Fresher market 

Graham’s is the place to go for budget-priced fruits, veggies and more.

When it comes to shopping for ingredients, produce always runs up the bill faster than anything else. That’s why, when I lived in the Largo area, Jam’s Produce was my go-to market. With a five-pound bag of red-skinned potatoes going for less than $3 and Vidalia onions selling for less than $2 for a three-pound bag, the prices were hard to beat.

But after I moved to St. Petersburg, I needed a new produce haunt. I found it on my way home from work one day: Graham’s Produce Market.

An indoor-outdoor building on 54th Avenue North near 66th Street, its hand-painted wooden sign promises ripe Georgia peaches and smoked mullet. Smoke plumes from the attached smokehouse, Casper’s Barbecue. The selection of produce is one of the most diverse I’ve seen, including specialty items like dragon fruit, guava, green tomatoes, and white coconuts. And the prices? Tomatoes have been notoriously expensive at grocery stores in recent months, but Graham’s has a variety, all for under $2 per pound. I scored two pounds of yellow and green tomatoes for $1.59 a pound.

The fruit selection is mouthwatering. They don’t just have peaches; they have white peaches, Georgia peaches, and South Carolina peaches. Different varieties of plums and pears, all fresh and reasonably priced. Tiny sweet bananas like the ones that used to grow wild in Florida backyards are available for about $2 per pound. Last time I checked, there were at least three kinds of watermelon available. I recently picked up two pounds of blueberries for just $5. Washington cherries were just 99 cents a pound, perfectly ripe and sweet.

Fresh herbs are one item I consistently see people overspending on. Two bucks for a couple sprigs of mint? Sorry, I don’t think so. I usually opt to buy the potted version for the same price, trim it down for my recipe and plant the leftovers. But at Graham’s, cilantro is put out fresh daily, two bunches for a dollar. Once it’s gone, it’s gone until tomorrow when another batch arrives. Graham’s doesn’t let it sit and wilt.

There’s also a wonderful selection of specialty sodas available for purchase in the refrigerated section. Sioux City’s prickly pear is a hot pink soda made with cane sugar, served in a clear glass bottle. It’s sour but delicious, and I love the color. There are also classic glass bottle soda offerings like RC Cola, Sprite, and Coca-Cola made in Mexico using cane sugar instead of corn syrup.

Outside, Casper’s Barbecue smokes fish and meat all day. A whole smoked chicken, cut in half and laid flat, is just $7. My better half fell head over heels for the smoked salmon (around $8 depending on weight), going so far as to call it his “new favorite candy.”

Mr. Doom and I now go to Graham’s on a regular basis for our weekly produce (and smoked meat) needs. On our most recent trip we filled the cart with four kinds of berries, plenty of leafy greens, fruits and veggies all for less than $40. Just in case smoked meats and cheap fresh produce weren’t reason enough to check out Graham’s, it also happens to be staffed with some of the most adorable (and helpful) 20something ladies at any produce market around.

Grocery shopping was never this much fun.

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