One of the things I try to never miss when I go back home for a visit to Ohio is the West Side Market in Cleveland–even if I’m not looking for anything in particular to buy. It’s so much more than a farmer’s market, although much of the fresh produce comes from local growers; it’s also a variety of specialty and gourmet item stalls, mini-restaurants and stand-up coffee shops. Just about anything you want to consume can be found there- and that’s a lot of stuff!
I recently visited the market with a new set of eyes and a whole lot of time. Having scoped out many of the wonderful local Chicago area outdoor farmer’s markets, I have a new appreciation for the parking lot variety markets with a small amount of vendors selling high quality products. The West Side Market, however, is exciting. People of mixed ethnicities and ages gather to buy and sell. Vendors leave out fresh samples of fruit to prove theirs is the sweetest, and they actually talk to customers as they walk by, making the human connection that’s totally absent in a supermarket transaction.
It’s like a European outdoor market minus the foreign languages…well, minus some foreign languages.
Be sure to physically visit the market the next time you’re in Cleveland–or just make a special trip to see it and more of Ohio’s culinary delights. In the meantime, just enjoy the eye candy below (pun intended):
Maha’s Falafil Stand: This place is famous for its falafels, but I wanted to try their spinach pies instead. They were absolutely delicious- warm and soft, the dough perfectly baked-not soggy; the spinach wasn’t bitter, either as it can be if improperly cooked. Lines are long, but go quick. The owner told me Rachel Ray visited, too, when she was doing ther show about eating while traveling on $40 a Day for the Food Network. How exciting!
Maha’s Falafil Stand is located at Stands G-13 and H-13. You can also reach them by phone at 440.829.0819.
Ohio City Pasta: Pasta just doesn’t get fresher than this. The stall’s display is beautifully set, showcasing the pastas’ unique shape and variety– but you must have a taste. After visiting the market, I also went to the actual location where the pasta is made fresh, just outside of downtown Cleveland. Owner Gary Thomas was gracious enough to give us a spontaneous, full-blown tour of the operation where his pasta is truly homemade.
A small, two-building operation allows him to maintain keen oversight of the quality products, which include seasonal items to keep costs down for consumers without sacrificing an ounce of taste. I was able to try the Spinach Ravioli and the Whole Wheat pasta made from local, Amish-grown, natural wheat. Each of these pastas was delicious in its own right, without need for a heavy sauce for fear of masking the delicious taste of the ravioli or pasta. The next time I’m in Ohio, I’ll be trying the Saffron Pasta, or maybe the Lobster and Cheese Pasta…hmm…..how will I decide? I think it best if Ohio City Pasta comes to Chicagoland to give our locals the type of pasta we simply dream of.
Urban Herbs: This is another stand I really loved because of their unique and hard-to-find herbs. The vendor was quite knowledgeable about the items and their uses, so it was a warm relief when she not only told me they carried the Mexican herb, epazote, but also knew what it was used for. She also enlightened me about a fascinating display item called a Himalayan Salt Plate, a type of salt brick coming from Pakistan that is used for variable kitchen endeavors like salt-curing meats or plating up sorbets and ice creams. They can be heated or frozen in order to produce the desired effects on your own culinary endeavors.
Althought they do have a website, I found many more items to be available at the stall itself (Stand E2). Besides, you’ll learn a lot from the vendor if you just ask.
You can buy a variety of unique herbs from Urban Herbs online orcall their office at 216.651.4500.
Cake Royale: Your sweet tooth deserves a bite from this place. The owner is a self-taught pastry chef who produces beautiful, edible artwork. If I could, I would have tried one of everything in the showcase. I simply groveled over the Pistachio Cake, a unique cake concept with a green frosting that reminded me of creamy gelato. The Strawberry Cake was my other temptation, seeming to talk to me through the glass window to convince of its health benefits- just because of its bright red color. Mom and I decided to go easy and ask for a cannoli we would split. Lucky for us, there weren’t any left…or so it seemed. The pastry worker behind the counter creatively decided she would put one together with the very last bit of cannoli filling they had and filled it right on the spot. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a more fresh and perfectly made cannoli–and I’m a Sicilian. That’s gotta mean something. Right?
Cake Royale is located at Stand D-7. You can also call the owners Michele & Denise Kahwagi at 216.351.3553.
I met so many great vendors and scoped out some wonderful-looking stalls at the market, but unfortunately I couldn’t taste everything I wanted. Enjoy these pics below to give you a glimpse of a few more not-to-miss specialty shops. Back in Chicago, I’m here already looking forward to my next trip back, insha’allah…
Crepes Deluxe: It’s worth it just to see the largest container of Nutella perhaps in the whole world! Nutella fans unite here! Located at Stand C-2. Call 216.916.9336
Keep in mind some of these helpful tips for when you go to this or any large market:
- Check out the market’s website, if they have one: If not, try to find out what type of vendors and/or items for sale they have and jot down the ones you’d like to visit.
- Map out the place and make a plan: Figure out which stalls you’ll visit first, second and so on, including any places you think you’d like to stop for lunch or a coffee break.
- Take plenty of cash: Although many stalls are set up to process credit cards, produce vendors are often only set up to take cash. You don’t want to be short on cash when you find the most beautiful purple figs that are perfectly in season!
- Bring your own large shoulder bag. Not only is this eco-friendly, but you’ll fit a lot more in one large bag and won’t be annoyed with half a dozen small bags dangling from your wrists.
- Go With Someone You Know Will Enjoy It, Too: Outdoor markets are a chance to enjoy God’s bounty, even if you’re just there to look. Enjoy the experience by bringing a friend or family member with a similar interest. Who knows, you may end up cooking together, too!
The West Side Market is located at 1979 W. 25th Street, Cleveland, Ohio and is open Mondays & Wednesdays from 7am-4pm; Friday & Saturday 7am-6pm.