The West Side Market has scored one of its centennial birthday presents a couple years early.
And it's a big one.
The esteemed Cleveland marketplace, which celebrates a century of business in 2012, has been named one of the Top Ten Food Destinations in America by preeminent "foodie" resource, TV's Food Network.
"This Cleveland institution has been a one-stop shop for food lovers for nearly 100 years," reads the September 2010 issue of Food Network Magazine, naming it America's "Best Food Lovers' Market."
"Locals, including Iron Chef Michael Symon, can find almost anything they need, and tourists can get acquainted with Midwestern faves like bratwurst sandwiches, Buckeye chocolates and pierogies."
Locals Rejoice, Adding a Big "Well, duh!"
This honor comes as little surprise to the estimated one million shoppers who visited the West Side Market last year. Visitors in lockstep with the Food Network crowd the indoor-outdoor market for everything from fresh meat, seafood and vegetables, to fruits, cheeses, flowers and more.
"It embodies the best things about Cleveland: food, diversity, good value and familiarity," said Canal Fulton resident Derek Arnold. "It's a very inclusive place. Whether you are vegan or can't get enough meat and potatoes, it has something for you."
Arnold also praised the market's transit-friendliness, accessibility and Ohio City neighborhood.
"My grandma used to take me when I was a little girl," said Cleveland resident Jennifer Viancourt. "We would take the bus down there and I was always allowed to get flying saucer candy before we left!"
Painesville resident Meredith Rutledge shares Arnold's affinity. She has been shopping at the market since she was a little girl, too.
"I love it when Vince at Kaufmann's Poultry stand—who I've known since I was 10—says, 'THERE you are!' when I haven't been there for a long time," she offered.
"Shopping at the market makes feel like I'm truly in the city," agreed fellow local Anne Steiner. "Plus, it makes all grocery stores so boring in comparison!"
A Food Lover's Paradise in Brief
It stands to reason that the West Side Market would put the sterile supermarket experience to shame.
Sitting at the corner of West 25th Street and Lorain Avenue, Cleveland's "oldest publicly owned market" has been a bustling, open-air marketplace since 1840.
The market, itself, initially served as a food clearinghouse on a swathe of Ohio City earth donated by landowners Josiah Barber and Richard Lord.
It was officially christened as The West Side Market in 1912.
A favorite stop for everyone from chefs and residents to visitors and politicians, the market hosted a number of food festivals during the 1980s—though city budgetary concerns threatened to jeopardize some long-standing tenants later in the decade with some highly publicized market stand rent hikes.
Like the Terminal Tower, the yellow brick markethouse and 137-foot clock tower at The West Side Market remain some of Cleveland's most iconic landmarks.
And nearly 100 years after officially opening its doors as The West Side Market, worldwide media outlets ranging from The New York Times and the Travel Channel to Food Network are starting to notice—and favorably dote upon it as well.
The Best of the "West"
Not surprisingly, Clevelanders have their share of favorites at the market.
"I don't get it very often, but the garlic kielbasa at D.W. Whitaker's is one of my favorite things there," said attorney Michael Brennan of Cleveland. "I usually end up buying a pork loin or some other lean cut from them, but that garlic kielbasa is amazing stuff.
"It makes the car, the fridge, and the house—when you cook it—smell of garlicky goodness."
"We always get a smoothie to share and grab our fruits and vegetables from Brothers Produce," said Rachel Dunn of Cleveland. Like many, she makes regular trips to the market on Saturday mornings.
Even Cleveland's expats miss The West Side Market, enough to make it a stop when they're home. Michelle Weitzel Knapp lives in Atlanta now, but had to visit the market—specifically the Steve's Gyros stand—the last time she was in town with her family.
"My kids, 8 and 11, had seen it on [Travel Channel show] 'Man v. Food'. My son waited one hour to get one of those amazing gyros," she said.
"The line was out the door! He said it was worth every minute of the wait. We bought a bunch of great food that I can't always find here in Georgia—like pierogies!"
Like Coming Home (Again)
To hear Clevelanders tell it, if Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz" was from Cleveland instead of Kansas, she might have ended up at The West Side Market when she clicked the heels of her ruby slippers.
"After being away for a while, I now know that other places in the country don't have anything like it!" offered fellow Cleveland expat JoEllen Birt McNamara, who now calls Tempe, Ariz., home.
"The history alone is an incredible story—how it started as a clearing house for food coming through the terminal, and how the stands are passed down from generation to generation, like a dowry.
"Those people at the stands are my favorite part of the market. They are Cleveland in all her glorious colors, styles and generations," McNamara said.
"I miss the voices, smells and the sounds of hustle and bustle. And, of course, the food!"
Author has email addresses and/or phone numbers for all sources quoted in the piece.
- Food Network