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Cleveland’s West Side Market

After visiting the tourist trap, yet fun, A Christmas Story house, we got back into car and drove the short distance to the famous and extremely historic West Side Market. It’s the oldest operating indoor market in Cleveland and is located in the Ohio City neighborhood, one of the oldest sections of the city (it was founded in 1818), situated directly across the Cuyahoga River from the city’s downtown.

According to historical records the market began operating in 1840, across the street from its current location at the corner of West 25th Street and Lorain Avenue. The market functioned in a variety of buildings and locations until 1912 when its current space was constructed. The building is Neo-Classical/Byzantine design in brick that features a large interior concourse with space for almost 100 stalls for sellers, as well as an 85-stall outdoor produce arcade that wraps around the side and rear of the main building. Its most iconic symbol, though, is the large clock tower, which let me know we were close when driving there.

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As soon as I learned about the West Side Market I knew I wanted to visit, because by all accounts it seemed to be the Ohio version of a favorite place of mine, the Reading Terminal Market in my hometown of Philadelphia. Both have a mind-numbing array of culinary options and delights, both are historic and both are truly the food heart and soul of their respective cities.

We ended up visiting the market on Christmas Eve and although I have nothing to compare it with, the place was mobbed. For this reason I didn’t take any pictures as I didn’t want to be fiddling with my somewhat large DSLR camera while being bumped and jostled by passersby anxious to get in and out as fast as they could. So unfortunately none of the pictures I’ve included are mine, although I hope to return again soon.

If there was something you wanted (keep in mind, I’m referring to food), the market most likely had it. There were multiple stalls for your poultry needs, your red meat needs, your fish needs. There were all types of bacon imaginable including one very delectable kind-a “Christmas Ale” bacon; I bought 1/2 pound. The same stall also offered pigs’ heads for anyone that has “that” as their thing (eyes and all), not to mention the ubiquitous ham “bits.”

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The market also offered a vast array of food products that places like Williams-Sonoma would have charged a small fortune for. We spoke with the owner of one stall that sold olive oils from around the world, some from countries beyond the somewhat standard Italian and Spanish kinds-she had olive oils from Lebanon, Palestine, and Croatia. I didn’t buy any although I wish I had since I went home to discover that I was actually all out of olive oil.

While it was hard to do, we refrained from endless options of mouth watering sweets since it was the holidays and we already had so many calorie packing on sweets at home. However, we did get a bag of popcorn from Campbells Popcorn Shop. What I loved about it was that they offered free samples, just like cereal dispensers that you see at hotel buffet breakfasts, but of popcorn. It was nice since they didn’t have your standard popcorn flavors. (They had a chocolate mint and another called dichotomy, a combination of cheddar and caramel which is what we ended up getting.)

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And as Ohio City is considered to be one of Cleveland’s most ethnically diverse communities, there were a lot of ethnic food options inside the market including a gyro stall, a crepes stall (these looked scrumptious), a Middle Eastern stall and Eastern European ones as well (think: pierogis).

My one critique of the West Side Market is that they didn’t have any proper sitdown seating (the Reading Terminal Market does have this). Although some people were walking and eating while others went upstairs to the arcade level and ate on bench style seating, some tables and chairs would have been nice. To me, there are some foods that are just not meant for walking. However, what greatly made up for this was that parking was free. Although I was worried about not being able to get a spot in one of their lots as it was the day before Christmas, we were fine.

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While Pittsburgh’s Strip District is a unique entity, it’s not a true market in the sense the West Side Market is. It’s just stores clustered together in the same area. That is one thing I wish Pittsburgh had, yet one thing I look forward to visiting again in Cleveland. 

(Note: As I mentioned above, seating is basically non-existent; however, the West Side Market Cafe adjoins the market and was a great spot to grab some lunch. Service was friendly and quick, the food inexpensive and good.)

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    JoAnn M.
    January 19, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    I was surprised and delighted to see this post on the Cleveland West Side Market! We live in a Cleveland suburb so we visit the West Side Market on the holidays.

    I’ve been going there since I was a child. Its beautiful facade and high cathedral-like ceiling left a big impression on me. I later found out that the designers of the main markethouse also designed the Cleveland Museum of Art!

    The character of the West Side Market changed when they enclosed the produce arcade. As a child I remember walking from the main building to the often chilly open air arcade.

    I have always loved watching the interaction between vendors and customers, bargaining for a deal. You have to be careful because some vendors don’t allow you to choose your own fruits and vegetables and they sometimes try to sneak in bad product.

    Because I am a vegetarian I stay away from the grotesque meat counters that you described, but the other areas are wonderful!

    My father enjoyed going there every week up until the time he passed away. I seem to remember talk of tearing it down at one point, but it is a landmark and should be protected at all cost.

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    January 19, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    I had no idea you were from the Cleveland area! All this time I have been trying to guess your locale and thought either the NYC or DC area. Clearly I was wrong 🙂

    Thanks for sharing that tip about the connection to the art museum. I visited there last winter and was greatly impressed by its collections (as I was for most of Cleveland).

    It definitely seems like it’s a place that due to its immense and rich has touched countless people. Would love to bring mom there as I know she would appreciate it.

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