|A gorgeous April sky behind the Clock Tower of the West Side Market|
Even before our first trip, we knew it needed to be an overnighter. It's not that Cleveland is all that far for a day trip - two hours to the market from our front door. The "problem" lies in the fact that Ohio City (the neighborhood that is home to WSM) is wickedly full of craft brewers. I like beer. I love good beer. So, a hotel room and proper use of Cleveland's RTA make for a food and brew weekend so we can both imbibe and discover.
Budget tip: If you're staying overnight, you need refrigeration for at least some of your West Side Market finds. We had reservations at the Best Western Airport. We drove in on Friday morning, and they let us park before checking in, plus their shuttle took us to the airport to catch the RTA. We checked in Friday afternoon with our WSM haul in our hands, then took the shuttle back to the airport to take the train back into Ohio City for an evening of wandering. All together, room, shuttle tips, and RTA all-day passes for 2 cost less than $125.
If you can swing it, I highly recommend NOT going to WSM on a Saturday. Neither of us (mostly me) play well in huge, tightly packed crowds. That was the one thing that led me to not be crazy about our first trip. We couldn't move. I would feel like I was always in the way, not able to take my time to really look at the vendor's offerings. Getting to the market at around 11:30 on a Friday morning? It was pure pleasure! Yes, it was busy, but once we ate our brunch, I never felt like I needed to rush my selections.
Brunch! OK, Harry had hot dogs, but I hit up Crepes de Luxe. If you are searching through reviews, you'll read that the crepes are delicious. Very true! I had the smoked salmon (with spinach, capers, and creme freche on a buckwheat crepe) and it was more than I hoped for. A perfect blend of savory, smokey, salty, earthy, with gently steamed spinach. I could eat this many more times. In reading reviews, you will also find comments that the crepes' chef isn't pleasant. I don't think that is true. She wasn't overly chatty, but look at the line forming behind you. There was one lady in front of me when I approached. By the time my crepe was in my hands, ready to burn my mouth because I wanted it so badly, there were at least 8 people in line behind me. I don't think those reviews are a fair assessment based on the volume of business that must be completed very quickly.
We made a quick trip through the market to see if anything caught our eye that wasn't on our "must" list. We bought some pretzel hoagie rolls from Michelle's Bakery to go with our intended sausage haul. We found Wellfleet oysters at Classic Seafood and had a great chat with the guy about learning that we were all wrong in thinking "an oyster is an oyster".
Tub butter was on our must list. For general cooking and baking, I keep standard sticks of both salted and unsalted butter on hand. For spreading on toast, or warm bread, or biscuits, or finishing a dish, or many other drool-worthy reasons, we love better butter. Without going into too much detail, we tasted the salted tub offerings at Irene Dever and bought 7 pounds. Delicious, with just a hint of tang that you expect with a cultured butter (although she gave me a strange look when I asked if it was cultured and then explained that it was only butter, a little salt, with no oil or other ingredients).
Now, for the primary purpose of our sojourn. Harry lived in Akron and was familiar with the sausage-makers in Barberton. He grew to have a fondness for the Eastern European sausages, and that is something that I've learned to enjoy as well. As much as I love some of the local purveyors in Columbus, I haven't yet found the variety of house-made sausage such as we found at the West Side Market (in my defense: I've not yet tried Thurn's so I might be surprised). On this trip, we brought home 11 varieties of sausage of various ethnicities and heat levels. Mix in the various styles - links, fresh, smoked, and bulk, we find the selection at Czucraj Meats to fit all of our needs.
On our first trip, we were overwhelmed at all of the offerings of animal flesh. The market was packed on that Saturday, and I'll admit that we probably stopped at Czucraj because we could actually see the offerings. We bought about 12 pounds that trip, and we weren't disappointed in anything we brought home. We did decide that the Double-Smoked Hot Hungarian was just a little hotter than we would want, but that didn't mean we didn't like it.
|30.06 pounds of sausage heaven!|
Our selection includes Garlic Knockwurst, Smoked Slovenian Sausage (links), Mild & Hot Hungarian, Andouille, Hot Italian (fresh ropes), Chorizo (fresh rope and bulk), and Smoked Mild & Hot Hungarian. We also brought home 4 white brats (pork and veal) that we'll have tonight with our pretzel hoagie rolls.
The only other tip I'll leave you with is regarding the produce barn. We don't buy produce there only because I can get all my veggies here in the area. Take the time to visit the review sites, specifically searching for produce vendor reviews. Some are better than others, to be sure. We saw some beautiful fruits and vegetables as we walked through. I have read (within the last 6 months) that WSM has cracked down on the allegations of bait/switch in the produce stands. I just think it's best to be informed before someone drives 2-3 hours, only to arrive home with over-ripe produce.
There are SO many more options than what we brought home. Visit the West Side Market website here for days and hours of operation (no, they aren't open 7 days). You can also read about all of the vendors' offerings and plan your march through the market. Bring along reusable shopping bags, or a backpack. Locals have wheeled carts. Currently (April 2015), the Ohio City RTA station is NOT ADA accessible (construction) and it's a very long trip up and down 3 flights of stairs to the platform. Pay attention to the parking lot signs (some lots are restricted to vendors) to avoid tows. If you drive and park, bring along a cooler to stash your purchases while you visit some of the other gems in the neighborhood.