Maybe you’ve seen it featured on the Food Network, who have proclaimed it the Best Food Lovers Market. Just about anybody who is anybody makes a stop there when they visit Cleveland. Of course local chefs, including Michael Symon, love the place. I’ve been to the Market a couple of times since I moved to Cleveland and found it to be a big and sort of confusing place to shop. When Dana saw that the Cuyahoga County Farm Bureau was giving tours we jumped at the chance to tour the market with an expert.
Our tour was led by Marilou Suszko, food writer, author, cooking teacher and food editor for the Farm Bureau member publication, Our Ohio. On a rainy, chilly March morning, 40 of us met in the cozy Cafe of the Market. As we sipped our coffee and tea, Marilou gave us a brief history of the market and an overview of the vendor stalls. To guide us on our tour, we were divided into 3 groups and given a map and list of vendors to visit, sort of in the style of a scavenger hunt. Each group would visit the same vendors, just in a different order, so 40 people wouldn’t be crowding around at time. At each of the featured vendors, we would be given either a food sample or recipe for that vendor’s product. Marilou told us she would be circling the Market to make sure no one got lost and that we were getting along OK. We were each given a very nice canvas shopping bag to hold our samples and recipes and any items we chose to purchase. We had one hour to complete our circuit.
What fun we had! We sampled olive oil, olives, cheeses, sausages, popcorn, and bread. We were given samples to take home of fresh pasta, nuts and a spice grinder of mixed peppercorns. After our tour we met Marilou on the balcony for a beautiful view overlooking the inside market and a mini-cupcake snack. We learned 2 myths about the market – one, it was never a train station, it was built to be a market and two, there is no slaughter house in the basement. I did not think it was a train station but I did think at one time they slaughterd animals there. What is in the basement are large coolers shared by the vendors where meat is butchered, i.e., the hole hog or cow divided into cuts. And the bathrooms. There are also no elevators so be prepared to hike up and down the stairs to the “loo”.
The building is an architectural treasure and is on the National Record of Historic Places. All the interior walls, ceiling and floors are original. The last major renovation was to enclose the outer arcade where the produce vendors are.
We had a fantastic lunch in the cafe, Dana had a fried walleye sandwich and I had pulled pork that had lots of nicely blackened bits, the best part! You can also lunch and stroll, as many vendors offer hot foods, smoothies and coffee.
So, what did we buy on our shopping spree? French feta cheese, smoother and less tangy than Greek feta. Rosemary pasta. Gyro meat and tzatziki sauce. Garam masala and sun dried tomatoes. Pork chops and a whole chicken for roasting. Loaves of freshly baked bread – sourdough, rosemary and rustic Italian. Crepes made with strawberries and chocolate. Is your mouth watering yet? We were limited by our freezer space and how fast we thought we could consume. The only produce we purchased was kale, from which Dana made a delicious Tuscan Kale Soup using ground chorizo he purchased on his last trip to the market. So many things we left behind. We were so tired by the time we got to the produce stands that we bypassed them but next time… I anticipate bags full of bananas, oranges, mushrooms and lettuces.
If you get to Cleveland, definitely put the West Side Market and the historic and eclectic Ohio City area on your tour. Parking is free at the Market, a rarity in Cleveland, the neighborhood is safe and the surrounding area houses many restaurants and boutiques, including the Great Lakes Brewery and Restaurant. Bring your cooler or just eat for the day. Either way, you win! Thank you to the Cuyahoga County Farm Bureau for sponsoring this tour. This tour sold out and was so successful that I bet they will be offering it again in the future.
Below is a link to the official site where you can read more about it and get directions. Downtown Cleveland streets can be confusing, as with many large cities, and I highly recommend a good map or better yet GPS to guide you there.West Side Market
1979 West 25th Street
Cleveland, Ohio 44113 PH: 216 / 664-3387