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Openings Sun Dec 06 2009

First Look at the Chicago French Market

frenchmarket_apples.jpgChicago's new European inspired French Market opened at the Ogilvie Metra Center in the West Loop Thursday. Its focus will be on local artisan purveyors -- the current tagline of the food industry.

The year round indoor market was developed in partnership with the Bensidoun family, fourth generation Parisian market operators. They're attempting to recapture some of the vitality and entrepreneurial spirit that fell pray to mass marketing here in the States post WWII.

Besides offering essential convenience products, the Market strives to provide distinctive small batch culinary experiences featuring local bounty. At 15,000 square feet, there's room for 25-30 purveyors. At opening they were about 80 percent leased.

Vendors include the mother and daughter team at Delightful Pastries, a European style bakery that will feature both sweet and savory dishes. This is the second location they've opened in the last two months; the other is at 1710 N. Wells. Pretty bold in today's economy. Choose from such delicacies as peanut butter mousse-chocolate tarte, lamb and spinach pie or beet borscht.

I became acquainted with their products at a party of over-the-top foodies a couple years ago, where they were the hit of the day. Their shop is located front and center at the Clinton Street entrance. Highly recommended.

frenchmarket_lines.jpg

Fumare brings traditionally cured and smoked meats from local producers. On the other end of the spectrum, RAW features uncooked and unprocessed vegan foods.

Korean and Vietnamese food will be available at Bowl Square and Saigon Sisters, both offering their culture's signature dishes. Bibim bop and pho are in the house, but from what I saw yesterday, dying a slow death in electric chafing dishes. Not necessarily a bad thing if handled properly, i.e. for short periods of time in the height of a rush, but that remains to be seen.

On day one, I'd give them the benefit of the doubt. A grace period of at least a couple weeks should be afforded to any new business to work out the kinks, particularly in the restaurant industry. No one opens at 100 percent.

Not having any past data to work with makes it harder to predict volume of inventory needed. Remember, this is perishable food with a short shelf life. There's a fine line between making too much and wasting it or not making enough and losing a sale. For many, gauging this balancing act correctly can mean the difference between success and failure.

Besides that, workmen were still installing and putting finishing touches throughout the facility. That will most likely continue over the next couple weeks -- the final tweaking of a punch list that could number in the hundreds.

frenchmarket_workers.jpg

Jim Slama of Chicago Organics claims they will proffer 100-percent certified organic produce and dairy products priced below competition. It remains to be seen how they'll accomplish that but one can hope. At a glance, comparatively most prices were in line yesterday.

Pastoral will continue to offer high quality artisan cheeses, charcuterie and breads along with small production wines, just as in their Lakeview and Loop locations. Sandwiches and salads are also available. They seemed the busiest yesterday. They're just to the side of the market entrance, so how they're going to handle the line is something they'll have to work out.

In all, a respectable, much needed and welcome addition to the city. Especially for the commuters, local residents and the million people who work nearby.

Right time, right place. It's a natural.

French Market
131 N. Clinton
Hours: 7:30am to 7:30pm Monday-Friday, 8:30am to 6pm Saturday
One free hour of parking with a $20 purchase at one or more Market vendors.

a. Lewellen / December 10, 2009 4:09 PM

Can't wait to stop by. not really in a convienient location for me but if it's worth it I'll make the trip.

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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