Road Trip: West Side Market
Cleveland’s West Side Market, on the corner of West 25th and Lorain Avenue, is one of the few public markets that remained open during the dark days when grocery store giants roamed the land, crushing everything in their…ahem, sorry, got carried away there.
The West Side Market opened in 1912, and celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. My own history with the market goes back to high school…when I ignored it every day as I trudged by.
But I’m not here to talk about history. I’m here to talk about food. And, oh, my, this is a food paradise. The market is made up of more than 100 small businesses. There are butchers and bakers, produce vendors, cheese sellers, and seafood markets, all in the same building. If I lived any closer, I’d be visiting every week, but the market is just a little too far away for regular shopping. I make a trip up every few months, to visit and stock up on things I can’t find locally.
The market had a fire a few months back, but they’re open again, and good as new. Reading about the market after the fire showed me how little I knew, so I signed up for a New Shopper Tour, held on the last Saturday of every month. Armed with a fistful of Market Bonds, I made the trip up to Ohio City.
Special thanks to Amanda, our informative and friendly tour guide. And, a word to the wise – don’t take the tour on the Saturday before Easter. I’ve never seen the market this crowded. It was tough to move. Other than that, the tour is highly recommended.
Not from Cleveland? Too far away to visit the West Side Market? Look in your own back yard. I’ll bet you can find Ethnic Markets and local butchers of your own.
I’m a devoted carnivore. My first stop at the market is always a butcher. Which one? It depends. Lamb from Turczyky’s, beef from Fosters. Ohio chicken from DW Whitaker, duck from Kaufmann Poultry. Fresh brats from Frank’s Bratwurst, and sausages, everywhere you look, sausages. I can always find the odd cuts I love, like lamb shoulder, beef shanks and duck legs. On the larger side, my brother buys entire hogs for his pig roasts from the market.
Matt, when you read this, let me know which vendor you use? Thanks.
Cleveland represents America’s melting pot. It started with migration from Eastern Europe – Polish, Slovak, Slovene – and has been continuing ever since. All this cultural history is on display at the West Side Market. From Hungarian to halal, sauerkraut to tamales, pierogies to falafels, cannoli to strudel. If there’s an ethnic food you want to try, keep looking. There’s a vendor that specializes in the next aisle.
The market consists of a main building, with a produce arcade wrapping around the north and east sides of the building. The produce arcade is lined with dozens of stands, one after the other, with an amazing array of fruit and vegetables. Amanda said they may all look alike, with beautiful piles of produce, but pay attention and you’ll start to see what the different vendors specialize in.
What else should you check out?
- Stuffed olives from Rita’s
- Smoked salts from Urban Herbs
- Dried fruit at Mena’s (pictured above)
- Fresh ravioli from Ohio City Pasta
- Dichotomy corn from Campbell’s Popcorn Shop
- And, really, anything else that catches your eye…
I’m just scratching the surface – every time I visit the market, I overspend my food budget, and then notice yet another stand that I must check out the next time.
If you live in Northeastern Ohio, you have to visit the West Side Market. It’s a jewel – our culinary history and the future of food, all rolled into one.
If you want a guided tour, the New Shopper Tour is held on the last Saturday of every month. Sign up here: New Shopper Tour
If you want a more in-depth tour, and you live in the Akron area, check out my friend Tami’s market tour schedule: Dine In Diva: West Side Market Tours
You don’t have to have a tour, though – just show up, wander around, and bask in the incredible variety of foods.
What do you think?
Ever visit the West Side Market? Who are your must-see vendors? Do you have a local market that’s must-see? Tell us about it in the comments.
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