Fresh from D’Vine
D’Vine Inspiration: How a new Salinas Valley greengrocer will make you feel like a kid in a (healthy) candy store.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
San Marzano tomatoes are oblong, tubular, and considered to be one of the world’s best tomatoes for sauce because of their sweetness and low acidity. Before visiting Fresh from D’Vine, a new produce market in the heart of Steinbeck country, I never knowingly encountered fresh San Marzanos. But then again, I had never before encountered a lot of the things for sale at D’Vine.
The nascent greengrocer in the Salinas Valley sells all the usual suspects, but it’s the healthy array of hard-to-find – and for some of us, never-before-seen – produce that won me. In addition to San Marzanos ($1.50/pound), a bouquet of other tomato varieties and seasonal specialities are sold, enough to constitute an edible rainbow of fruits and veggies. Between some of the most opulent heirloom tomatoes I’ve ever seen ($3.50/pound) and the Fuji, gala and jonagold apples (organic $1.99/pound) piled in the bins, I’m pretty sure every shade of red on earth can be seen all at once at D’Vine.
Another first: the mountain of purple bell peppers on a table in the entryway, which lent the D’Vine experience a certain Charlie and the Chocolate Factory quality, flavored evermore as the shopgirl says I’m free to sample anything I see. (If only she offered Everlasting Gobstoppers instead of candy-sweet slices of oven-dried tomatoes.)
Wooden tables running the length of the store contain a whole galaxy of fun fruits like emerald pluots ($1.99/pound), honeydew nectarines ($1.69/pound), Asian pears ($1.99/pound), all sorts of berries and apples and plums and plenty of cantaloupe and watermelon.
The produce-selling arm of Fresh from D’Vine has been open since Aug. 15, but as a short-haul trucking company, Fresh from D’Vine has been in business since 2005. Owner Frank Devine procures the goods, while his wife Jenni attends to details like payroll and accounting. Frank is still getting the hang of supply management and says if the supply gets wiped out one day, it might be the next afternoon before he can restock. He’s also aware he has big competition in the neighborhood, but hopes to compete on price and selection.
“I’m a mile away from three traditional supermarkets,” he says. “To be competitive I have to have at least the same variety as them, if not more.”
On my first visit I remembered there was cilantro in the fridge at home, and the piles of fresh tomatoes and overflowing crates of various chilies at D’Vine put salsa on my mind. I took home some San Marzanos, along with chilies, spring onions and other goodies. The San Marzanos’ sweetness allowed me to spike the salsa with jalapeño, serrano and Fresno chilies without turning it into fiery death sauce. (See recipe.)
There is very much a come-get-it-while-it’s-fresh-off-the-vine mentality at D’Vine; a look at their Facebook page yields examples of what’s fresh and flying off the shelves today. I returned a week later to find the entryway display of purple peppers replaced by a pile of red and green chilies, some pumpkins, an assortment of squash and some melons, all of which were available en masse inside. The refrigerated corner still offered its own rarities, including fresh cranberry beans ($3/pound), favas ($3/pound), Japanese eggplant ($1.99/pound), fresh lychee ($5/pound), Persian cucumbers ($1.99/pound), Siberian kale ($2/bunch), as well as purple and gold cauliflowers ($3/head), though by the time you read this, those too might be long gone. (As of press time, the freshest offerings at D’Vine were pomegranates, persimmons and white corn.) The few remaining purple bell peppers were lingering there, looking sad and withered. They were not discounted, but D’Vine does offer discounts on “yesterday’s strawberries” ($1 basket) and other overripe goodies; I snagged a pineapple for two dollars that, so long as I eat it immediately, will be a hell of a deal.
Like the seasons, the offerings at D’Vine will always change. This time a wooden butcher’s block at one end of the store acted as the base for a display of Bartlett and cactus pears and some nice looking mangoes, and as summer ends the autumn harvest will begin in earnest, and D’Vine will really burst with all sorts of classic and exotic goodies. But one thing seems less fleeting: No matter when you visit, you’ll find something fresh you can’t wait to eat.
FRESH FROM D’VINE 115 Monterey-Salinas Highway (next to McShane’s Nursery), Salinas. • 9am-6:30pm Mon-Fri; 9am-5pm Sat and Sun. •240-1525, www.facebook.com/FreshFromDVine