Barb Cooper, co-owner of the Daisy Mae’s Market at Findlay Market, wants to get one thing straight. Just because she wears her “Chiquita Banana”-like hat to lead tours of Findlay Market doesn’t mean she is Daisy Mae.
That title belongs to a grandmother on her husband’s side. “Barry’s grandmother was Daisy Mae. And when Barry and his brother started out in this business, they decided to give it her name.”
Barb also wants customers to know something else. Findlay Market is a treasure. Our city’s treasure. Barb is not giving tours for the money. She is doing it to share the story of passionate, committed vendors who make-up the community of Findlay Market.
One a sunny Wednesday this Spring, several of my lunch club members made the jaunt from Loveland to taste the bounties of the market as part of the Findlay Market Food Tour, (not to be confused with those offered free, at the market) where guests visit six different vendors, who rotate amongst twenty or so.
The tour itself began at the newly-renovated stand of Daisy’ Mae’s on the outer ring of the market. Daisy Mae’s once was located at the Race Street end, before deciding to expand. Then, customers typically stopped to by to ask, “Where can I find…” or “Do you know…,” thus the genesis of the food tours at Findlay.
We moved to Fresh Table, where Chef Meredith Trombly, a graduate of the Midwest Culinary School, and two partners, produce a fresh bevy of salads and take-home comestibles, touting one of the best lunch deals at the market or in the city. $7.99 for a trio of salads. And they make the best use of blueberries, in their refreshing blueberry and feta salad
Did you know there is room behind Fresh Table’s counter for four chef stations, after they built out the space? And, they also cater. And yes, that’s all Rookwood!
We transitioned to Velvet BBQ where Matt Schneider, a jack of all trades, has consistently won awards for his smoked brisket. That day his wife was behind the counter, while Matt was busy prepping for a new space in Harrison for a restaurant.
Barb also wants you to know that many vendors, such as Matt, J.F. Fletchet, founder of Taste of Belgium, or Nick Pesola of Revolution Rotisserie now on Race near the SCPA, “grow up here.” They find their niche, try out ideas on a diverse, always revolving set of customers, and they take their concept to the wider world. If the idea works at Findlay, it’ll work anywhere. And, these vendors never forsake their roots.
We left the BBQ stand and stood in the middle of the market, at a crossroads where a mosaic installation, with tiles from France, greets the masses. The area inside the market house is one of the primary pass-throughs, where every visitor will step on or around and gawk at the artwork which represents Findlay Market in 50-year intervals, beginning with its founding in 1852, then 1902, 1952 and 2002, its 150th anniversary. Next time you walk near Taste of Belgium, don’t get too distracted by the sweet scent of waffles, look down instead.
Churchill’s Fine Teas was our next stop with a white rose green iced tea tasting shared by co-owner, Kathleen Kern. One entire shop wall is ablaze with a dizzying set of tea types as well as sample tins of loose tea leaves to tickle your senses.
In Churchhill’s former space in Tower Place Mall, the owners had a separate space for tea parties, but walk-up traffic eventually died off. As frequent customers of Findlay, the owners sensed Findlay’s space would be a natural fit as the market expanded and they were right. The Kern’s have been at Findlay since 2009.
My favorite black tea, for which I will bundle up in the middle of winter and trudge through the snow to buy when I run out, is Lapsang Suchong, better known as backyard tire fire, to my family.
Did you know that Churchill’s now offers a high tea, in partnership with Cincinnatian Hotel, the third Sunday of every month?
We moved around the other end of the market, where the scent of Eli’s was rather enticing, but we towed the line, and traipsed into Maverick Chocolate, a family-owned and operated craft chocolate company. Owner Paul Picton gave a rousing presentation on the brief history of their business, having to keep our attention while the scent of chocolate wafted around distracted tour patrons. Meanwhile, his two sons sat in the back packaging chocolate bars.
They recently won a medal, after only being in business for a year, and also utilize a direct-trade model, working directly with the cacao farmers. The Krohn Conservatory occasionally hosts a cacao tasting, where one can sample right from the bean that was grown in-house. Maverick Chocolate is a key ingredient in Taft’s Ale House Chocolate porter, as well as in a simple syrup my husband, Doc Whiskey, makes for his infamous bourbon nights.
Our second to last stop was Dean’s Mediterranean Imports where we sampled their special roasted nuts, now packaged for consumption – great to take on trips and airlines when the peanuts just don’t get it. We feasted on a falafel wrap made with pita bread shipped from Detroit. Co-manager and daughter Kate Zaidan informed our group that Detroit boasts the largest population of Greek/Middle eastern immigrants. The pita bread is promptly frozen upon arrival at Dean’s, and thaws in ten minutes for use.
But what you should know is that everyone calls Dean’s, the Jungle Jim’s of Findlay Market, but soon customers will start turning it around, and call Jungle Jim’s, the Dean’s Mediterranean of Fairfield. Their website also allows for online ordering.
We concluded our tour with a fresh, light chocolate croissant from Cake Rake Bakery, first established in Cleveland in 1992. Owned by Jeannette Werle, Cake Rack is in the former Skirtz and Johnston space, serving breakfast and lunch. The space is filled with art, the scent of pastries, and quiet enough when you can no longer stand the boisterousness of the market. They too, were once a small stand on the outer ring. And now, they boast a website for online ordering as well.
Get there early on a Saturday or their famous strawberry cake will be gone. Phone ahead to order what I, as an aficionado, would deem the best damn cannoli’s this side of my grandmother’s grave, as well as their Italian wedding and cassata cakes. Did I mention they originated in Cleveland?
Take the Findlay Market Food tour if you’re hungry. Take the tour if you’ve never been. I have shopped at Findlay a hundred times since moving to the city, and yet each time, I arrive, greeted by a new concept or flavor or vendor, and little more entrenched in the culinary and cultural history of the market and our city. And if you’re lucky, Barb will show you the building where the first Red’s uniform was stitched. Hint: There is a smoky smell in proximity.
And remember, the Corporation for Findlay Market, founded to fund the 2002 renovation and keeps those fun red chairs clean and the farmer’s stand humming, is a non-profit that is only partially subsidized by the city. When you are ready to elevate your tastes, consider attending Eat Local for the Globe, a brilliant collaboration of the city’s bests chefs and Findlay’s vendors. The event serves as the market’s annual fundraiser to be held September 10, 2015.