HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — Mercato Market, a sprawling market starting on weekends this summer at the Atlantic City Race Course in the Mays Landing section, kicks off next Saturday with food, music and reality television.
Eddie Berner, a chef and one-time guitarist for the ’80s band Flock of Seagulls, will be at the Mercato Market for Saturday’s grand opening with Food Network extreme chef Terry French, according to market organizer Dirk DaCosta.
The dueling chefs will take part in demonstrations, DaCosta said, signing autographs and filming part of the show, “Rockin Road Grill.” Berner is the host of the Food Network program, which its Twitter feed describes as a “reality series that takes him across America in his pimped-out RV sharing cooking adventures.”
And that’s just the first week.
DaCosta and co-organizer Dina Guzzardo have an entire summer of free events planned for the Mercato Market at the track. These include an Italian festival, a Mardi Gras celebration and a battle of the bands.
The market will offer food trucks, a beer garden and several hundred vendors offering custom jewelry, antiques, crafts and an array of other goods, according to its website, mercatomarket.com. People wishing to sell at the market have to sign up through the website. Spaces start at $25.
The weekly event, named for the Italian word for a marketplace, would bring an array of vendors and different entertainment to the region.
One vendor even hand-rolls cigars, offering custom smokes right on-site, DaCosta said. Another section will be a farmers market selling produce and flowers. In all, he said, the idea was to make it “a very interesting place for finding unique things.”
Guzzardo’s family had been involved in markets in Florida for years. On a trip to London several years ago, the two visited Camden Town, which hosts a wide variety of clothes, food and other goods, and is itself a major tourist attraction.
The Mercato Market comes to the region as township and race course officials have sought different uses for the massive track structure and grounds, which date to 1946 and takes up more than 250 acres near the Atlantic City Expressway and Black Horse Pike in Mays Landing.
DaCosta and Guzzardo have worked on this project for more than two years. They hit on the racetrack after in other local towns’ officials turned them down. DaCosta praised Hamilton Township officials as very helpful.
At the track Thursday, strong winds snapped the colorful pennants on top of the Atlantic City Race Course and stirred up clouds of dust from the vast parking lot. It was several hours before post time at the track, and gamblers walked to the track in groups of two and three.
The Mercato Market will take place close to the track, toward the Hamilton Mall side of the parking lot. The aging blacktop there has been partially replaced, and existing potholes have been identified for repair by circles of what appears to be black paint.
George Burroughs, 37, and Jason Sanders, 36, were packing up after a day that started with them working on the stage about 6 a.m. The Hamilton Township residents have dug holes and placed posts, and have mostly finished the wooden frame, and may be done soon.
Like DaCosta, Burroughs said the township has been accommodating. Burroughs said, “They’re trying to push it through a little faster than they would for somebody’s back deck.”
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