“The North Market is not a pre-packaged experience. It’s a living, breathing, loud, beautiful, unpredictable environment. Fancier cities only wish they had such a vibrant market with a rich, flavorful history.” — Jeni Britton Bauer
It’s no accident that Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams got its start in the iconic North Market. It’s the pantry (and kitchen) to our city — and a tastemakers’ hangout — where both the past and the future of the Columbus food scene are practically written on the walls and stocked throughout its stalls. Since the venerable market is currently undergoing a radical transformation that’ll soon culminate in a sorta “re-grand opening” (and every day booze service), it’s time for an update.
In a nutshell, super-stellar Pistacia Vera and a “best-in-class,” as-yet-unnamed deli are moving in, and The Barrel and Bottle is creating a “cafe” where patrons can legally enjoy adult beverages with any market grub they’ve purchased (see next section for details). These momentous changes are linked to a $1.2 million renovation that stars a huge new ventilation system that’ll protect visitors from smelling like the meal they just ate — or watched other people eating. Due to this mammoth HVAC installation, a game of vendor musical chairs has been played, resulting in a bifurcated market best described this way: Businesses needing a kitchen hood (10 new hoods are going in) are districted to the western half; most others (i.e. more grocery-focused) head east.
Steering this complicated overhaul of our oldest farmers market (and looking to recruit even more farmers to its outdoor summer market), is Rick Harrison Wolfe, North Market’s energetic new executive director, with whom I recently had an illuminating conversation. Declaring “It’s not 1876 anymore,” Wolfe (alluding to the year the market started) described how challenging it is to champion an old-fashioned business model in a modern economy.
Wolfe postulated that if the bottom-line reality means in addition to offering phenomenal groceries, this middle-of-the-city market also feeds thousands of nearby workers affordable and interesting “food-court-style” meals, then that’s a good thing. Relatedly, since many of the over one million North Market visitors per year are conventioneers whose impressions of Columbus are molded by waltzes through this city-owned and city-reflecting meeting place, then aren’t we making a great impression? I’d answer “yes” to that question.
Focusing on the effects of these changes on six vendors, here’s a look at the businesses creating these great impressions. Note: Market renovations will hopefully be completed by Thanksgiving and, though ever “unpredictable,” North Market should be back to full capacity by the new year.
The tributary of an elite Columbus delicatessen (I’d offer a guess, but a Katzinger’s got my tongue).
Pistacia Vera — baker of stunning and superior dessert artworks, its market branch will offer only-available-here specialties.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
Addressing their recent market relocation, Jeni Britton Bauer noted that, “If taking a considerably smaller space to allow another business to have a hood is best for the market, then we’re on board.” Though extremely content in their former spot, Britton Bauer sanguinely assessed the move by observing, “Anytime you shake things up, you create new interest.” On a similar note, Britton Bauer remarked she loves wandering through this reconfigured and reinvigorated market because, “It all seems new.” As for the future of North Market and Jeni’s — i.e. Columbus’ most indispensable daily culinary shopping complex and the best, most creative boutique ice cream company in America — Britton Bauer said it’s all about, “Getting better every day. I’m excited to see how this plays out.”
The Barrel and Bottle
If you’ve ever scored some tempting market food and thought, “Man, I’d like to gnaw on this right here right now with a great glass of wine or beer,” well, soon you can. See, the terrific B&B is ambitiously expanding to include a Euro-style sipping cafe where you can do exactly that. Scheduled for completion around the new year and sharing what co-owner Jen Burton nicknamed “the wall of indulgence” with Jeni’s, the new B&B cafe will feature about eight (Ohio-focused) craft taps plus lots of carefully selected vino dispensed from a state-of-the-art Napa Technology WineStation system. Cocktails will also be big there, as will frequent beer and wine tastings. As a side-effect of this growth, the growler-selling brew and wine shop’s inventory should also increase by about 20-30 percent.
Pam’s Market Popcorn
“The next time I move, I’m dead,” goofed Pam Tylka. Tylka, who makes popcorn so delicious I wish she sold it in strap-on feedbags, calls herself a market “gypsy,” since she’s gone through four relocations in eight years. Fortunately, she’s happy with her roomier new digs, which afford opportunities to branch out into … ridiculously good dips and potato chip “nachos.” Epitomizing the symbiosis possible in this market, Tylka uses meats from Bluescreek and seasonings from North Market Spices to upgrade her grandmother’s sloppy joe recipe. Now add crispy OH! Burger-made chips, Greener Grocer-purchased Snowville Creamery creme fraiche, racy blue cheese from Curds and Whey and — bingo! — an irresistible new snack.
Bluescreek Farm Meat
“Most everything we sell comes from the happy animals we raise on our (Marysville) farm, and that freshness and care comes through,” co-owner Cheryl Smith told me about this more-than-20-year market anchor and chef’s favorite. Smith explained that Bluescreek is responding to the market’s “re-grand-opening excitement” with a “major facelift.” If you’ve never purchased any clean and terrific meat from Bluescreek, here’s why Skillet Rustic Urban’s Chef Kevin Caskey (whom I recently witnessed placing a huge order) told me he’s so loyal: “The high quality of their product is number one. Number two — it’s a totally locally based business. Number three — their methods link up with my (farm-to-fork) philosophy. And number four — they’re damn fine people!”
Kitchen Little and North Market Poultry and Game
“I now have a license to fry, and I intend to use it because the people need crispy food,” enthused co-owner Jerry Bullock about the sparkling new hood recently connected to the cooking arm (Kitchen Little) of his family’s 1995-minted NMP&G business. An organic, grass-fed and free-range pioneer in the fields of bison, turkey, pheasant, rabbit — you name it — this real-deal mom-n-popper is also famous for rib-sticking, top-restaurant-quality meals such as its legendary cassoulet. So now that Kitchen Little will be “literally cooking with gas,” what fresh menu items can gourmands expect to enjoy? How about luscious “landlubber’s paella, bison chimichangas and killer fried chicken?” Umm, yes please!
The Greener Grocer
If you’re searching for locally grown and highly prized wild maitake mushrooms, pure Ohio cider and/or Athens-area-sourced black turtle beans — and you’re wondering what kind of seasonings these delicacies might benefit from — then you’ve come to the right spot. See, the market’s reconfiguration resulted in placing this “ain’t fakin’ it” trailblazer of farm-to-grocer goodies (it’s the “strategic partner” of important and innovative Local Matters) directly across from heady North Market Spices. Or, as general manager Colleen Yuhn put it, “I’m really excited to have Spices as our neighbor — it makes a lot of sense, because we can work together, cross-reference and cross-promote.” Yuhn also hopes their new position near Jeni’s might bring this high-quality-produce-selling gem even “more visibility.”