Bright and early Saturday morning, my parents and I ventured down to Over the Rhine to check out Findlay Market. I've been talking about taking my parents to the market for years, and I'm so glad we finally went!
See, Mom and Dad love a good market as much as I do. The first time I took them to Jungle Jim's, we spent not one, not two, but five hours there. It started innocently enough, mid-afternoon on a Saturday. We posed for a picture with the giant fiberglass banana outside. Then, we wandered up and down each aisle, including the regular ol' grocery aisles, at least once. We lost all sense of propriety with the cheese samples, and bought more ethnic and novelty food items than was probably wise. And we staggered out into the parking lot at 8 pm, feeling as if we'd run a marathon.
So, when we finally got around to making a trip to Findlay Market, I knew we were in for a good time.
We started with breakfast (dessert?) at Taste of Belgium.
Mom and Dad recently took a Mediterranean cruise. One morning, they disembarked in Cassis, France with strict instructions to be back on the ship by 11:00 am. All my Dad really wanted to do that morning was try an authentic French crepe, but none of the creperies in Cassis were open before my parents had to be back on the ship!
I also visited France just over a year ago, and I also left with an unrequited crepe craving.
Not to worry! I assured them. This may not be France, but it's Cincinnati, and Taste of Belgium makes some damn tasty crepes! Oh yeah, and then they have these waffles...
A word about the waffles. They're authentic Liege waffles, made from a thick yeast dough that looks a lot like sugar cookie dough. They're encrusted with a special Belgian beet sugar, which caramelizes in the waffle iron and lends a unique--and addictive--aroma, flavor, and crunch. Jean-Francois Flechet, owner of Taste of Belgium, grew up in Liege--it doesn't get any more authentic than that! And my parents and I were lucky enough to be served by Jean-Francois himself!
Mom and Dad put me in charge of ordering. I stepped up to the counter, thinking about how much Dad would love the Nutella-and-banana crepe. But when I looked into Jean-Francois' eyes, my mind went blank and a bold, adventuresome feeling overtook me. Lavender sugar, I heard myself say...
The lavender sugar crepe was a nice surprise. I was expecting a lavender-scented sugar, or perhaps a lavender-infused syrup. Wrong and wrong. The crepe was filled with a generous sprinkling of sugar and tiny, delicate, dried lavender buds. The lavender flavor was quite strong. If your only experience with lavender has been in the shower, prepare to have your world turned upside-down! The crepe wasn't the favorite of the day, but we were glad we tried it!
But the waffles? Oh, these waffles...they're like nothing I've ever had. They're like...a waffle and a sugar cookie got together, made a whole lot of love, and had these sweet, hot, doughy, chewy, caramelized-sugar bejeweled little rounds of joy. Pure ecstasy is what they are. Half a bite in, Mom pronounced them the most delicious thing she's ever eaten.
Then, we walked.
The market was in full swing, the streets teeming with people and the farmers' stands overflowing with breads, honey, jams, soaps, candles, and fresh produce.
We even bumped into a few people we knew--Joe and Lois Santangelo of Oakley Wines, a coworker, a friend from graduate school, a new acquaintance from Friday night's wine tasting. Even the guy from Bouchard's with the crooked hat who's always selling fresh pasta at the Hyde Park Farmers' Market on Sundays said hello.
It was wonderful to see so many people out supporting the local culture and economy, and to feel such a strong sense of community.
We were enjoying ourselves so much that we decided to stay for lunch!
After a couple more laps around the market to check out all the dining options, the aroma from Eckerlin's grill lured us in. Mom had a grilled chicken sandwich, and Dad and I had cheese-less burgers.
My undressed little burger tasted just as tempting as we'd all like to look naked. Nestled on a soft egg bun, the moist, fresh beef was adorned only with crisp iceberg lettuce, a slice of farm-fresh tomato, a little sweet onion, and a generous squeeze of brown mustard (because it's mustard, and I'm powerless to resist). I like my burgers medium-rare, and this one was well past that, but somehow still juicy without being overly fatty.
Dad and I also shared a Christian Moerlein Helles Lager. Because, well, I like beer. And if it's good and local and there's someone to share it with, so much the better.
Dojo Gelato provided the coup de grace.
From the top: Mom's Sea Salt Caramel and Vietnamese Coffee, Dad's Coconut Stracciatella and Orange Mango, and my Curra's Avocado and Orange Mango.
That's right. Avocado. With lime and cilantro. Delightful, it was!
So far, we've sipped wine from Argentina, Australia, Italy, and the USA, and we've sampled the cuisine of France, Belgium, and Italy...all without leaving Cincinnati. Stay tuned for Part III, in which we visit Hungary!