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West Side Market

October 1, 2010 - Eric Paddock
Last week my wife and I explored Cleveland’s West Side Market.

Since we are geographically challenged and dispossessed of a GPS thing, we also explored the City of Cleveland, Ohio. Of that expedition I can say with some authority there are lovely parts of the city and some that are less so.

But, on to the market...

One of the things I like most about big, old cities is that they have big, old public markets.

Baltimore has its Lexington Market (on Lexington Avenue, of course). Philadelphia has two: The Reading Terminal Market downtown, under roof and about a city block in size, and the Italian Market in South Philly, a three-block open-air cornucopia I sometimes refer to as Mecca. Pittsburgh has its Strip District. While not technically in the same category as those above, the Strip is included in this list because on Saturdays those couple blocks in the city’s former warehouse district are an eclectic and lively mix of street vendors, specialty shops and the best selections of cheese, meat, produce and seafood available in Western Pennsylvania.

Cleveland’s West Side Market is probably the smallest of those in terms of square footage, but that doesn’t mean its not worth the drive — particularly so when you know how to get there. It is also an exercise in crowd physics. If you think that the Strip District gets crowded on Saturday mornings, you may feel like a white-faced hereford in the Chicago Stockyards as you attempt to work your way through the scores of vendors under roof in the West Side Market.

But crowds just enhance the experience for me.

I may be a romantic when it comes to public markets. I have always believed that in a previous life I procured my comestibles the day I ate them, choosing carefully from mounds of produce that were watched over and verbally touted by a dozen different purveyors. The environment should be noisy, the sellers insistent, and the shoppers choosy.

The West Side Market has all that.

They should also be places where you can nosh on fast food that is also great food, wholly unrelated to the various burger chains that have turned the term into an obscenity. Gyros (prepare to wait in line), crepes (both sweet and savory), sausage sandwiches overflowing with peppers and onions... Yep, they’re all there. Take antacids with you.

The West Side Market in my opinion probably falls short in the realm of cheese, but excels in the world of sausages, fresh meats and breads. Ahhh, the breads, incredible loves of dozens of shapes, sizes and textures.

Prices are a bit steep for some things in those departments, but you can find bargains. I came away with a couple pounds of andouille for my next couple batches of gumbo.

An aside on andouille: It is my experience that there are as many different flavors of this sausage as there are people who make it. The first thing I did when I got home was to take a couple slices, toss them quickly in a frying pan to brown and taste — extraordinarily good. I’ve had andouille that is spiced to the point of get-me-water-quick to little more than smoked kielbasa. This was delightfully in between, offering a pleasant latent warming. The gumbo will love it, and it was only $4.29 a pound.

OK, I like Philly’s markets better, but they are among the best in the East. And I like the Strip’s party atmosphere. But, the Cleveland West Side Market is worth a visit. Besides there are a couple of really decent bars in the neighborhood.


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