How very Harry Potter. Between tracks 8 and 9 of the Ogilvie Transportation Center, descend a staircase and follow signs toward MetraMart, where you’ll soon find the Chicago French Market: a glowing oasis of underground vendors of cheeses, produce, meats, fresh sandwiches, sweets, popcorn and pastries galore! Naturally, we spent hours talking and tasting.
You’ll find old favorites like Espression by Lavazza, Vanille Patisserie and Pastoral, but the new-to-town retail locations are the most exciting! You no longer have to order Sweet Miss Giving’s online, and Provo’s finally expanded from its Riverside, Illinois location.
One of our New Years’ resolutions? Always have spare change and an extra 15 minutes every time we pass through Ogilvie. With this many goodies below the tracks, it’ll be hard to forget.
Here’s what we tasted:
We’re no strangers to the Vietnamese answer to hoagies and subs (having tasted bánh mì sandwiches in the heart of New York City’s Chinatown), and Saigon Sisters didn’t disappoint. We ordered a Porky (braised Duroc pork belly, pho flavors, hoisin glaze) and a Frenchman (duck confit, pickled mustard seeds, candied kumquat, rouille). We happily devoured both. The Vietnamese baguettes, made with rice and wheat flour, were the perfect balance of crispy outside and soft inside, and the pickled veggies added the right amount of tang. We loved that the Sisters offers a vegetarian sandwich and a classic bánh mì, too. This is the only location — it’s not a chain!
-Tara and Karina
Necessity Baking Co.
We used a free $10 scratch-off coupon we got after making a purchase (gosh, we love the French Market) to purchase a loaf of olive bread before leaving, even though we were about stuffed from our culinary purchasing tour of the market. The bread at Necessity Baking Co. is so soaked with olive oil, we ate it on the way home, sans condiments. But if you want to make a sandwich out of it, try lightly buttering both sides of two slices and throwing in a little gruyere and/or swiss. Nothing beats a gourmet grilled cheese!
Provo’s Village Bake Shoppe
When I first saw the foot-and-a-half long slab of poppyseed coffee cake, my heart dropped. Just like my grandma used to make! Except it was $6 (far less than what she paid for ingredients) and much more authentic (she got the recipe from her Danish grandparents but was born and raised in Wisconsin). With a light glaze over the top of the lumpy poppyseed mixture and crisscrossed ribbons of puff pastry, it’s unmistakably homemade, and unmistakably an authentic recipe. Provo’s has a location in Riverside, but this is its first in Chicago. I’ll be back for the kolachkis!
-Tara for TKGO
Canady le Chocolatier
We visited the French Market on a good day, because the employees of Canady Le Chocolatier knew exactly what to recommend. TimeOut Chicago had just named their crème brûlée truffle — complete with a hardened sugar disk on top — one of its 100 Best Eats of 2009. I picked up one to see what all the fuss was about (it was delicious). Sticking with the Chicago theme, I also went with a raspberry truffle, which had a cello and the words “Chicago Symphony” adorning the top of the dark chocolate ganache. Then I chose another (completely gratuitous) chocolate topped with flecks of sea salt to indulge my sweet/savory hankering. If you can’t get to the French Market, Canady has a location at 824 S. Wabash, 312-212-1270.
Sweet Miss Giving’s
As if we needed another excuse to purchase baked goods! Sweet Miss Giving’s is a “premier bakery and jobs program,” and more than 50 percent of the profits go toward the formerly homeless and HIV/AIDS-affected men and women living in Chicago.
After sampling pieces of the banana cream pie muffin and chocolate toffee pecan cookie (thank you, free samples) — not to mention asking what exactly was in every item displayed in the cases because it all looked so delectable — I decided on a small pumpkin upside-down cake. It was lightly sweet, moist and had pecans and cranberries baked into the bottom. I planned to save it for breakfast the next morning, but needless to say, that didn’t happen.
The bakery outpost is reason enough to trek to the market; it’s their first and only retail outpost. If you want the goods otherwise, you’ll have to go through their site to order catering, wholesale or gift packages.
–Karina for TKGO
Chicago French Market, 131 North Clinton at MetraMarket (in the West Loop). Monday to Friday, 7:30 a.m.—7:30 p.m.; Saturday 8:30 a.m.—6 p.m. Not open yet: Bowl Square, Chundy’s Bistro, RAW. (We were especially sad that Frietkoten wasn’t open yet either, where we hear the Dutch fries and Belgian beer are some of the Market’s highlights!)