I get some of my best travel ideas from watching food-related shows on television, and when I watched a show about the West Side Market in Cleveland, Ohio, I knew I had to visit there.
We recently visited the market when while spending several days in Cleveland, swinging by the market on a Wednesday morning as we left to go home.
The Food Network Magazine recently named West Side Market as the "Best Food Lovers' Market" and one of the country's Top Ten Destinations. Chefs like Cleveland's own Michael Symon (a Food Network television personality and owner of several popular Cleveland and Detroit restaurants) sing the market's praises, drawing attention to its dazzling array of meats, produce, baked goods, and countless Midwestern specialties.
West Side Market, Cleveland's oldest publically owned market, traces its roots back to the 1830s as public market places began appearing there.
In 1840, local businessmen and politicians Josiah Barber and Richard Lord donated land in the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland, specifying that it always remain a public market site.
The open-air market expanded with other donations of land in 1853 and 1864, and added a wooden market house in 1868.
The market outgrew its old building and Mayor Tom L. Johnson appointed a commission that purchased land across the street from the original market in 1902.
Cleveland architects Charles Hubbell and W. Dominick Benes designed a new indoor/outdoor market. Their architectural firm designed many of Cleveland's most notable buildings, including the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Wade Memorial Chapel in Lakeview Cemetery. Their West Side Market became yet another one of the city's most iconic landmarks.
Hubbell and Benes designed a yellow-brick market house resembling large European-style markets. The building's neo-classical and Byzantine styling recalled the architecture of ancient basilicas with a soaring 44-foot-high ceiling and included decorative details like corbels carved to resemble produce and animals. It featured a 137-foot-tall clock tower and room for more than 100 vendor stalls.
The new market took a decade to plan and build, cost $680,000, and opened in 1912.
The 45,000-square-foot market, designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1973, still impresses first-time visitors with its architecture, but it is the massive selection of market goods that draws regular Cleveland-area shoppers and makes the market a must-see for foodies from all over the country.
Even though our weekday visit happened on one of the market's less crowded days, West Side Market still bustled with activity.
We parked for free in one of the nearby lots, pulled out our market totes, and started our trip through the market at the produce wing, an outdoor area enclosed in a 2004 renovation.
The original market building houses vendors selling meat, baked goods, prepared foods, and other specialty items. We could zigzag through the building and leisurely browse the stalls and cases on a winter weekday morning, but I understand Saturday shopping can be especially crowded.
Dozens of vendors specializing in different types of meat showcased their products in refrigerated glass cases. I'm sure I left some nose prints behind on the glass as I hungrily eyed the homemade sausages and great looking steaks. If you're looking for something a little more unusual like fresh bison meat, pig's feet, or whole rabbits you'll likely also find it at West Side Market.
It was difficult to know what to buy our first time at the market, and although I'd brought a small cooler with me, I didn't have room to take even half of the things I really wanted to try home with me.
Market vendors offer some great prepared items and ethnic specialties. I really regret not being able to take home some of the great looking pierogies I saw that day or to try a Polish Boy sandwich. That, of course, gives me an excuse to visit the market again--this time with a larger cooler!
The market is open year round, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Check the West Side Market site for market hours, a list of vendors, and other information.
Want to learn more about the Cleveland culinary scene and its history? Check out Cleveland Ethnic Eats: The Guide to Authentic Ethnic Restaurants and Markets in Greater Cleveland by Laura Taxel and Cleveland Food Memories: A Nostalgic Look Back at Food We Loved, the Places We Bought It, and the People Who Made It Special by Gail Ghetia Bellamy.
© Dominique King 2011 All rights reserved