, Iowa City’s main brunch event is served outdoors on a closed-off block of Washington Street, where the smell of bacon wafts over lines of hungry, stroller-wielding market goers. Here at the Iowa City Farmers’ Market, one can feast upon a dinner plate-size blueberry pancake from Griddle Me This for only $6, or enjoy a burrito from Local Burrito, where $7 will get you a handmade tortilla stuffed to the max with potatoes, eggs, greens and cheese curds.
But I had heard a rumor. Some hens about town had given me the head’s up that the best brunch at the Market this year must be procured on the inside, at an inconspicuous little booth in the ramp inhabited by Salt Fork Farms.
Walking into Chauncey Swan Ramp on market day can be a royal clustercluck. It’s easy to get swept away in the current of single-minded asparagus hunters and handmade jewelry gatherers.
But I was convinced that today, navigating these tricky waters would be worth it.
After elbowing my way through the chaos, I finally washed up at the Salt Fork Farms booth. I jostled for a view of the menu, placed low on the front of their table, and debated several classic brunch offerings: omelettes, pancakes and the “Jethro,” which included pork sausage, biscuits and gravy.
But the dish that intrigued me most was the $8 Zanya, a unique item that included beef, rice, greens, yogurt and eggs. The friendly man running the booth recommended I add a $1 pancake to my order, and as I am defenseless against sweets, I readily complied.
One of my not-so-favorite things about brunching at the market is the lack of seating. While I hung around the back of the Salt Fork Farms booth waiting for my name to be called, I felt the awkwardness of a loiterer and wished for a place to hide. But soon my order was ready and I headed to Chauncey Swan Park, where the squeals of free-range children punctuated the innocuous ambiance of James Taylor cover tunes, and I was able to locate an open seat.
The Zanya was delicious beyond my expectations. Ground beef was seasoned with a light curry, and the perfectly fried rice included crisp asparagus and sweet onion. The mixed greens beneath the rice and beef were dressed with a tangy yogurt sauce, and the plate was topped with two fried eggs whose deep yellow yolks melted into a creamy, rich sauce.
I’m not sure what the influence would be for such a dish—it felt like Mediterranean and leftover Chinese and Mexican all at once—but it didn’t matter because it tasted so good, likely due to the fact that many of the ingredients came straight from Salt Fork’s Solon farm, so everything was super fresh.
The fluffy pancake was served with a choice of orange or maple syrup, so I went half and half. The orange syrup was too sweet for me, I preferred the classic maple half.
I plan to explore more Saturday brunch options at the market throughout the summer. I can’t wait to check out the Red Potato Hash at Swanson’s Catering, or stuff my maw with apple cider donuts from Barb’s Garden and Pastries. There really is something for every taste at the Market, and it’s definitely worth being slightly annoyed by your surroundings to enjoy some really fine brunch fare.