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WORTH THE DRIVE: Unforgettable eats at Ohio’s oldest market

Cincinnati’s Findlay Market is Ohio’s oldest continuously operated public market. CONTRIBUTED
Cincinnati’s Findlay Market is Ohio’s oldest continuously operated public market. CONTRIBUTED

More than a million visitors a year head to Cincinnati’s Findlay Market to shop, dine, explore and soak up all of the hustle and bustle that happens when you gather 50 full-time vendors selling locally sourced artisanal and specialty foods. There’s also a biergarten featuring Cincinnati brews.

Ohio’s oldest continuously operated public market is steeped in history, housed in a beautiful historic site that’s located just a few blocks from Over-the-Rhine. It’s within walking distance of shops, restaurants, bars and breweries to explore that will add up to an exciting full day.

The market is open, with social distancing rules in place, plus options for advance orders and pickup.

Click here for a complete list of merchants at the market. Get the latest updates on the Findlay Market Facebook page.

Bryn Mooth, editor of Edible Ohio Valley magazine has a special relationship with the iconic market. Mooth is the author of “The Findlay Market Cookbook” (published Nov. 2014 by Farm Fresh Books), which celebrates the market sharing its stories and recipes. Proceeds support the Corporation for Findlay Market, the nonprofit organization that manages day-to-day operations.

“Findlay Market’s emphasis on fresh food set it apart from many other public markets, especially in the U.S. You can buy fresh, locally grown produce, fresh meats and poultry, cheeses and other ingredients, all week long. Findlay Market has some prepared food vendors that are awesome, but the real emphasis is on shopping for food that you can take home and prepare. It feels very European to me. Of course, there’s the history, too — it’s been in continuous operation as a public market since 1852. The physical structure itself carries that history. You can walk around the market and imagine what it would have looked like at the turn of the century, or in the 1940s — not too different from what it looks like now,” said Mooth, who has been shopping there for more than 50 years and serves on the board that manages the market.

One year ago, Newsweek named the market one of the top 10 food markets in the world alongside La Boqueria of Barcelona, Spain, Torvehallerne Market of Copenhagen, Denmark, Or Tor Kor Market of Bangkok, Thailand and Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan.

It was listed as one of the best in the world and the best in the entire country.

The listing in Newsweek read: “Since 1852, merchants in Findlay Market have been selling farm-fresh produce, meats (including a local haggis-like creation called goetta) and cheeses to Cincinnatians. In the summer, the indoor market expands outside and welcomes musicians, performers and special events to the mix.”

In another huge shout out, Travel + Leisure named the market as the “epicenter of Cincinnati’s culinary revival.”

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It’s the kind of praise that Mooth has long known the market deserved.

“It’s the combination of physical space, neighborhood, community, human interaction, energy and assortment of product that is unique. That’s the Findlay Market mojo,” said Mooth. “It’s just completely special. It’s been around forever, so many people in Cincinnati have memories of going to the market at Easter or Christmas for holiday food shopping. We’re so lucky to have it; it’s one-of-a-kind. It has something for everyone — visitors to Cincinnati are always blown away by it, but it’s also a place to do your best grocery shopping. It’s so vibrant and draws such a cross-section of people.”

FINDLAY MARKET SHOPPING TIPS

Here are Mooth’s shopping tips if you’ve never been:

1) Actually, you know, “grocery shop” at Findlay Market. It’s a great source for all the fresh food you need: produce, meats, eggs, baked goods, cheese …

2) Seek out local products: produce from local farms (which is available year-round), local honey, locally made cheese, bread, pickled & fermented foods, etc.

3) Taste your way around the world: The Arepa Place is fantastic for Colombian street food. Dean’s Mediterranean Market is a go-to source for Middle Eastern, North African, and other Mediterranean flavors. On Saturdays and Sundays when the weather is decent, a number of Findlay Kitchen members bring global flavors to pop-up stands along the southern side of the market house.

4) Experience the full Market District. There are lots of great indie shops along the blocks surrounding the market house selling products that are “food-adjacent,” from flowers to cookware to home decor.

5) Do a Findlay Market brewery/winery crawl. This isn’t an official “thing,” but it should be. Rhinegeist, the Samuel Adams Taproom and Skeleton Root Winery are all within easy walking distance of the Market, which also hosts its own outdoor Biergarten.

6) Time it right: If you want to experience the great hustle and bustle that gives the market energy, then noon on a sunny Saturday is your best time. If you want to browse, buy food and maybe grab a cup of coffee, then early Saturday morning is perfect. (That’s when we shop.) If you have guests from out of town, hit the Biergarten on a Sunday afternoon.

7) BYO shopping bags — the golden rule for all farmers’ and public markets. And if you’re venturing from Dayton and making an afternoon of it, bring a cooler with ice packs for perishables.

8) Get to know the people you buy from. The people who make up the vendor/farmer community are a cast of characters and worth getting to know. You don’t get that personal relationship when you’re shopping at a big box chain grocer.

9) Fortify yourself: banh mi sandwiches at Pho Lang Thang, brunch at Goose & Elder or Social OTR, or enjoy a light lunch at French Crust.

10) Satisfy your sweet tooth: Dojo Gelato has delicious and cleverly named Italian-style ice cream; Cherbourg Bakery’s s’mores bar is the bomb.

Mooth says other can’t-be-missed items include:

  • The Belgian waffle at Taste of Belgium … "just get the plain one; don't mess it up with all the whipped cream and other nonsense."
  • J.E. Gibbs' Cheese & Sausage Christmas cheddar — "it's a holiday tradition — they age it for six months, right there in the shop, and it always sells out quickly."
  • Kofinas olive oil is directly imported to Cincinnati from the family's generations-old olive farm in Greece.
  • Dean's Mediterranean falafel.
  • Before you head home, be sure to buy a loaf of crazy-seeded-sourdough bread from Blue Oven that makes the best toast you've ever had.

There’s a reason major news outlets are calling attention to Findlay Market — it’s special. Really special. If you haven’t been, it’s time to plan a visit and if it’s been a while, it’s time to reconnect.

WANT TO GO?

What: Findlay Market

Where: 1801 Race St., Cincinnati

More information: www.findlaymarket.org or 513-665-4839

Hours: Open Tuesday through Sunday year-round, the market has meat, fish, poultry, produce, flowers, cheese, deli, and ethnic foods. On weekends from April through November, it's home to a thriving farmers market, dozens of outdoor vendors, numerous street performers, and lots of special events.