Where’s My Public Market

March 13, 2009 at 7:54 am

Rob Gardner

One Saturday a month, this Local Family volunteers at the Oak Park Food Pantry, so strike any markets that day.  And Sunday, a mix of schlepping, working and hammantashen partying kept me away.  Last weekend was a weekend without any new food.  This coming weekend, we have more commitments on Saturday, and it would be hard to make it to Elgin for Sunday’s market.  Thank God for the Friday special in Oak Park.  Would not a public market give me options?  Why cannot I just go shopping at Green Grocer?

Maybe it helps to define more this public market thing.  Reader writer Mike Sula pines for Cleveland’s West Side Market and all us foodies just assume we know what we mean, but who all has been to Cleveland?  Outstanding public market aside, does Cleveland evoke vacation urges.  Well for me, yes, Cleveland’s a destination.  To you?  Go just for the public market.

Cleveland actually has more than one public market, but I think most people, me included, think of the West Side Market.   This market is in the Ohio City area of Cleveland, about five or so minutes by car from downtown (but because of bridges and such a very long walk, so don’t think).   To describe the West Side Market is to describe Union Station; it is that kind of grand space, that kind of grand architecture.  The market site has some pictures, which barely do the place justice.  Non-foodies would still like it.  Foodies, well, sigh.  Hungry Mag also has some shots for both foodies and non.  While the market sells produce year-round, it is not a farmer’s market.  It’s more like a big grocery store.

What distinguishes a Public Market from a grocery story is the interaction with specialists.  At a grocery store, you interact with clerks.  At the market, you buy your meat from meat people, fish from fish people, and buttermilk–the market seems to be a bastion of buttermilk–from buttermilk people.  Service does not begin to describe what you can get.  Me, I was shown how to butcher an entire lamb one day.  Which gets me to another feature.  The butchers remain butchers.  The market is also a meat locker.  This was nose-to-tail eating before it was trendy.  You go to see your food.  You go to learn about your food before you buy.

Service matters.  Variety helps too.  The Cleveland market covers a range of foodstuffs, mostly from Hungary and parts around there, but there’s also Middle Eastern and Asian.  For instance, there’s a neat stand of Cambodian products.  Some of the product lines appear unchanged from the time the market opened–returning again to the vats of buttermilk–other items, like artisanal breads, are modern creations.  Your baskets will always be full.

There’s some good places to eat nearby the market, but it’s also fun to eat in the market.  There’s an excellent shwarma stand, but I like most the cafe.  What I like about the West Side Market Cafe is how it encapsulates the market.  It is historic and traditional but also fresh and well maintained. 

Beyond the offerings, what distinguishes the market is what’s been implied above.  The very market-ness of it.  The fact that the building stands, has stood, and will remain standing.  Open not every day, but several days a week.  Shopping is ready for you when you need to shop.   

I love everything Robin is doing with the winter markets, and I will shop them often.  They hardly lessen my cravings for Cleveland.