To Market, To Market...

I'm not sure why I've had so little motivation to write of late. It's not that I haven't been busy; to the contrary, there was not a single blank day in my calendar last week. Granted, most of those days were occupied with visits to Natasha, who is now anticipating a minimum of two full weeks at the hospital, although she seems generally better than she did a week ago. I did manage to get out this weekend for some more uplifting activities, such as investigating the Metramarket development that has recently opened next to Chicago's Ogilvie Transporation Center. At the heart of the new complex is the French Market, which is more or less just what it sounds like -- a food hall modeled along the same lines as the indoor and outdoor food markets that can be found all over Europe. Chicago's version boasts a collection of produce vendors, bakeries, butchers, patisseries, florists, and cheese and wine vendors, all of which are offshoots of mom-and-pop establishments from across the Chicagoland area, along with a few stalls peddling prepared foods.

Having just eaten, I focused my visit on getting the lay of the land, and on food items that could be taken home and eaten at a later point in time. To that end, I sampled chocolate croissants from Vanille Patisserie, a Lincoln Park establishment focusing on haute French-style confections. It was appropriately flaky and buttery, and I could have easily mistaken it for its authentic brethren had it not been for the slightly off-tasting chocolate filling. I enjoy dark chocolate, but this had a somewhat off-putting flavor going on in the background that I couldn't quite put my finger on.

I was more pleased with my selection from Sweet Miss Giving's, a Goose Island bakery that donates half of its proceeds to combat homelessness and to those afflicted with HIV, in addition to providing job training to the underprivileged. Although I've consumed baked goods from numerous charity-driven job training bakeries in the past, this was honestly the first time I have ever done so and enjoyed it. The maple pecan scone I purchased from Sweet Miss Giving's was flavorful and moist, and actually beat out the ones I have made at home. As an avid home baker, I am infinitely disappointed when I spend money on bakery goods, only to receive something inferior to what I could produce on my own. On that basis alone, Sweet Miss Giving's is a winner in my book!

My final purchase at the French Market came from Fumare Meats, which, as far as I can tell, does not have another location in the Chicago metropolitan area, but I could be mistaken. They featured an impressive selection of cured meats, including roughly ten different varieties of slab bacon, sliced to order. I made a mental note of the impressive-looking andouille sausage for a planned attempt to make red beans and rice in the future, but since I was not looking to prepare any meat dishes this week, I resisted most of their tempting offerings and instead chose a sampler package of sausage products. I appreciated that they offered that option, as I find it difficult to commit to new things if there is a chance I'll be wasting my money on something I won't care for. Thankfully, my packet of sausage bites from Fumare was tasty enough that I will definitely be returning for my future charcuterie needs.

I also look forward to returning and sampling the products of some of the prepared foods vendors. While I could easily skip the curry cart, and the stall selling raw food meals, I was attracted to the cart offering Vietnamese banh mi, a sandwich featuring a baguette stuffed with picked vegetables and an eclectic combination of French and Vietnamese ingredients that has recently gained tremendous popularity in foodie circles. I would also gladly check out a stall offering Belgian-style frites paired with various dipping sauces and Belgian beers. Overall, I would say that the French Market offers promising noshing opportunities.

My only problem with the French Market was the somewhat depressing ambiance. Despite the name, the facility was wholly lacking in European ambiance. The ceiling boasted a labyrinth of electrical, HVAC and plumbing pipes and conduits, harsh fluorescent lighting cast a supermarket-like pall over the interior, and the linoleum floor, while undoubtedly practical, was doing nothing to contribute an upscale sensibility to the space. The French Market provided an interesting brief diversion, one which I would be willing to revisit, but it could most definitely benefit from some cosmetic changes to turn it into a charming, European-style destination where I would want to spend an afternoon lingering.

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