Cleveland Markets: Farmers MKT and West Side MKT

I have been visiting Cleveland and its suburbs since I was born. My mom’s side of the family lives there, and we spent every Thanksgiving there for years. I realized in the last two years, though, that I did not know anything about Cleveland aside from some outdoor shopping centers, the amazing and huge Cedar Point Amusement Park, and that’s pretty much it.

I went this past weekend, Labor Day weekend, for my cousin’s wedding, and my family and I stayed in a hotel right in the downtown area. This was my chance to explore! Usually we stay at my aunt and uncle’s house, a good hour’s drive from downtown. We watch TV, shmooz on the couch, eat breakfast at 1 PM, go to the movies, visit our grandma…all relaxing activities and good veg-out-with-family time. But we don’t explore.

One morning I woke up early and escaped from the hotel just as the city was waking up. I got myself a coffee at Phoenix Coffee shop downtown, and decided I’d walk toward the famous West Side Market in Ohio City, a huge indoor food market that reminds me of Pike’s Place Market in Seattle. West Side Market is 100 years old this year.

On my way to a market which I did not know exactly how I was going to find, I happened on a farmer’s market.

In some ways it was similar to New York and Martha’s Vineyard Markets.

The man selling these grapes told me he makes grape preserves–easier than jelly, he just puts grapes into a food processor, then cooks them down, seeds and all. Seeds get small enough in the processor that you don’t feel them anymore. He cooks them down with some honey, not even sugar. Sounds like it would be yummy with cheese!

Three varieties of cherry tomatoes. The far left is tiny, like the size of the top joint of my pinky finger. The farmer said he didn’t expect them to be so small. But they are perfect salad size, no cutting necessary!

In some ways, the market was totally different from those I’m used to in the East, and so Ohio! There was one woman selling gourmet popcorn. Another booth selling pizzas, cooked on location in a wood burning clay oven. A crepe stand. Not typical farmer’s market products at all. In New York we have whoopie pies and apple cider donuts and honey, but not popcorn or pizza or crepes! In fact, what about those products makes them local? Maybe not much-or maybe the popcorn was from local corn. The nutella for the crepes was certainly not local. But they were yummy and got people over there. And they made money for local residents. So I am all in favor! I got a taste of a sweet crepe with just cinnamon and sugar and it was so good, and the sugar gave it a crunchy texture that I loved.

I also met a cool, young bread baker using local grains who explained to me the difference between hard wheat and soft wheat, hard wheat having 13% protein whereas soft wheat has about 10%. He also drew me a map of how to get to my sought after treasure, the West Side Market.

This bread baker learned from a local bakery how to make his breads. He uses lots of different grains like oats, buckwheat, spelt, flax seeds, and more for his breads. His sourdough is especially light and airy with a great crust.

Top left says MR, where the market is. The star is Rising Star Coffee Shop, which I didn’t make it to. I searched and searched and alas, the map was not drawn to scale. (It was scribbled in 2 minutes) and I was unable to locate it on time for getting back to the wedding preparations!

My exploration time for the day was over. The next morning, I woke up early, energized despite a late evening of drinking and eating, to go and find some great coffee and a promising adventure. In hand I carried the map the bread baker drew for me (above). I crossed over the bridge connecting downtown Cleveland to Ohio City. I followed the map toward the star which, the baker promised, served amazing coffee. It is a new coffee shop and these guys who run it, I was told, “want to do whatever they can to do justice to the coffee beans which took so much care to grow, in this final step which they controlled, of to make a good cup of coffee.” That seems to me, to be a coffee shop that cares! And so true–we who cook and process food should seek to do justice to the ingredients which were, hopefully (if we source well) grown with care and patience and hard work.

I asked people on the street where the “new coffee shop with ‘star’ in the name but not starbucks, might be?” I never found it, but I did learn that Ohioans, or at least the ones I asked, were so eager to help. They contemplated, gave me options, walked with me, called me back after we parted to let me know of another thought they had, but really they had no idea where this coffee shop was. So I ended up poking into Bonbon, a pastry shop, and getting a fine cup of french press Joe and three chocolate croissants. (Not all for me, sillies!! I brought them back to the other bridesmaids!).

Then, I carried on to the market. No more detours. It was bustling, and exciting, and people were nice and not shoving and it was a lovely experience. I had to rush through there but I wanted to bring back some loot for my fellow bridesmaids for what promised to be a long, tiring day of makeup and hairdos and dresses and veils. I ended up getting quite the eclectic variety. Two asian noodle salads (buckwheat salad with tofu and bean noodles with egg) and a steamed bun stuffed with chicken, veggies and a hard boiled egg (that was DEE-LICIOUS). I bought pita bread and garlic hummus, I bought local milk, local, salted butter, local cheddar cheese and hand made peanut butter (I guess just not commercially made, and still had a little roughness too it without being chunky. No preservatives added.)

Pizza bagels!! Not frozen or from a box!!

I carried the picnic of oddities back across the bridge, up to the bridal suite, where croissants were picked at, an asian steamed bun was devoured (by me), and peanut butter was spread and munched on all day long. It was a worthwhile trip. And now I can say I’ve done more in Ohio than seen the mall. Next trip: rock n’ roll hall of fame.

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