Friday, April 8, 2011

A Glimpse at the Downtown Cincinnati Food Scene: Findlay Market and Emporium Coffee

I was in my hometown of Cincinnati recently to visit my parents. My parents are always surprised that I don’t come with a list of things I want to do when I’m home, but the truth is I very much enjoy resting. Especially after flying for almost countless hours from Vietnam. Still, near the end of my trip I took advantage of Cincinnati’s decent weather and went downtown on successive days. The places I most like to visit when I’m home are only two or three: Findlay Market, The Cincinnati Art Museum, and the restaurants, shops, and parks around Mt. Adams and the Ohio River.

Findlay Market is near a historic area of Cincinnati called Over-the-Rhine, and is Ohio’s oldest surviving municipal market house. Built originally in 1852, and opened for business three years later, Findlay Market has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places for nearly 40 years. Its most recent renovation, which an included an expansion, was completed in 2003. The names of several shops in the market, and the distinctive architecture in the neighborhood, speaks to the large German and German-American population that settled in Cincinnati in the early- and mid-20th century.

One of the first places in the market that we came to was a long, continuous row of vegetable stands. My mom stopped by here and bought some cucumbers and green beans, while I kept moving along and attracting attention with my camera.

We also stopped in a shop called Eckerlin’s, which specializes in cheeses, meats, breads, and jarred goods such as olives. We took a stab at a new kind of cheese my parents like—white cheddar with horseradish—and they produced a half-wheel of it immediately. We bought a pound for less than $9 and went on our merry way.

The indoor market is surrounded by quite a few specialty shops as well as the occasional restaurant.

There’s also an outdoor seating area with plastic chairs and tables; a nice location in the market, too, since you can get food-to-go from just about anywhere.

You can get all kinds of international products here, from Middle Eastern foods to Italian, French, Greek, Vietnamese, and Mexican, just to name a few. We stopped inside a store called Madison’s, which had too many imported common fruits and vegetables for my taste, and went inside a few more other places as well.

I always like to browse around some of the fishmonger shops, too, but we didn’t have a lot of time today and fish wasn’t on our shopping list anyway.

We headed to the indoor part of the market to seek out lunch. It was pretty busy here, mostly with people buying things to cook in their own kitchens. It’s amazing what one can find here. Virtually any kind of typical meat is here, including Amish poultry if that’s your thing.

There is also a very good selection of fish and seafood, which isn't always easy to find in Cincinnati (from what I remember).

We were after something to eat at the market, though, and it took a while for us to check everything and figure out what we wanted. Somehow we opted for gyros, which I haven’t had in probably two years, at a Greek booth called Areti’s.

The gyros were cheap at $4.75, but they were hard to polish off. To say that the woman who made our food was generous with the lamb pieces would be a major understatement. I could barely get it all down.

Despite feeling full, I couldn’t stop myself from stuffing myself further with a Whoopee, which is basically just two airy chocolate cookies with sweet cream cheese in the middle. I had it cut in two, and my dad and I gorged ourselves.

Walking through Findlay Market, one occasionally comes upon local artwork. In recent years, it seems, the Cincinnati flying pig has become more visible, especially downtown and along the river. Not surprisingly, given how much pork is sold here, there’s a pig statue at one end of the market. There are also murals and even an interesting chair made out of steel, though I don’t think you’re supposed to sit on it.

Findlay Market is on Elder Street between Elm and Race. Hours of operation are Tuesday through Friday from 9 am – 6 pm, Saturday from 8 am – 6 pm, and on Sunday from 10 am – 4 pm. The market is closed on Monday. Tel: (513) 665-4839. Email: The Farmers Market is on from April through November on Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. For more information, please see the Findlay Market website: There’s all kinds of information here, including seasonal local recipes.

My dad wanted to show me what he promised was a good downtown café, so we left Findlay Market and headed further downtown to a place called Emporium Café. Along the way we passed by quite a few blossoming pear trees (or were they dogwoods? or magnolias?). I took photos from the back seat of the car, which isn't exactly a prime spot. I got a couple serviceable ones, though, as you can see below. These trees are everywhere at this time of year. Most of the other trees in the area have yet to bud.

The cafe didn’t exactly look like much from the sidewalk, though the outdoor seating was a nice touch, but as soon as we stepped inside I was taken aback by how big the place was.

Interestingly, only about a quarter of the space the café occupies is devoted to seating. There’s a big room used to store, grind, and apparently bag coffee, and a sales area between there and the barista counter.

City Beat, the local alternative newspaper, named Emporium the best coffeehouse last year. I can see why. The coffee was pretty tasty, and the café is easily the nicest I’ve been to in Cincinnati.

As you can see below, downtown Cincinnati, which I photographed from the sidewalk outside the cafe, is just a short walk away, and the location of Emporium is really pretty excellent.

I could see myself camping out here on many a weekend…if only Cincinnati were in, say, Asia.

Coffee Emporium is located at 110 East Central Parkway. Tel: (513) 651-5483. Web:

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