Market Tested, Market Approved

Feasting at Findlay Market is time well spent

If you haven’t been to Findlay Market lately, you’re in for some surprises. Sure, if you’re a home cook or even a professional chef, the market is a great place for ingredients — fresh, local, good values, great variety. Now more than ever, though, the market has become a place to eat.

In addition to the butchers, bakers and produce purveyors who continue to fill the market with the basics for wonderful meals, now the market — like supermarkets all over — is providing more options for ready-to-eat meals, either at home or on the spot.

So we gathered a crew of CityBeat dining writers on a dreary Saturday afternoon to feast Findlay. How did we do? The dining, unlike the weather, was delightful.

I was joined by CityBeat’s spirits writer/author of the Fermentations column, Michael Schiaparelli; dining writers Karen Christophel and Brian Cross; and Brian’s girlfriend Casey. Sadly, Mike Breen, author of the Lost in the Supermarket column, couldn’t make it — so we didn’t have to try pickled pigs’ feet or blood sausage. Actually, I’m OK with that.

We met up at a table opposite Ms. Helen’s Grill in the west side of the market house, where a group of diners were enjoying midday meals — a mix of breakfasts and lunches, from scrambled eggs and biscuits to jumbo burgers. While I waited for the last arrivals, I enjoyed a freshly brewed cup of Ethiopian coffee from the Bean Haus and watched the crowd stroll by.

Our strategy was to approach the market through hungry eyes, without a prepared itinerary. We wanted to do a quick walk through, scope out selections, grab the tastiest looking treats and find a quiet corner where we could consume them.

We began at the center of the market, at Taste of Belgium, where we nibbled on fantastic Belgian waffle samples and surveyed an amazing visual display of pizza, calzones, pies and quiches — wow. We knew we’d be back for these, but right over our shoulders I saw that Adrian’s Cookies had just made a batch of fresh tamales. We had to act fast before they disappeared!

Michael had already proceeded to World Food Bar’s stand and was admiring beef short ribs and stuffed eggplant. Though they looked delicious, we couldn’t try them because we were going with ready-to-eat dishes, so Michael ordered a half pint of cumin-roasted beets. He knew that beets are one of my culinary kryptonite foods and I can’t resist them.

World Food Bar is also stocking the Fabulous Ferments line of kimchi, saurkraut and kombucha during the colder months when Fab Ferments can’t set up outside the market. Michael asked, “What does Kombucha taste like?” and got the helpful reply, “It tastes like crap!”

I had to intervene, then, since I love this bizarre drink. “It’s very healthy,” I explained, “and the taste is unusual. Fizzy and energizing!”

We bought one in a favorite flavor, Groovy Grape.

I’d passed several people devouring gyros as well as Cincinnati chili, even at this relatively early hour. Areti’s, across from Kroeger’s Meats, was the source. Their case held trays of cheese-topped spanakopita and crispy baklava.

We forged on. I wanted to get Indian samosas from Dean’s Mediterranean Foods, since they were one of the first prepared food shops to show up at the market a few years back and have sated many a starving Saturday morning for me since. Dean’s also carries Roasted Vegetable Empenadas that are made by the owner of Adrian’s Cookies and sold in both shops — so when they run out in one, I always check the other.

We made our way toward the Farmer’s Market area to see if there were any munchables available outdoors on this dreary day. We gladly drank some apple cider samples and were even more delighted to sample gourmet handmade chocolates from Shalini Latour Chocolatier. Amazing that a tiny card table on the sidewalk could yield such exquisite treasure!

Brian Madison from Madison’s Produce introduced me to the hearty homemade lunches at Eckerlin’s Meats a while back. The guys at Eckerlin’s take turns making rich, meaty soups and stews every day and sell them in large Styrofoam cups. I absolutely love their bean soup, with big chunks of ham and cracked black peppercorns, but today the feature was Hungarian Goulash. We grabbed some and spotted a site for our feast — the corner shop nearby had plenty of tables and chairs.

So we laid out our loot, and, wow, did it look good. A gleaming, crusty, gooey cheese and vegetable stromboli. Two warm, homemade tamales wrapped in cornhusks. Couscous salad. Crisp vegetable empenadas. Soft, rich samosas. Steaming hot goulash. Bright purple cubed beets. A giant gooey pecan bar. Chocolate. Raspberry malted milk balls and handmade champagne pink peppercorn truffles. And a cylindrical mixed berry tart with the filling just peeking out from below its pastry cap.

And we’d only shopped the east end of Findlay Market!

We started tasting with the Kombucha, and the Groovy Grape earned “a four out of five on the groovy scale” from our hipsters. What everyone wanted to sink their teeth into, though, was Taste of Belgium’s stromboli, oozing melty cheese and rich caramelized onions. I’m glad there were five of us to share it — it was enormous.

Casey had never tried beets before. Nothing like getting lucky on your first time. World Food Bar’s version, spiked with cumin and onion, were top notch.

The empanada wasn’t as popular as I expected it would be, since several of the tasters felt that the meat was lost in the thick cornmeal pastry, but I liked it. The pork filling was spicy with salsa verde and delicious.

We all liked the empenadas, but the samosas were a much bigger hit. There was some serious arm wrestling between Michael and Karen over the last bites.

Three of us picked Eckerlin’s goulash as our favorite dish of the feast. Homemade spaetzle noodles, huge chunks of tender beef, rich gravy — perfect comfort food. Brian chose the couscous from Mediterranean Foods as his runner-up dish, and I went with the beets.

Everyone else, though, let their sweet tooths select their second place. Karen and Michael adored the Pecan Bar from Taste of Belgium — we were told that it would be incredible and amazing, and that was true.

Casey’s second favorite, which we all loved, was the Shalini Latour truffle. On first bite, it was all bittersweet chocolate and champagne, then the longer it was in your mouth the more the peppercorn took over. It was gorgeous.

We strolled — rolled, really — down to Market Wines, thinking a little wine would help us digest. For $3 per person we got a generous pour of four wines: Chateau St. Michelle Dry Riesling, La Mano Mencia Roble, Don Miguel Gascon Malbec and Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon. I like drinking wine with Michael because it’s educational, since he knows fascinating things — like that a Mencia comes from Bierzo, Spain, since that’s the only place where the grapes will grow. And after all that food and wine, he and I were the only ones still standing.

We had vowed to go to Dojo Gelato, where Michael talked me into trying the Nutella flavor — yum. Then I talked Colonel De Stewart from Herbs and Spice into giving us each a few flakes of my favorite Pink Himalayan Sea Salt to sprinkle on our gelato, and we chatted away while savoring every bite.

We’d seen people picnicking all over the market — a table of ladies had brought a veggie flatbread from Bouchard’s to the wine tasting, where another couple had brought a selection of Kraus’ cheeses to nibble on. I saw a dad with two kids eating sandwiches and pickles at Silverglades, and when the weather warms up I bet they’ll be back for hot dogs straight from the grill at Eckerlin’s.

“Findlay Market just keeps getting better,” I thought as I finished eating and started shopping. “Now I wonder if it’s too late to get a loaf of apricot-walnut Blue Oven Bread?”

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