Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cleveland’s Heritage and Culture is on Display Daily in the West Side Market

Cleveland’s West Side Market is more than a place for area residents to buy good food. It is part of the city’s identity and history. It reflects the ethnic fabric of the region and serves as a meeting place for friends, families and visitors looking for an authentic experience in the city by the lake.

The 45,000 square-foot yellow brick complex on West 25th and Lorain streets is a stunning piece of architecture, designed by the firm of Hubbell & Benes in 1912. The exterior includes a 137-foot copper roofed clock tower that can be seen for miles, cementing the building’s landmark status, and tall vaulted windows at each end let in plenty of sunlight.

While the outside is nice, the action is inside the main building. Below a magnificent 44-foot vaulted tile ceiling are approximately 100 stands selling meats, dairy, bread, poultry, seafood, cheese and anything else imaginable. The vendors truly represent the ethnic diversity of the Cleveland area. The strongest influence is of German, Polish and Eastern European descent. Butchers display all types of smoked and raw sausages; perogies and sauerkraut are readily available; and one doesn't have to look hard to find Hungarian kuchens.

Other ethnic purveyors do not get a short thrift here as homemade pastas share space with Mexican and Cambodian take-out vendors, and traditional Middle Eastern fare. While tradition runs strong, there’s a nod to the way people eat today. Several stalls serve artisan products such as fresh baked breads, cheese, and locally roasted coffee. For example, one stall, Reilly’s, places a modern twist to traditional Irish comfort food. The business produces refined versions of meat pies, Cornish pasties, sausage rolls and traditional Irish pastries.

There’s a restaurant in the building, West Side Market Café, but the only dining area for those using take take-out stands is bench seating on the second floor overlooking the action.

Outside of the main building is a partially exposed produce arcade (again with a vaulted tile ceiling) that wraps around the side and the rear of the main building. It holds approximately 80 stalls. Here, the food isn’t as exciting. It obviously all comes from the same distribution center and is similar to what appears on supermarket shelves. But the environment is far from a sterile supermarket experience.

While the current building has been in place since 1912, the idea of a market on West 25th and Lorain was planned in 1840 when two city residents, Josiah Barber and Richard Lord, donated a tract of land with the stipulation that it would be a public market site. Through the years other residents gifted land in the same area that allowed the market to expand.

Today, the market is accessible by rail and bus. A large, free parking lot across the street makes it easy for drivers to fill up their cars.

Below are more images of the market:

Cleveland's West Side Market is on 26th and Lorain streets. It's open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Fridays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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