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September 12, 2006

West Side Market

Dominic Armato
Time to get this train back on the tracks.

The upside to having a crazy month with little time for blogging is that it leaves a nice backlog of subjects to cover. I'm mostly excited about the dual posts I'm working up for Charlie Trotter's (one on a tasty dinner, the other on the night I spent on the line as a "guest chef"), but for today I turn my attention to the land of Cleve, from whence my ladylove hails.

We spent Labor Day weekend with her family as we usually do: sleeping late, sitting on the sofa and playing video games. Our trips to Cleveland are generally seen as opportunities to hang out, do nothing in particular and spend some time with the folks. As such, much to my chagrin, I haven't even begun to explore what tastiness the city has to offer. But on this particular trip, I insisted on leaving the house just once to check out the West Side Market. Though I adore my city, dotted with a number of rather nice temporary markets as it is, it's both puzzling and a true shame that we don't have anything like this.

Dominic Armato
The West Side Market has been around for a spectacularly long time, dating back to 1840, though the current landmark building has only been around since 1912... a piddling 96 years. Though the main building with its huge clock tower is the most obvious part of the complex, it's actually half the story. The main building houses enough stalls for roughly 100 vendors, but there's also a long produce arcade that flanks it on two sides.

It was a rainy Saturday on a holiday weekend when we stopped by, so the place was predictably packed. And by packed, I mean packed. The photo on the left belies the crowd's true size. We started off in the produce arcade, which was more impressive in terms of scope than quality, but was rather nice nonetheless. There were piles and piles of beautiful fruits and vegetables, but I thought they left a little to be desired by farmers' market standards. There were some finds, to be sure, but many of the stalls seemed to be stocked with fresh but unexciting high-end grocery store fare rather than items that had been pulled from local fields that morning. Among the exceptional, however, were some monstrous, succulent heirloom tomatoes that made the transition to a chilled tomato and bread soup rather nicely.

Dominic Armato
The main building is absolutely stunning. It has the look of a converted train station with vaulted brick ceilings and tall frosted glass windows on either end. And it's huge. If Cleveland Browns Stadium collapses, I'm fairly certain they could clear out the stalls, roll out some astroturf and barely miss a beat. But while the building is a sight to behold, the real beauty of the place is in the bustle and the energy. The West Side Market isn't a grocery store in stall format. It feels like a market, successfully maintaining a style of food shopping that has sadly fallen by the wayside. Though there are a few stalls that sell prepared foods, the market mostly contains meat and seafood purveyors, bakeries, dairy stalls and other basics. Pork was plentiful, and looked quite nice. I was underwhelmed by most of the beef we saw, though we managed to locate a few decently-marbled porterhouses at Larry Vistein's which grilled up nicely. The lamb at Hartman's, on the other hand, looked absolutely stunning, thereby cementing my cooking plans for the next trip. A surprisingly large number of stalls were selling all manner of smoked meats, which makes me wonder if this is a regional specialty. Seafood was passable, but unexciting.

Dominic Armato
Unfortunately, I didn't get a good look at the cheese stalls, but Vera's struck me as one of the better-looking bakeries. And the selections went beyond the basics as well. There was a penny candy stall, one selling fresh popcorn, another with all manner of freshly-ground spices, cakes and other baked sweets, pickled vegetables, hordes of pierogies and a fresh pasta establishment that particularly piqued my interest. The Ohio City Pasta stall was well-stocked with beautiful piles of all manner of fresh pastas, including assorted ravioli and gnocchi, many (if not most) of them flavored in some manner. While I tend to be a pasta purist who's suspicious of all but the most simple and traditional flavored pastas, their product looked so nice that I'll give them the benefit of the doubt until I have a chance to sample on a future trip. In the interim, I'd love to hear if anybody has had any experience with these guys. I generally make my own fresh pasta, but if these guys are good, there's something to be said for just picking up a tangle or two and throwing together a quick sauce.

Dominic Armato
As mentioned, unlike many other permanent "farmers' markets", the West Side Market focuses on purveyors of raw goods rather than eating establishments, but there certainly are a few of the latter. There was a Middle Eastern sandwich stand that I understand is quite excellent, though I didn't have a chance to sample, myself. Johnny Hot Dog sells exactly what you'd expect, as does Steve's Gyro, and tucked away in a corner is Kim Se, which sells assorted Southeast Asian dishes. On this particular day, however, it was Frank's Bratwurst that got its hooks into me, much to my benefit. It was just a lightly seasoned, juicy sausage on a fresh hard roll with a simple sauerkraut and spicy mustard, but it absolutely hit the spot and seemed more than appropriate to the surroundings. Apparently I wasn't the only one who thought so. As I walked the market with my bounty, I was stopped by no fewer than three other marketgoers who wanted to know the source. With my face full, I was reduced to a simple grunt and point, but I think the message got through.


The West Side Market is AMAZING. My mother used to live in Cleveland and I miss it so much. If you ever get to Cincinnati, you have to check out Jungle Jim's! (www.junglejims.com/index.cfm) It's this gigantic, crazy store.

