Wednesday, March 03, 2004

I feel like David Letterman here. But, another top X list..
Top 5 places I love to shop for food:

5. WestPoint Market - I am a bit torn on this place (ergo their placement at #5 on the countdown. For those interested, #6 would probably be "every chain grocery store I go to out of necessity"). One on hand, it's great to wander around a store filled with gourmet items and pick out little treats for myself. On the other, for someone who buys almost all their food at the West Side Market, it feels more than a little..stuffy. It can be too quiet, reserved...pretentious..for my tastes. I always walk out of there spouting my "it's only food..even if it does cost $30 a pound" rant going on. That said, they do have an awesome selection of high quality items you often can't find anywhere else and it's still a fun excursion when we're down in Akron.

4. Asian Plaza - They're creepy and they're kooky, they smell a little ooky, but they always have paste? Adams Family references aside, for Asian ingredients, you can't get a wider selection for cheaper than Asian Plaza. Everything from seaweed to pickled and candied octopus is available here, stocked to the ceiling and at rock bottom prices. The only bad point is that, to get too all the good stuff, you have to wade through the pervasive musty and fishy smells that occupy every corner of the place.

3. Indian Grocery - Located just outside the heart of big-box land in Parma, the Indian Grocery managed to feel far removed from the blaring chaos of the Best Buy and H.H. Gregg down the street. It is small, with just two isles of food (and a wall of Bollywood video tapes) making up their whole store, but they have almost anything you might need for your next Indian dish. Plus, the counter help is gregarious, friendly and knowledgeable, always willing to help you sort out what you need. They have weird hours, so I can't go as much as I'd like, but I enjoy it every time.

2. Mi Pueblo Grocery - A recently expanded addition to the Mi Pueblo restaurant, which adjoins it. When I first went there years ago, it was a small corner shack, half the size of a 7-11, and less than inspiring. Returning recently, I was pleasantly suprised to see they'd greatly expanded. Now, dried chilis line the wall and shelves are well stocked with a wide variety of Mexican ingredients. Meat eaters should also take note of their expansive selection of seasoned pork and other meats. All of this for dead-cheap prices.

1. The West Side Market - a veritable celebration of food. Walking down those isles (especially early on a Saturday, when the throngs of people aren't there to make it hard to get around), lined with produce of every color and vendors yelling and thrusting free samples at the crowd, it's food Mecca to me. High-class grocery stores, like West Pointe Market, I can take 'em or leave 'em. The environment and spirit of the West Side I can't do without. There's a certain feeling of comfort to be a regular at the Market. To have a vendor ask why you haven't been around for a bit, or give you a "see you next week" as you head out. Even living just a few minutes from it, nothing gives me a bigger sense of being part of the Cleveland community than the Market. Plus, let's get down to it: play your cards right and you're getting some high quality stuff for very low prices. Some of their inside stands, well, they can be comparable, price-wise, but the quality if just heads and tails (no pun intended) above the local chain grocery store.
Sub-top 5 listing. Top 5 stands in the West Side Market (in no particular order)

* Christopher's Bakery - After giving up Vera's when their bread turned spongy, Christopher's has been our new favorite bakery. They don't have the sugar-filled goodness of Vera's, but their bread is top-notch. The Old World Pugliese being one of their signature breads and an enjoyable, just-crusty-enough treat.

* City Roast - Some of the best coffee I've ever tasted comes from City Roast. People often wait in great lines just for a cup of their wonderful black goodness. Yes, it's more expensive than Folgers, but if you want something that tastes like coffee (instead of cardboard), it's the best place I've found in Cleveland.

* The Hispanic Stand -I really can't remember the name of this place. It's on the outside isles, next to the W. 25th door. Service could not possibly be friendlier and, despite the occasional wilted cilantro, food is almost always top-notch. A joy to go to, even if I'm buying something small.

* Basketaria - I think I spelled that wrong. Either way, it's a lovely stand filled with organic produce, but not at "organic prices." They also always have an odd item or two in stock, if you're looking to try out something new. I love grabbing one of their loose carrots when we go. They're sweet sweet sweet and big enough (re: fucking huge) enough that I can chop what I need for dinner and have enough left over to eat while I'm cooking.

* Meister Cheeses - Though they're often pretty crowded, there's a reason: Their great cheeses and friendly service. I often joke that, even if we don't need any cheese that week, maybe I should stop by, just to pick something up. It doesn't feel like a trip to the Market without a visit to Mr. Meister.

If you live in the Cleveland area and have not visited one or more of these places, I strongly encourage you to do so. Get out of those santized Giant Eagle stores and get some good food!