Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Akron Local Food: Don't Buy Food From Strangers


I had lunch yesterday with a fellow personal chef whose first day as a local resident was yesterday . She's moving from California (and hoping her moving truck makes it through the next storm front this week).

Over Short Rib Sliders (awesome), and Thai Peanut Soup, heavy on the peanuts (ok, but the peanut quantity was a bit weird), at Moe's in Cuyahoga Falls,  I tried to give her the skinny on what and where to eat and procure foodstuffs locally.

We squinted at a map (I forgot my readers), and she scribbled some notes, and I was going to send her a nice email with some links to recap, but decided to post it all here for future reference.

First, our awesome farmer's markets sponsored by Countryside Conservancy.  Go to their link to get the locations and dates of the in-season markets, and to sign up for their mailing list which will give you e-mail heads-up on what's coming up.  There are winter markets on the third Saturday of the month at the Happy Days Visiting Center @500 W. Streetsboro Rd. in Peninsula.  

My second favorite source is the West Side Market in Cleveland.  It's only open Mondays, Wed, Friday and Saturday.  I usually go on Friday; Saturdays are very crowded.  My go to organic veggie source is The Basketeria, run by the friendly Anita and Tom.  They source as much local stuff in season as possible, but off season, they are my #1 source for organics.  Send them an e-mail and you'll get a weekly e-mail on Thursday with the specials, and special prices for insiders.  Tell 'em the Diva sent you.  I'll be doing some kind of demo at the stand on a Saturday in March - if you have an idea, send me a note.  

The Cheese Shop, Kate's Fish, The Mediterranean Market, Pinzone's, all at West Side Market, take good care of me, as well as a host of the fruit and veggie vendors, who ply me with fresh figs in season, and whatever other tempting things I can't resist.  And in winter, you can't beat fresh, organic herbs for $1 each.  I stock up and usually get a few weeks out of mine.  

For cheap canned goods, cleaning stuff, and weird close-out stuff, you can't beat Marcs.  The one in Cuyahoga Falls has a pretty decent organic section, and even has a deli. (Full disclosure - I personally wouldn't do their deli foods; I pretty much stick to the West Side if I am doing those).  They only take cash, checks and Discover, so plan accordingly.  

Personally, I'm thankful they finally got scanners and started taking Discover, as I'd abandoned them for awhile. You are also wise to avoid peak shopping hours there, and check your impatient foot-tapping, eye rolling tendencies at the door.  Some stores are better than others, and at mine, the clerks all know me, but if you are in a hurry I guarantee there will be twenty five people trailing behind two check-outs while someone is paying in lint covered pocket change.  You also can't rely on them having the same items from week to week. You should get their weekly flyer in your mail.

If I have to shop a grocery store, Giant Eagle (a chain out of Pittsburgh) is my choice.  Their natural and organics selection is decent, and the larger stores have decent, clearly identified, gluten free choices.  Their natural chicken and ground turkey are acceptable when you can't get it direct from a farmer. 

If you wander a little north to Hudson, or Brecksville, Heinen's is excellent.  No carts in the parking lot - you pull up and they load your car.  The only fresh salad bar worthy of piling it on and paying the sometimes, shocking total.  I really wish they'd move closer to Akron.

Trader Joe's is another store we need around here, but the closest one is in Woodmere.  But it's conveniently located next to Sur la Table, Penzey's, and Michael Symon's B-Spot, so making the trip isn't that painful.  In the summer the outdoor landscaping is beautiful.

My fellow Akron blogger over at Dad Cooks Dinner, has compiled a nice list of ethnic markets in the area, including his recent road trip post to the Mexican grocery.

West Point Market is the place to head if you have a fistful of cash burning a hole in your pocket.  The most impressive cheese case in the area (be sure to get a cheese club card for a free pound after it's full - I think I scored a $45 pound of parmesan once with mine).  I still sometimes wander around slack jawed admiring the shelves.

The wine selection is also outstanding.  They recently moved the knickknack and tchotchke section to the back of the store into the former tea room, and expanded the wine section into the space.  I recently attended the sold out tasting of 50 red wines under $15, which was more difficult than you'd imagine.  After about 10, they either taste pretty good or really bad.

If you want to impress your date with dinner at home, their premium meats and seafood are worth the splurge, and their ready to cook entrees are restaurant quality. (Or you could hire Akron's only personal chef to come to your house and cook it for you).

On my desert island shopping list at West Side Market: The parmesan covered pita chip dippers and black pepper parmesan bread, and creme brulee from the bakery, the truffle butter from the dairy case, wine, and some Vosges Dark Chocolate Bacon Bars.

For eggs (and chickens), Brunty Farms is my source.   Stock up at the farmers market, or pick up at the farm and meet the animals.  I just visited yesterday and the six piglets are getting bigger by the day.

In addition to my own vegetable and herb garden, I am a three year member of Community Supported Agriculture, aka, CSAs.  CSA members support their local farmer by paying for a share up front, around $500 in this area.  The farmer uses the money to buy seeds and plants, then in season, the members get a share of the produce for around 20 weeks.

I belong to White House Gardens in Sharon Center.  We have a blog you can follow with recipes and harvest info, and there was just a Facebook fan page created.  Pictures of the farm are on the fan page. I think it's waiting list only already this season.

You can find local CSAs in your area through Local Harvest.  Two other local ones that have availability (or did at least a month ago) are Baker's Fresh Produce and Honey, and Greenfield Berry Farm.  Both of these are farmer's market vendors and I've purchased from both.

If you want some local cheese, my two favorites are Mackenzie Creamery and Lake Erie Creamery for fresh chevre, and Great Lakes Cheese.  For grass fed selections, including my favorite, Lemon Zest, visit the farmers market.

For fresh sweet corn, hands down my pick is Graf Growers, who have their own little farm stand of goodies, in addition to the garden center in season.  I can eat it nearly every day in season, plus I put five dozen ears in the freezer.  Looking at this old post made me want an ear right now.

Look for another post soon on my favorite places to eat out, plus one on classes and events.

It makes me proud to see how far we've come in just a few short years for people seeking local foods and supporting their farmers.  Cuyahoga Conservancy's motto (and t-shirts) say it all:  "Don't Buy Food From Strangers".


  1. Thanks for putting this all in one place! I can't wait to explore the area.

  2. That is impressive. alllllmost makes me want to move there. LOL! um, that is, if there were no snow.

  3. I am SOOO jealous! What a mecca you have. I had the Vosges Bacon Bar!!! To die for!!!


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