ALSO! The pasta from Ohio City Pasta is very good! We didn't get any flavored ones, but every year for Christmas Eve my mom would make "something" carbonara (any pasta that looked good pretty much) and the pasta was always very tender and delicious. My favorite was the pappardelle.

AND! The Middle Eastern place was voted something ilke best falafel in the midwest? It was certainly the best falafel sandwich I've ever had, and I'm a Pita Inn junkie!

Boy, did this post make me homesick. I lived in Peru for 15 months studying the behavior of the people in open-air markets. Lovely fun, and the side benefits were glorious-- fresh produce, fresh air, and exposure to the liveliness of the community-- and, not least, the satisfaction of being not only allowed but obligated to spend time frolicking in the beating heart of the city.

Your pictures are gorgeous. The markets that I frequented most often had the goods tumbled down onto tarps and presented in huge bags of plastic burlap (what IS that stuff?)... but this looks a lot like the swanky upscale markets I'd visit on holidays to nearby metropoli.

Ooooo... Peruvian.

I actually took a whirlwind trip to Peru (60 hours, three cities, 12 flights) for some charity work we were doing about 4-5 years ago. It's a shame that the trip was such a blur, but I remember the food being fantastic. I was surprised by how distinctive it was. Are you in Chicago, Linda? If so, where do you go for Peruvian? Rinconcito d'Sudamericano isn't too far from me, and I've been meaning to get there forever.

I had to comment on your entry. I live in Northeastern Ohio and frequent The Market as often as possible. Ohio City pasta is absolutely amazing. My husband and I usually get the Crawfish Ravioli and make that with a roasted red pepper cream reduction. I highly recommend you pick something up from there the next time you are in Ohio. Make sure to stop by Great Lakes Brewery across the street for lunch.

I am in Chicago, yes. I've eaten at Rinconcito a couple times, and the food is quite good (although I have to admit that I was a vegetarian the last time I went, and didn't taste any of their better offerings). It's so pricey, though! I remember it as being a surprisingly formal restaurant for one featuring chairs one remove from the chintzy metal folding type, with huge, share-able portions and delicious rice dishes.

I found Peruvian food incredibly salty, immense in portion, and sometimes quizzically composed of mixed starches (i.e. fried plantains and/or steamed potatoes along with a mountain of rice). There's a high premium on showcasing the natural flavors of the food, and it's lively with mild red onion, fresh herbs, garlic, and the juice of wonderful, spicy, juicy little limes. The paucity of dried spices, frozen and tinned ingredients, and aged cheese threatened to drive me over the edge, but I liked it immediately and loved it eventually. There's a delightful Peruvian-Chinese culinary tradition (reinvented by imported, male Chinese workers, as in the USA), and a lot of Italian influence in upper-class cooking. Everything in Peruvian cuisine is organized by region and by socioeconomic status.

In Peru, we lived on the north coast, and abandoned our vegetarianism for good manners. If someone raises, slaughters, and prepares me an animal, you'd better believe I'll eat it! I got very fond of rabbit, guinea pig (special occasion food, but so good!), a wide variety of creepy-crawly looking seafood, and goat.

Living there was a delight, because that area is absolutely famous for wonderful food and large portions-- one of the nearest metropoli to where we lived was Chiclayo, and it's idiomatic throughout Peru to feast "como un chiclayano."

In Chicago, I can recommend the (plain and junk-foody, but absolutely marvelous) Pollo a la Brasa at Mr. Pollo. Unfortunately it doesn't feature Peruvian chile cream sauce as a side, as it would in Peru, but it has the characteristic taste-- minus the savor of scorched carob wood, used for any Peruvian barbecue.

I should revisit Rinconcito now that I am more flexible in my diet. I want to try Ay Ay Picante and Taste of Peru, too. I don't know why I haven't made more pilgrimages to try Chicago's Peruvian options, to tell you the truth-- I simply make something Peruvian if I want it, for the most part.

Your blog has been a treat for us since we discovered it, and has induced us to try a variety of wonderful restaurants since our return. Keep up the great work!

I love the Westside market and was glad to read you write up of it. I agree completely about the produce however and I am glad that we have a growing farmers market scene in Cleveland where we can get the fresh local produce that the Westside market doesn't really cater to. If your ever back and want to get up on a Saturday morning go check out the North Union Farmers Market at Shaker Square (on the near eastside) they have other locations and days around town, but the Saturday market (especially in the good growing seasons) is huge - all outside, in tents and booths - but with almost anything imaginable and all LOCAL.

Right across the street from the West Side Market is this awesome Belgian bar called the Bier Markt. I stopped in and really enjoyed the place and was impressed with the service and selection. They have something like 99 different beers from Belgium, and wine and liquor. There was an art opening at the bar the night I stopped in. Cool art, great beer, ridiculously cool interior. They say they're opening a restaurant soon....can't wait.

i hope Nicole was able to make it to Ay Ay Picante. For anyone who wants to try you can get a free Dessert with the Google Coupon...


Love it at the West Side Market and have been a patron since I was a little girl... 2 words: Pierogi Palace!!!! Very tasty and they are made the size of your fist. They can't be beat. Not to mention the photography worthy fresh produce!

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