A 164-year-old Market Is the Epicenter of Cincinnati’s Culinary Revival
Why it's worth spending your afternoon at this Over-the-Rhine institution.
Findlay Market, in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, is the longest-operating public market in the state of Ohio, and one of the oldest in the nation. The market has gone through moments of both prominence and near-demise since it began operation in 1855, but today, its main market hall — as well as the storefronts immediately bordering it, which together feature more than 50 full-time businesses — constitute the beating heart of Cincinnati’s culinary revival.
For those in town for business, the market is a short walk from Cincinnati’s downtown hotels, a perfect place to grab a meal or fill a few idle hours between meetings; for those exploring on their own terms, the market is an essential stop while exploring Cincinnati’s downtown museums, monuments, and riverfront. Graze as you go, grab a table and people watch, or gather the makings of a picnic in one of Cincinnati’s charming parks.
The inside of the market is a cook’s dream: fresh seafood and poultry, bulk spices, cheese, a universe of produce, and fresh cut flowers. If you tire of ogling the goods, take a break at Taste of Belgium — owner Jean-Francois Flechet moved to Cincinnati in 2000 to pursue a PhD, but soon began testing recipes to replicate the streetside waffles he’d grown up with back home. Using a traditional cast-iron waffle maker and sugar pearls imported from Belgium, Flechet’s crave-worthy waffles have been a market fixture since 2008.
After gathering your groceries, head outdoors and begin your rounds of Findlay Market Square. Here, you’ll encounter a mix of longtime market stalwarts and new-school food businesses that, together, define Cincinnati’s unique food culture. Pop in to Eckerlin Meats, a butcher that’s been part of the market since day one. Today, Eckerlin’s is operated by Bob Lillis, great grandson of the founder, German immigrant Ernie Eckerlin. Stop in for a taste of goetta, the Cincinnati area’s answer to scrapple: an addictively spiced mixture of beef, pork, and steel-cut oats.
Around the corner, Dean’s Mediterranean Imports has been peddling hard-to-find specialty groceries (labneh, homemade dips and spreads, imported olive oil, house-roasted nuts, and honeyed sweets) from owner Dean Zaidan’s native Lebanon, and beyond, for more than 30 years. Today, Dean’s daughter Kate runs the show, with an eye towards meeting the needs of worldly cooks and eaters.
When your appetite gets the best of you, start eating. The Arepa Place specializes in Colombian and Venezuelan street food made from scratch (really: they boil and grind their own corn). Founder Isis Arrieta-Dennis began hawking her delicacies in a seasonal pop-up tent outside the market in 2016, but, with support from Findlay Kitchen — an incubator and training center for emerging businesses — she and her husband were able to open a brick-and-mortar shop in 2018.
Don’t miss the Rhined, Stephanie and Dave Webster’s beautifully-curated artisanal cheese shop. The careful selection ranges from American farmstead cheeses from the Ohio River Valley to the best European imports. Order a glass from the beautifully approachable wine and beer list; pair a few cheeses, some charcuterie, and bread from Sixteen Bricks; and perch at the counter or the shop’s cozy back porch. On Wednesday evenings, raclette night is a must.
Finish off your market tour with something sweet at Maverick, Cincinnati’s award-winning chocolatier and Ohio’s first bean-to-bar chocolate company. Former aviation engineer Paul Picton and his wife, Marlene, began experimenting with making chocolate when Paul, weary after years of work travel, turned down a permanent post in Berlin. They were quick studies: in 2014 they opened their doors and, by 2015, they began winning awards on the international chocolate circuit. (Their 2018 Good Food Award-winning Big Island Hawaii 70% Dark Chocolate is so popular that it’s often out of stock.) Stop in to sample any chocolate you like before committing to a full bar, and, while you’re at it, pick up a few of Marlene’s psychedelic-toned truffles.