Chicago French Market: A Treasure Under the Stairs

Great shopping? Delicious food? We’d heard rumors about the French Market downtown and we were intrigued enough to hop a train south.

Turns out, the buzz was right. It’s the perfect destination if you’re headed downtown and want to get breakfast or lunch when you get off the train, or if you’re on your way home and need to pick up dinner. Here’s a rundown of where to eat and shop:

Eating – Top Picks:

Saigon Sisters: Oh. My. God. Want to know what all the fuss is about Banh Mi (Vietnamese baguette sandwiches, a current foodie favorite)? Stop here and stop asking. Go for The Frenchman, the crispy rice and wheat flour baguette stuffed with duck confit, pickled mustard seeds, kumquats, and rouille. All Banh Mi feature cucumbers, jalapeno, cilantro, and pickled carrots and daikon radish. Your mouth will thank you.

Raw: Samples galore await you at this raw and all-vegan mecca. The “Salmon” Pate on Bavarian Sunflower “Bread” was surprisingly tasty, as were the Falafel and “Spaghetti” (marinated raw zucchini strands) and “Meatballs” (we can’t begin to guess). Ordinarily, we might not recommend someplace where all foods must be put in quotation marks, but this is really worth a try. And who knows? You might feel full but guilt-free.

Flip Crepes: Made to order while you watch (kids will love it!) We tried the buckwheat crepe filled with sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, arugula and balsamic syrup. Very filling!

Freitkoten Belgian Fries and Beer:
It was a little early for beer, but we loved the Belgian-style frites, served in a large paper cone with your choice of groovy sauces (mmm…green tomato and chili mayo).

Shopping–Lots of goodies to bring home on the train:

Abbey Brown Soap Artisan: Locally made soaps rich with olive oil and botanicals. This store also offers hand-crafted goods from local artisans.

Canady le Chocolatier: Sadly, Canady was closed when we visited, but the chocolates looked beautiful and tempting, especially the golden Buddhas. Many are made on-site.

Chicago Organics: This store has free-range, organic chickens roasted and ready to go, along with a limited selection of vegetables and fruits.

City Fresh Market: Fruits, veggies, meats and seafood. Stop here for competitively priced produce and staples. Unusual items include Hungarian smoked bacon and pork loin.

Fumare Meat: As the name implies, offers locally smoked and cured meats including bacon and pastrami. Sandwiches available.

Lavazza: Strong, Italian coffee and gelato to get you ready for a little more shopping. Buzzzzz!

Necessity Baking Company:
Bread and totes? An unusual combination, but the oil-cloth totes would be perfect for carrying home your goodies. Make sure to include the Parmesan “Faux-caccia.”

The only store offering wine, Pastoral has a limited, but well-thought out selection of bottles. They also have sandwiches, artisan cheeses and French-style breads.

Produce Express: This beautiful farm stand still had local produce in January (potatoes, a few root veggies and greenhouse-grown tomatoes). Everything local or organic is noted.

Provo’s Bakery: Old world European baked goods including tortes and fruit-filled kolachke.

Sweet Miss Giving’s: This bakery is known for its cookies, cupcakes and scones. Even sweeter than their treats, their profits support the homeless. The Carrot Cake cupcakes with caramelized walnuts were a treat.

Vanille Patisserie:
The macaroons are colorful jewels, though on a recent Monday, not as fresh as we would like. But about the croissants, there are no complaints. All three varieties (Almond, Chocolate, and Plain) were fantastic, the outer crust breaking into buttery shards of deliciousness, the fillings not overly sweet.

Wisconsin Cheese Market:
Locally produced (just a state away) cheeses.

How to Get There:

Intrigued? Hungry? The French Market is a snap to get to from the Northern suburbs. Take the Metra (Union Pacific North Line) to Ogilvie then ignore the masses flowing toward the station. All you’ll find in the main terminal is fast food restaurants and chain stores. Instead, turn around, walk against the flow of humanity and go down the stairs to the commuter concourse level and the city’s French Market will be waiting.

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