A taste of Cleveland: Shopping the historic West Side Market

I did not have any idea what I was going to find when I hopped a cab in downtown Cleveland one morning last week and headed to the West Side Market. Sure, the folks charged with marketing Cleveland as a vacation destination said the market was great, but that’s their job.

So, I had low expectations. All I was hoping for, frankly, was to find a vendor who was selling a muffin and perhaps some coffee.

And then, I stepped into the yellow brick building that has housed the market since 1912.

Dozens of food booths stretched out before me, selling everything from cannolis to whole suckling pig. There are more than 100 food vendors at the West Side Market, and they represent dozens of different ethnicities. Many of the booths have been in the same family for generations.

It’s one of those rare places where you can buy both tamales and liverwurst, pierogis and lo mein, gnocchi and apricot stilton.

It wasn’t packed, (this was a Wednesday, after all) but the market had a big-city bustle that made for great people watching. The ladies who lunch carried their purse pooches on an outing to get the best price on organic produce, students carried worksheets and took notes on the different ethnic foods available and regulars from around the corner ran in for a dozen eggs and a pound of ground sirloin.

Besides the people watching, the West Side Market is a great stop for travelers looking for a quick bite. Many of the vendors have ready-to-eat foods or foods they are willing to heat for you. There’s also a short-order restaurant, the West Side Market Cafe, adjacent.

Admission to the West Side Market is free. It’s open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday and Wednesday, and 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday at West 25th and Lorain, in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood.

And, by the way, I did find that muffin. But not until I had found the a freshly made crepe filled with lemon curd and mascarpone, chocolate bacon bark and caramel cheese popcorn. My apologies to the baker; there simply wasn’t room.