Union Market looks to lure Capitol Hill crowd

Fresh oysters, newly picked peaches and hot empanadas are just a few of the items luring Capitol Hill staffers and residents to an unexpected corner of the city.

In a land of wholesale operations and industrial buildings, Union Market is becoming a culinary destination in its efforts to revitalize the marketplace history of the area.

Its location, at 1309 5th St. NE — about 1.5 miles from Union Station — is a bit of hike for Capitol Hill residents, but the market offers an array of eating places, boutiques and fresh produce that rivals Eastern Market.

“We’re bringing life back into it,” said Richie Brandenburg, director of culinary strategy for EDENS, the retail real estate development company that owns the market. “We want to stay true to history but make it better, bring it up to times.”

Beginning in 1931, vendors used to sell meat, fish, produce and dairy at Union Terminal Market at 4th Street and Florida Avenue.

Although the market has persisted, the industrial area has become largely run-down and taken over by wholesale operations — until now, when Union Market opened last November.

The white, warehouse-shaped building is now a mecca for D.C.’s locally sourced, responsibly grown food movement.

Union Market offers a diverse range of items: from food to boutiques. Products include cupcakes, cheese, olive oil and wine just to name a few.  

“It’s a lot of energy right now,” said Eric Rohleder, founder and president of Cordial Fine Wine & Beer, which opened in the market in February.

Each artisan was selected by Brandenburg, former executive chef of Café Atlántico, who used his culinary experience to seek out vendors who share his attention to detail and passion for locally sourced food.

“It’s about not accepting the mediocre and pushing for the best,” Brandenburg said of the vendors he selects. 

It’s the difference between eating a tomato that has been loved and taken care of all its life and one that’s been stored in a cooler, he noted.  

“It’s got an aroma that you can’t mistake.”  

From gourmet empanadas to Korean BBQ served on warm corn tortillas, the food vendors have crafted a variety of dishes. And there’s plenty of room to eat it right there in one of the public seating areas scattered around the room.

For those seeking fresh local produce, Almaala Farms offers Swiss chard, tomatoes, peaches, squash and more harvested from Abedalelah Almaala’s Eastern Shore farm in Maryland, which he runs with his wife and son. The stand also features fresh eggs from the more than 400 cage-free chickens the family owns.

Sit-down restaurants include Rappahannock Oyster Bar, which serves oysters from the Chesapeake Bay region, along with other seafood dishes. The Rappahannock Oyster Co. has been owned by the same family for more than 100 years and now provides oysters to hundreds of restaurants.

Travis Croxton said he and co-owner Ryan Croxton decided to join Union Market because they wanted to be part of the change.  

“It’s easy to open up places that have people all over the place and are popular, but it’s more fun to be building something,” Croxton said. “Capitol Hill’s a great neighborhood. There’s really no neighborhood right near here. We’re trying to bridge that gap — give them something to come to.”

And they’re already coming, according to Sami Almala, who co-owns DC Mediterranean Corner in the market with his family.

“Every single day, I get one customer or two coming from the Capitol, and they say, ‘We’ve never known about this. We’ve never heard about this market … I’m so glad that we came,’” Almala said. “It’s really very exciting for them because it’s slightly different from the Eastern Market.”  

The walk from Capitol Hill to the market is about 30 minutes. It is also a 15-minute walk from NoMa Gallaudet (New York Ave.) Metro Station. There is free parking available in front of the market or on the street.

If you are walking from the Capitol, Brandenburg suggests taking Fifth or Sixth streets. “It’s a fantastic stroll on a beautiful summer day,” he said.

Next door to the market, Dolcezza Gelato is opening a 4,000-square-foot gelato factory with a tasting room and coffee lab in a warehouse facility that previously housed a wholesale flower market.  

At the factory, visitors will be able to eat gelato that is being made at the moment, said co-owner Robb Duncan.  

“People have no idea what it’s like to eat fresh gelato from the machine,” Duncan said. “The first taste is like manna from heaven.” 

Duncan says the business is planning to open the factory by Nov. 1. Dolcezza currently sells its gelato inside Union Market. Summer flavors include Blackberries & Cream and Chocolate-Mint Stracciatella. All the ingredients are grown by local farmers.

EDENS’s plans for the neighborhood transcend the factory and market. Surrounding residential and commercial development is in the works.

“We’re trying to create an area. It’s more than just a market,” Brandenburg said. “It’s something to be proud of in our city.”

Union Market

1309 5th St NE

Metro stop: NoMa Gallaudet (New York Ave.) Station

Hours: Wed-Fri: 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

Sat-Sun: 8 a.m.-8 p.m.

Visit unionmarketdc.com for the hours of the individual artisans.

Farmer’s market on Sundays from 10-2 p.m. until Oct. 27