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French Market

Is it struggling to stay open? What do you like about it and what could be improved? I love the idea of having a year round market but wonder if others feel the same way.

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  1. For me it's about location. I'd love to try it, but I don't live or work anywhere near it and it hasn't yet occurred for me as a destination.

    1 Reply
    1. re: chicgail

      Same here. I really want to try it but it isn't convenient for a walk on my lunch hour and it is completely out of my way for my El trip home. It seems to be more suited for the Metra crowd.

    2. Unfortunately, it's an expensive experiment for the downtown area (even in a depressed real estate market) so the incentives they got from Metra made it viable - and a little out-of-the-way. I like it. It pales by comparison to the "real" markets in Europe but the culture there is better adapted to central markets. Here it's viewed as a curiosity and not a regular destination.

      1. As a Metra communter in and out of Ogilvie train station, I find it a nice option once in awhile. I have picked up sandwiches from Pastoral, candy and sweets from the various "sweet" vendors, the Belgian fries are awesome. There are a couple produce-type markets and I have picked up fruits and veggies to go with dinner. There is also a place with fresh meats that could be taken home to prepare. Pastoral, with it's gourmet meats and cheeses always seems to be popular for sandwiches or meats and cheese to take home or to a picnic in Millenium Park for someone coming into the station in the evening.
        You're right, it's kind of out of the way for most people except those that happen to be in that area but I think it has some nice options.

        2 Replies
        1. re: marciab

          "Pastoral, with it's gourmet meats and cheeses always seems to be popular for sandwiches or meats and cheese to take home or to a picnic in Millenium Park."

          Unfortunately they already have a location that's much closer to Millenium Park so it's a tough draw just for Pastoral.

          1. re: ferret

            We went out of our way to try it out.. I am french so I was excited about it, but knew that it would not really be like what I know.
            We went on a saturday and it definitely felt like it was more of a commuter marker. A little dead on a sat afternoon.
            I didnt think there was much you could not find at the farmers market or fox and obel. Was a little disapointed with the selection.
            But did buy an eclair (cafe) from Vanille.
            It is ok not great.

        2. I enjoy it. In addition to its obvious convenience to commuters passing through the Ogilvie station, they make it user-friendly for those with cars by offering free parking next door with a $20 purchase to validate. I also like the fact that it has some of the very best vendors in Chicagoland (e.g. Vanille for pastries, Canady for chocolates, Pastoral for cheese) and the quality is the same as in their home locations.

          1 Reply
          1. re: nsxtasy

            We recently took advantage of the free parking north of the market. I hope more people will realize that this is available and support the market. It's a nice option for a lunch break too. While we were there we tried the smoked meat @ Fumare, Chicken Banh Mi @ Saigon Sisters, Mini red Velvet cupcakes @ Sweet Miss Giving's, Croissants and Entremets @ Vanille. Also brought home fresh flounder and chicken cordon bleu from City Market. Really pleased with everything for the most part.
            The smoked meat had a wonderful flavor, but some of the meat was very chewy. Red Velvet minis were really good as was everything else.

            Looking forward to returning soon to try some other stalls.

          2. I love Pastoral, Saigon Sisters and the crepe place. The biggest problem is the space itself is so ugly and borderline depressing. There's nothing that makes me want to stay and there's a feeling of desperation around the stands that don't have a big business. The layout is more random than market-like. Did the designers ever visit an actual French market? There's enough good to make it worth visiting, but they need to work on the atmosphere.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Hissyfit

              >> Did the designers ever visit an actual French market?

              LOL!!! The French Market in Chicago is owned by a French company that operates numerous public markets in France and elsewhere. As noted on the market's website:

              "The Bensidoun family, the largest market operator in and around Paris since 1953, co-developed the market with Chicago-based U.S. Equities Realty, and operates and manages Chicago French Market. The family operates nearly 100 open-air and indoor markets throughout the U.S. and Europe, including 11 Chicagoland outdoor, summer weekend markets."

              The atmosphere isn't great, but that's generally true because it's in the commuter train station. The location doesn't have great atmosphere, but it's exceedingly convenient for those taking trains to and from downtown Chicago. It's also surprisingly convenient to visit by car, with its free validated parking. I like it also because they didn't just get any old vendors, they got some of the best in the entire city. And I'd rather have that than have them spend a lot of money on atmosphere but with only so-so businesses (like Navy Pier, for example).

              1. re: nsxtasy

                LOL indeed, I stand corrected on the "visit French market" comment! And I do agree that it's convenient and has some excellent vendors.

                Hey, it's been a really long time since I was last in France - my memory of the markets is quite dim, they probably aren't super comfy for lingering with your lunch either! :-)

                1. re: Hissyfit

                  While some European markets are housed in cavernous train-station-esque buildings the old-world charm usually offsets the dreariness. Her, there was undoubtedly a huge financial incentive to get them into the space. It's certainly not charming but the convenience and novelty provides a bit of a balance. I don't work close enough to justify frequent visits, and probably wouldn't visit all that frequently if I did work nearby. But I am glad someone has made the effort.

            2. I like the concept. I enjoy the crepe place. And I love the seafood selections (esp. the good quality giant scallops!).

              I wish the meat and fresh veggie/fruit selections can expand a bit. Fresh produce goes better with the concept of the market rather than cooked food and deli. Also the French pastries in it are not very good. The Vanille macaroons are way off - not the same quality as the ones sold at the Clayborne storefront, which are already not the best...

              2 Replies
              1. re: mountsac

                I love Vanille Patisserie, and I've found that the quality at French Market is exactly the same - superb - as at their store on Clybourn (not Clayborne, LOL!). Their entremets (mousse cakes) are absolutely fabulous, sheer perfection in a French pastry. And their French macaroons are very good, among the best in the entire city (although I've enjoyed the ones at Alliance and Floriole even more). Vanille is one of the very best pastry shops in the entire Chicago area, as I've previously noted in the big pastry discussion at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/542316 , and they have the same high quality at the French Market. The only downside is that they're somewhat pricey, but it's one of those things where you get what you pay for. www.vanillepatisserie.com

                While the meat and produce selections are not all that broad, I think that this is one way in which the market is playing to its customer base due to its location. Because it is located downtown, it's a frequent stop for lunch for those working nearby, who are shopping for prepared foods more so than basic foodstuffs, especially those needing refrigeration like meats.

                EDIT: Changed what I said above about the French macaroons after re-reading my previous posts in the pastry discussion linked above.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  I only get the macaroons, so can't speak to other items. The ones I got from the French Market had shells that were not airy enough - tasted like American cookies. Perhaps it was an off day. The ones at Clyborne can be very good, but are also inconsistent in terms of airiness (I've had from really good to not very good, depending on the day or the flavor). Even though the "best macaroon" in Chicago is not saying much, I still think that Vanille doesn't produce the best. I enjoy the ones from Alliance and Floriole more.