Imagine a place where all your dreams come true. Where mounds of artisanal cheese are stacked to perfection and the cheesemonger just happens to be a cute 20-something with thick-rimmed glasses and a sheepish smile. Where you can get made-to-order buttery crêpes filled with vanilla lavender cream. Where pomme frites come overflowing in a homemade piped wrapper. Where “samples” include sammies made with pork schnitzel, horseradish cream and roasted beet spread. Where you can get homemade gelato straight from Italy, Lavazza coffee, Little Goat bread & sandwiches, Saigon Sister salads and so much, SO much more.
You can only imagine my face.
Truth be told, I felt overwhelmed when I first walked inside. While that could be because I had just polished off a venti coffee and have a very tiny bladder, it could also be because when I walked in, I knew I was home, baby. Home sweet foodie home.
First things first, I did a lap around the whole place, surveying all the options. Obviously, I wanted the first thing I saw – gelato. “Screw you, lactose allergy” I thought, “it’s hot outside and I want the sweet mucus of ice cream dripping down my face.” But, I stopped myself (shockingly) because premature ordering at open markets can be a very dangerous game. Too many options. Not enough time. As I continued to walk, I quickly realized the market also sold fresh produce, groceries (though overpriced, please don’t ever think it’s okay to pay $3.29 for a pound of Barilla pasta) and fresh seafood and meats. While the days menu had already been planned, I’ll definitely be going back for their parmesan-crusted tilapia and fresh Chilean sea bass because in reality, when am I not craving miso-glazed bass?
For lunch, I figured the booth with the longest line was a sign in the right direction, so I hopped towards the back without any clue of where I was or what I was going to order. Turns out, this decision may be have been the greatest decision I’ve ever made in my life.
Fumaré meats and deli sold me something utterly life-changing. Nestled between two slices of soft homemade rye bread, you will find heaven. Heaven, also known as, Montreal style smoked pastrami. Studded with black peppercorns, the meat is fall-off-the-friggen-bone tender, utterly melting in your mouth. As someone who doesn’t order pastrami too often, I was hesitant. Would it taste too fatty? Too rich? Would I like it? Blah, blah, blah, no, not at all and HELL YES. Order yours with provolone and a ton of spicy mustard and I can guarantee you, this sandwich will blow your mind. Thank you, French Market, for introducing me to Fumare. I will probably go 3x a week now, thanks to you.
After wrapping up my sandwich, I headed straight back towards the Pastoral Cheese booth. I’m not sure if you know this about me, but I thoroughly enjoy ordering cheese plates as meals. To me, there’s nothing more satisfying than various types of cheeses (preferably rich brie, crumbly blue and sharp italians), jams and spreads, olives and some bread. In restaurants, I hold cheese plates to a very high standard. There’s nothing that displeases me more than an overpriced wimpy cheese plate. $20 bucks for four slivers of mellow cheddar? Psh! Rather, I think it’s more fun and fulfilling to make your own plates, as I did today.
And of course, who leaves a French market without grabbing some macaroons from Delightful Pastries on your way out? Not Bytes, that’s for sure.
All in all, I can’t complain about my first experience at the French Market. Without question, I’ll become a returning customer. Spread the word, chat with the vendors, ask questions and have fun. Take an hour lunch break or take an afternoon, either way, you’re bound to find yourself in foodie heaven.
Chicago French Market, 131 N. Clinton (btw Washington and Randolph) and open Monday – Saturday, hours depending on vendors.
I’m curious to hear from readers in other cities. Any favorite food / drink based markets? When I was living in NYC, Chelsea Market was a must (especially for the mini cinnamon donut holes!) I’d love to hear from you!