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Cleveland’s West Side Market

West Side Market Sign with Clocktower. Photo KIm McHugh

by Kim D. McHugh

I’m 30 minutes into a 40-minute wait to get my hands on one of what I’ve been told is the best gyro in Ohio—and maybe the United States—at Steve’s Gyros. Opened in 1989 the walk-up stand—one of over 100 inside Cleveland’s West Side Market—is undeniably popular as evidenced by the serpentine line of 35 (and growing) patrons. I’d seen celeb chef, Anne Burrell, rave about Steve’s Gyros on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, a Food Network show, and made a point to go there during a week-long vacay.

West Side Market Interior . Photo Kim McHugh

My wife and I were visiting her aunt, uncle and cousin in Ohio City, a sub-section of Cleveland, and were happy they lived within walking distance of the eclectic market. The historic building, which opened to the public in 1912, is a ‘must do’ destination if a visit to Cleveland is on your travel list. Since we were staying only four blocks away, we had the pleasure of not only being able to grab lunch at places like Steve’s Gyros, but to also go daily to procure farm fresh produce, baked goods, meats, seafood, cheeses, pastas and scrumptious desserts from spots like Reilly’s Irish Bakery and Cake Royale.

I’ve advanced in line to where I see a trio of classic lamb and beef spit poles. Of the large or jumbo gyros, I opt for the latter. Forewarned by the vendor’s posted rules, I don’t dare ask to have it cut in half. The server expertly shaves a copious amount of meat, piling it onto a pita, and adding lettuce, tomato, onion and tzatziki sauce. I pay the $10 in cash (another posted rule), and she hands me the foil-wrapped treat. It feels like it weighs two pounds. My wife and I find a spot on the second-floor catwalk, and we take turns navigating around the gyro.

I grew up in Chicagoland (think Athena, Roditys, Artopolis, Greek Islands), so I know excellent Greek food. Steve’s scored high marks. The pita tasted fresh baked, and the meat was nicely spiced, juicy and extraordinarily tender. A bonus was the sauce, which had a chipotle-style kick.

Satiated, we return to the main floor to browse more stands, stopping now and again to buy stuff to make dinner. First stop, Ohio City Pasta, where we get made-from-scratch, lemon-pepper pappardelle and asparagus, shallot and mascarpone stuffed ravioli. Next stop, Jim’s Meats for a few pounds of Italian sausage. Opened in 1995, the stand has customers two deep waiting patiently to order. Next up, Christopher’s Bakery for a few loafs of Pugliese Italian bread. Gotta stop at The Cheese Shop, whose selection of over 175 cheeses almost induces paralysis until we ultimately decide on wedges of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Asiago d’Allevo. Last stop, DeCaro Produce, an iconic business that’s been at the market since 1934.

The city’s oldest, continuously operating, municipally owned market, the West Side Market was added to the National Register of Historic Places in December 1973. Clevelanders Benjamin Hubbell and W. Dominick Benes, designed the space, whose 44-foot high, Guastavino tile vaulted ceiling is a work of art. Anchoring the corner of West 25th Street and Lorain Avenue is the building’s clock tower, which stands 137′ tall.

Over the next several days we returned to the market to get provisions for dinner the next few evenings, grabbing lunch at Frank’s Bratwurst one day ($3.50 with sauerkraut) and Orale another afternoon for delicious Mexican fare.

Just a few blocks away at West 24th Avenue and Bridge Street is the Ohio City Farm. Nearly six acres, it is one of the largest contiguous urban farms in the United States. After admiring the crops and Cleveland’s skyline, my wife and I then stopped by the farm stand, where we learned that the farm provides fresh, and healthy food to under served Clevelanders. It is open from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. every Friday and Saturday between June and November.

Not only is the West Side Market a wonderful place to sample a variety of ethnic cuisines, it is great for people watching. Named America’s “Best Food Lovers’ Market” in the September 2010 issue of Food Network Magazine, the market is open Mondays and Wednesdays from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Next time I’m in town I’ll be back at Steve’s Gyros, long line and rules be damned. It’s worth every bite.

 

Kim McHugh is a Lowell Thomas award-winning writer. His stories have appeared in Colorado Expression, Tastes of Italia, Hemispheres, SKI, Luxury Golf & Travel and Colorado AvidGolfer.

 

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