City Market, Renewing the Foodie Spirit Downtown
City Market, an architectural icon and downtown Indy gathering place, is getting back to its roots as a true public market.
Gone are the days of simply reheating foods. Under its copper roof and massive iron trusses, City Market's nearly 20 food vendors prepare everything from crepes and Middle Eastern dishes to pastries and potato chips. Outside, farmers' markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays invite people to shop for produce, meat, eggs and more from Indiana farmers.
Ongoing renovations that started last year on the building have revived City Market's position in the downtown Indianapolis food scene.
"We are transitioning the market from a prepared-foods food court to a true public marketplace, where you have artisan, fresh and gourmet foods to purchase," says Stevi Stoesz, director of business development and public relations for City Market. "We want City Market to be known for the best quality products."
That means reaching out to local and regional producers, like Cindy Hawkins, who got her start at area farmers' markets and is now helping renew City Market from her French bakery, Circle City Sweets, just inside the Market Street entrance.
"It's a great location for us. It gives us production space for our wholesale clients and great visibility. Now we see some of our clients from Saturday's farmers' markets down here on Wednesdays," Hawkins says.
After just one year, Hawkins' faith in City Market's renewal as a marketplace is so strong that Circle City Sweets recently expanded to total 1,000 square feet and added a new shop called Circle City Soups, which also serves sandwiches and salads.
When Indianapolis City Market threw open its doors in 1886, green grocers and butchers set up shop inside selling everything from dandelion greens to pickled pigs feet. Farmers came to town with bushels of vine-ripe tomatoes and sweet corn, cherry pies and yeast rolls. Even a laying hen or two, no doubt, made the trip.
City Market was nourishing Indianapolis with fresh ingredients for family dinners and never-before-seen immigrant dishes long before there were big-box retail grocers or specialty food markets. Large public market houses were the supermarkets of their day and Indianapolis boasts one of only five original market houses left in the United States.
Today's year-round City Market vendors, like Natural Born Juicers, which serves juices and smoothies, and A Taste of Philly, a soft pretzel shop, produce whole foods on-site just as their counterparts did 125 years ago.
Historically, City Market was also a hub of activity where generations gathered socially. That happens today at Tomlinson Tap Room, the in-house pub that showcases Indiana's microbrew industr y. It attracts craft beer aficionados by rotating Hoosier brews such as Sun King, New Albanian, Great Crescent and Big Woods through 16 taps. "You can get a growler of 3 Floyds beer without having to drive to Munster," Stoesz says.
The Tap Room is set on City Market's mezzanine, giving customers a birds-eye view of the activity below. City Market vendors cater food for the pub, which is for the over-21 crowd. Just outside the bar, families can gather to eat and listen to live entertainment from 7 to 9pm on Saturdays.
On summer and autumn days City Market's Whistler Plaza fills with downtown commuters catching some rays over lunch. But on Original Farmers' Market Wednesdays, with the sound of jazz or reggae in the air, vendors line Market Street between Alabama and Delaware streets just as they did decades ago to sell meats, eggs, produce, baked goods and fresh flowers. The Saturday Farmers' Market, although smaller than Wednesday's, features many of the same vendors.
Renovations to the historic building are ongoing and should wrap up by the end of summer, Stoesz says. Among the remaining projects is to demolish the west wing of the building, which will likely make way for an urban garden.
Photography courtesy of City Market and Big City Photography