When we think about eating local, it’s easy to imagine a CSA pick-up site, its banged-up card tables piled with enough pattypan squash to feed a small army. But at the newly opened Local Roots Market and Café in Carroll Gardens, farm-fresh fare gets the star treatment and locally grown food is displayed as finery.
In this bright and airy space, a carefully curated selection of leafy greens, berries, and sweets are laid out on a wide, white, curvaceous coffee bar, like an artist’s palette of colorful cooking inspiration. Here, the work of improving food systems doesn’t feel like a burden—it’s feels like a celebration.
Local Roots market goods come straight from local farms and purveyors, and the café gives fresh meat and produce a home-style Chinese spin. Hard-boiled eggs are brined in star anise, black tea, and soy sauce. Vegetables are pickled and rolled into sticky rice with scallions, cilantro, fried egg, and light, fluffy rousong to make fan tuan, a snack that’s new to Carroll Gardens but familiar to anyone who grew up on Taiwanese fare. (I first came across these breakfast rice rolls at Win Son Bakery a few years back and was so happy to find them here.)
A decade before its brick-and-mortar location opened, Local Roots started out as a farm-to-table food subscription service that turns all the goodness of Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) into a more user-friendly experience. Founder Wen-Jay Ying got her start at a food justice non-profit before she started her business, which supports home cooks, as well as farmers. “The Harvest Club is a fun, convenient, and approachable way to access high quality, local food,” Ying explains. “We operate all year round, which means instead of your CSA share ending in November, you can support local farms even in the winter months—we set up an exclusive greenhouse with one of our farmers upstate.”
Plus, its pick-up sites are bars and cafés, which makes food shopping more fun—and Local Roots Market and Café has joined the ranks of those pick-up sites, welcoming Harvest Club members on Thursdays from 4 to 6pm.
While Local Roots’ CSA bundles offer the meat and veggies meal-starters, the café provides some sweeter and more decadent options. “I love, love, love our house-made sesame miso chocolate chip cookies because they melt in your mouth,” Ying enthuses, adding that the Local Roots Sea Salt Chocolate Bar made by Fine & Raw is another must-try. “It’s incredible because it uses coconut milk, meaning it’s a super creamy chocolate bar.”
As for savory dishes, Ying adds, “Depending on the day, my favorite main dish changes, but I would say zha jiang continues to be my overall favorite. It’s near impossible to find this dish in America as it’s more commonly a Taiwanese dish and home-style cooking. It was one of my favorite dishes my mom would make for me.”
Then there’s Local Roots’ take on zha jiang, a rich combination of ground pork, diced mushrooms, and sweet bean paste with scallions and sesame seeds. It can be served sloppy-joe style on a potato bun, over sticky rice, or on a salad of seasonal greens and vegetables, doused with hot garlic-sesame oil.
If you’re not in a hurry, it’s worth taking your food outside to enjoy it in the café’s sunny backyard where coral-colored chairs, round cafe tables, and breezy parlor palms nestle into peachy-pink gravel. A stylish golden arch rises from streamlined planters. The bricked backsides of tall brownstones and the neighbors’ leafy backyards rise behind the white fencing that encircles the cozy space. It’s as idyllic (and as Instagram-able) as a Brooklyn backyard could be.
Whether you’re grabbing a coffee, a fan tuan, or a Harvest Club pick-up, there’s always something on the produce counter to catch your eye. On our last visit, jewel-toned rainbow carrots sat alongside plump yellow squash and emerald-green shishito peppers. A pretty ceramic bowl of discounted day-old bread and pastries ensures that little goes to waste here. Any bread that doesn’t get sold may find its way into the house-made Zero-Waste Bread Pudding.
Local Roots checks a lot of boxes when it comes to sustainable living and supporting things that matter. But even if this market and café were not a place where you could help improve our local food system, celebrate Asian-inspired food, cheer on a minority-owned, woman-owned business, bolster local farms and food producers, and eat sustainably, it’s the kind of place you’d want to return for simpler reasons: The space is beautiful, the food is delicious, and the vibe is friendly and fun.
Local Roots Market and Café is located at 398 Court St., Carroll Gardens; (718) 210-5593. Hours: Wednesday through Monday (8am-7pm).