Clintonville Farmers' Market brings countryside delights to smart urban shoppers

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

"This is the best of all the markets … it's really chef-accessible," said chef Alana Shock recently at the bustling Clintonville Farmers' Market. Obviously that lady knows what she's talking about.

Yet it's not just Columbus' top chefs who shop for the best our area has to offer there, because I bump into all kinds of folks at the CFM - artsy and academic types, music club regulars, stroller-pushing hipster parents and many-age-groups-spanning food fanatics whom I recognize from our "restaurant scene." Most are toting sacks of super-fresh organic groceries and high-quality prepared goods. Some are blithely people-watching and clutching just-purchased/just-outta-the-ground flowers. But almost all are chewing on something provocative that someone from this producer-only market grew or made themselves.

Every Saturday morning (9 to noon), from now until Nov. 23 (a new-this-year Winter Market starts in January), the CFM throws what amounts to a wonderful buy-local/open-air, fun-time festival. Bargain hunters know you can also free-sample-snack your way through a gratis delicious breakfast while shopping for one of the best lunches of your week.

Plus, while roaming and sipping serve-yourself, locally roasted, no-cost mini-cups of fair trade Silver Bridge Coffee and nibbling on "try 'em" Bluebird Meadows sausages plus epiphany-sweet ground cherries from Bridgman Farm and award-winning handcrafted cheeses from Kokoborrego and slices of Dan the Baker's amazing breads, you'll get a bonus: You'll actually see, taste and feel our culture changing from the ground up. I mean that literally and figuratively.

See, not only are we eating "heirloomy," fresh-from-the-fields foods, but an acute awareness has been sparked in our community about the passionate and happy-to-share-their-intriguing-stories people who produce it - and how they do it. Put simply, this isn't just a job for them, it's their life. Here are some goodies and stalls to keep an eye out for.

"Yummy" peppers - these aptly named, candy-colored beauties have a revelatory fruity-sweetness; get 'em at Wayward Seed and Sippel Family.

Purple and yellow bell peppers - Meadow Rise featured these eye-poppers recently.

Raw milk cheeses - complex-tasting wonders that regularly blow away their nuances-cooked-out brothers; some favorites are Owl Creek Tomme (Kokoborrego/Sippel Family), Charloe (Canal Junction) and Grass-fed Cheddar (Ohio Farm Direct).

Patisserie Lallier - from ethereal cocoa-scented marshmallows to stunning pave aux amandes et pistaches (beautiful, nutty tea cakes) to pate de fruit coings (tongue-tingling jelly candies made with locally grown quinces) to a savory palmier (an almost-side-dish-like puff pastry "cookie" flavored with pesto, goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes), everything at this elegant stand is massively impressive - and alluringly inexpensive.

Jonagold apples - Stevens Bakery and Orchard (among others) grows these crispy, juicy and tart-sweet super-pleasers.

Fennel and Maldon bread - these crusty, chewy and heavy-duty loaves from Dan the Baker (made with whole wheat and brown rice flour) are sophisticated-yet-rustic, offer a neat whiff of licorice and pretzel-riffing sea salt, and are just begging to be buttered and/or flatter your sandwiches.

Pineapple, (local) apricot and habanero jelly - this aromatic and spicy jam from Sweet Thing Gourmet is great on pork, chicken and steaky fish.

GoreMade pizzas - using CFM-bought toppings (e.g. shiitakes from Swainway Urban Farm) and an oven built by Bono Pizza's mad genius founder, this sometimes-here mobile pizzeria bakes delicate, lovely pies.

Greenseed Farm - goat meat ("It could be the new bison!") and honey from Nina and Nitsan, a do-gooding and eminently quotable couple whose captivating personalities and wares exemplify the ideals embraced by this awesome market.

Photos by Meghan Ralston and Tim Johnson

Clintonville Farmers' Market

N. High Street between Orchard Lane and W. Dunedin Road

9 a.m.-12 p.m. Saturdays through Nov. 23