Cleveland’s West Side Market–city treasure, Bon Vivant treasure trove

3 Oct

On the Lorain Avenue side, look up!

Next year Cleveland’s West Side Market will be 100 years old, though its roots on the spot go back even further. When I lived in Cleveland Heights, I got there a few times a year. Now I’m not that far away, and a run to Dave’s Market is often accompanied by a West Side Market trip. Go prepared–have some of those ecofriendly bags, since the Market’s plastic bags often break–or dig into your hand. If you are either a bon vivant with your food OR thrifty, get thee hence! The market is open four days a week: Mon and Wed from 7-4 (but try and arrive by 2), and Fri and Sat from 7-6. Some vendors don’t come on Mon and Wed–there’s lighter traffic. Saturday is to be avoided at all costs, unless late in the afternoon–way too crowded, with many people unaccustomed to maneuvering baby carriages, cell phone conversations and thoughtful pauses within a structure of courtesy–i.e., outside of junctions and main market thoroughfares. If you’re being thrifty, I advise going in the late afternoon–vendors want to unload things, and will beg you to buy things with enticingly dropped prices. If you want everything you want, I advise Friday at 11, with a stop for some food to round off your day.

How to get there? If you drive, park in the free lots behind the market, entering by turning east from W. 25th St. onto Bridge. Don’t park in the little strip shopping center across from the market on Lorain–they tow. You can take the Red Line Rapid, since there’s a handy stop across the street, or, like we public transit mavens, take the bus (#22 and #20, among others) and get on and off across the street at W. 25th.

Inside the main market building

I’ve been going to the market, whether periodically or regularly, for 21 years, but just noticed the charming reliefs on the Lorain side earlier this month. As I snapped some photos today, I was pleased to see at least two couples were looking up and commenting: “Oh, they must have sold turtles here at one time!” “Look at that duck!” I’m putting more of the photos on our Facebook page, if you want a look at the album.

The market’s organization keeps the fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers outside in an L-shaped, heated enclosure. Everything else–meat, spices, bread and baked goods, cheese, fish, etc. is inside the main building, which also has a Mediterranean grocery (every variety of olive known to man, some African staples, some European dry goods that are hard to find, certain cheeses). The wonders of the Market’s over 100 vendors are many, with many ethnic offerings of specific cheeses, smoked meats, and a plethora of ethnic breads and sweets. I’m going to mention a few oddities that are hard to find elsewhere or are too delicious not to note: on the inside–bison and goat meat, fabulous pita and hot pepper hummus, red candy apples (the only ones I’ve seen in Cleveland itself), buffalo flavored turkey lunchmeat, fabulous sculptural breads, gorgeous baked goods I don’t eat but they belong in a Food Museum, Amish-raised chicken, crepes, the best fresh pasta with a great variety of flavors, from lemon pepper to jalapeno; outside–the only dried peaches (and every other dried fruit) I’ve seen in three states lately, good prices on the less common–star fruit, champagne grapes, inexpensive fresh herbs, habaneros for peanuts, a zillion lettuce types.

$2 strawberries, waiting for my Rice Chex

If you come late in the day, you can make out like a bandit at the bakeries and fruit and veg, in particular. Today I got the last four “cut up fruit in a container” containers–the regular price is 3/$5 or $2 each, and the standards are pineapple, honeydew, watermelon, canteloupe. I saw a comparable cut up pineapple one day at Heinen’s–same size, one container for $5. And they’re fresh. This afternoon, they pushed 4 containers on me for $2. Once I got a whole flat of strawberries in season for $5. Today I got one for $2, almost a dollar less than their current grocery store price. The best? My veg man (south side, not too far in from the W. 25th entrance). He knows I eat a lot of Roma tomatoes, and gave me a late in the day price–$5 for an unbelievable 8 lbs.

Mind, you have to watch your fruit and veg–there may be an occasional bad one or they may not keep as long. But if you return to the same vendors and banter, you’ll reap the benefits. And almost everyone will urge you to try a new fruit, or test how the flavor is at any given point. The cacophony of languages (vendors and buyers), the variations in the customers (dress, class, origins), the casual conversations and recommendations of other shoppers–unforgettable.

West Side Market Cafe! A treat--and a useful restroom

Feeling peckish at the Market? There are many inside stands that have ready to eat goods, from the crepe place to the pizza bagels, but if you want to relax and really enjoy, go to the Cafe. You can enter from within the Market, on its south side, or come in through the Lorain Ave. entrance. It’s nothing fancy, but the food is delicious, the service friendly, and it’s a bargain for the quality. There’s a bar if you’re thirsty. My visitors are very attached to the Cafe’s generous portions of walleye and pulled pork sandwiches. They’re open on non-Market days through the Lorain entrance, but in the evenings it’s just wings, french fries and drinks. The food is afternoon fare, at least for now.

The whole Ohio City neighborhood is getting involved in the fresh food movement, and more and more events will be turning up once January starts the anniversary year. If you haven’t been for a while, remember you can eat like a bon vivant and still be thrifty. If you’ve never been, wait no longer! Your friends will need an experienced guide once they keep reading about it in the paper.

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