French Market offers taste of Europe to Chicago

February 1, 2010 10:59:51 AM PST
Mayor Daley proudly unveiled Chicago's first, year-round food market at the beginning of December. The Chicago French Market is by no means in the same class as New York's Chelsea Market, or San Francisco's Ferry Building, or even Toronto's St. Lawrence Market. It's a good start though, and a step in the right direction if Chicago ever hopes to be on par with the other great food cities of the world.

Tucked beneath the Metra trains at the Oglivie Transportation Center, the Chicago French Market comes from the same family that operates several outdoor suburban markets, as well as a few dozen in France.

"We run actually 80 markets in France, 26 in Paris. With one really well-known, which was like the largest organic market in France," said Sebastien Bensidoun, owner of the French Market.

And you'll see plenty of organic produce here, including sandwiches to go, from the Chicago Organics stall. Take it one step further, with the raw food kiosk, where vegans will love the prepared foods and homemade smoothies. Across the way, Necessity Baking Company brings their artisanal breads downtown everyday from Lake Forest, while Pastoral has set up an impressive display case for their domestic and imported cheeses. Bensidoun says there was a need here, both for commuters and neighborhood residents.

"There was no place to shop like that as a market, so we decided a couple years ago when we saw that people was really looking to be more involved to cook at home and to buy food, to shop at an indoor market in Chicago," Bensidoun said.

You can pick up seasonal fruits and vegetables from the Produce Express Company, shop for dinner at the City Fresh Market stand, with it's grass-fed beef and locally-sourced sausage, even satisfy your indulgent side with European-inspired treats from Jefferson Park's Delightful Pastries, or the heavily French-influenced mousses and macaroons from Lincoln Park's own Vanille Patisserie. Belgian French fries are the only things being made at the Frietkoten stand. Hand cut, blanched then fried to order, they're traditionally topped with a squirt of ketchup, another one of mayo, and a shower of finely-diced red onions.

Fans of Uptown's Vietnamese sandwiches - called bahn mi - will relish the chance to get their hands on the goods at the Saigon Sisters' booth.

"I know that a lot of people understand Vietnamese sandwiches and the noodles, I mean they come up to us and ask for the noodles everyday," said Mary Nguyen Aregoni, owner of Saigon Sisters.

The decision to locate their first stall at the French Market was pretty simple.

"The reason is because it's less build-out and there is a captive audience already. You know there's like 225,000 people that work downtown and it's just a really great way to start out a sandwich shop," Aregoni said.

There are plenty of other solid vendors at the French Market including Canady Le Chocolatier from the South Loop, a made-to-order crepe stand as well as a Korean beef bowl kiosk.

There's also parking validation for up to an hour, for free.

Chicago French Market
131 N. Clinton St.

Parking validation: people can park for an hour for free. It's normally $20 an hour.