OUR RATING: Do It!
This huge, indoor, year round marketplace beneath the train terminal next to the Ogilvie Transportation Center has just celebrated its third anniversary. Thirty one different vendors offer a variety of delicious fare, from meats, to cheese, to wines, to flowers, the list is endless. With real markets being so few and far between in the city, a visit to the French Market will be an eye-opening day of fun.
Alicia: Supporting local farmers and artisans, the Chicago French Market brings the European-inspired marketplace to Chicago, allowing year-round, permanent access to some of the freshest goods in the city. Your obvious first stop should be City Fresh Market, selling anything from fresh produce to meats, to cheese and other grocery items. After you’ve shopped for the necessities, it’s the boutiques you must hit up next, and everything is eye/nose candy. And you’ll get hungry, trust me.
If you’re in the mood for food and a little France, take a gander at Le Cafe du Marche, specializing in French-inspired sandwiches. And then there’s Frietkoten Belgian Fries & Beer, with fries, fries, fries galore. Here you can experience Amsterdam’s traditional Frietkoten ‘fry shack’ with a paper cone filled to the brim with hand cut Belgian fries, along with your choice of sauce from a selection of 20 different sauces each day. Finally, you can get in on the latest Lillie’s Q barbeque craze without having to travel to their Bucktown location.
But what really gets my mouth watering is not the savory options at CFM, but rather the desserts. Pastries, doughnuts, fresh baked bread…what’s not to love? You can grab authentic European pastries from Delightful Pastries or Vanille Patisserie, with choices including macarons, tarts, fine chocolates, and even fresh pierogies. Or get your American doughnut on at Beavers Coffee + Donuts, whose food truck is often seen exploring the city emitting the most fantastic smells of fried dough. And just wait – in May, famed chef Stephanie Izard will be bringing a satellite location of Little Goat Bread to the market, which will be sure to provide you with your carb fix.
Adam: Artisan foods, fine wines and a big open space to enjoy it all in? Well, that’s the Chicago French Market for you! Strangely, multi-vendor markets aren’t really a feature of US life as in many other countries. Obviously, the Middle East is replete with such examples of communal selling, and even the larger town next to my village in England has a monthly farmers’ market, with intermittent French markets from the produces of our sister town in Normandy. Yet, America has only recently been blessed with this phenomenon, allowing you to savour the smells of cooking and preparation, while samples flow freely, assailing the taste-buds with delicious contrasts.
Standing out as one of the most interesting venues is Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine, along the west wall. With artisan cheese, bread and wine, quality wines are often given freely in tastings, while their available cheeses are diverse and well-rounded. Another highlight is Saigon Sisters, adding a little Asian to the mix, and they are known for their banh mi. Of course, the French connection sings through here also, Saigon being the colonial name for modern Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam (then French Indochina).
And then there are the small vendors, producing lots of unique sweet treats, spices, soups and other goodies that can be enjoyed in the food court or at home. Delicious, simple and good, make sure you at least get a baguette, some wine and a lump of cheese, while filling up on all the samples you can.
Final Thoughts: Chicago French Market is fun, free and full of life. Excitingly, tomorrow (Saturday, April 27th) marks the 3rd Annual Pastoral Artisan Producers Fest from 11am – 3pm. Featuring over 80 vendors and numerous samples, it’s a great way of getting acquainted with the market and trying some really special delights.