Exploring the Chicago French Market

A few weeks back the Chicago Detours staff had a night out at the Chicago French Market. It’s a European-inspired market located near the Ogilve Transit Center in the West Loop, just a few blocks from where our Fulton Market Food Tour runs. We were invited as part of a VIP event to celebrate the unveiling of new restaurants and some new additions to its decor.

Chicago French Marker produce food
Fresh produce and delectable food fill up the Chicago French Market. Photo Credit: Amanda Scotese

What’s a European-inspired Market?

Before walking into the Chicago French Market I had little idea what to expect. I didn’t think there was an equivalent to London’s sprawling and chaotic Portobello Road Market hiding in the West Loop. I knew that Elizabeth, one of my fellow tour guides, had spent years in France and speaks French. She said her understanding was that the French Market was designed to resemble the old fresh food markets like Les Halles in Paris. She also did a survey to find people who speak French at the French Market – and there are a few!

Upon arriving, I discovered that the Chicago French Market is a rather lovely space underneath the Metra tracks. Locally-owned restaurants and produce sellers fill every stall in the market. For this unveiling event, we roamed around, sampled the variety of foods, and enjoyed the ambience. We dove into the food and drink with gusto, of course, while trying to suss out some more about the Chicago French Market’s history and inspiration.

Chicago French Market new
New decor and a lively atmosphere made for a fun night at the Chicago French Market. Photo Credit: Amanda Scotese

Why a French Market in Chicago?

Our Executive Director, Amanda, was able to track down Sebastien Bensidoun, the French owner of the Chicago French Market, during our visit. (I’m glad that she did, because I was too busy doing “culinary research,” aka eating samples of macarons and sipping craft beers.) His family has historically managed markets in France, and so Amanda asked Mr. Bensidoun, “Why Chicago?” He has found Chicago to be incredible ever since he first visited the city when he was four years old.

The Bensoudin family operates the largest chain of markets like these back in France and another 15 of them in New York and the greater Chicago area. The rest of the markets in the Chicago area are suburban, open-air, and seasonal – more like a farmer’s market. So the downtown Chicago French Market is a unique operation.

What’s New at the Chicago French Market?

The Chicago French Market was unveiling their recent facelift during our visit. A huge new hand-drawn mural depicts the Paris cityscape. It’s flanked with an original photograph of Buckingham Fountain and Chicago’s skyline. The imagery is an homage to Paris’s status as one of Chicago’s 28 sister cities.

The mural fits into the market’s Parisian street scene aesthetic, which is complete with authentic address plates from Paris and a historic storefront façade. New lighting and seating also give the 2009 market a fresh update. The overall effect made the space feel very relaxed and welcoming when we visited.

The Chicago Detours team had a great time at the Chicago French Market for our team outing. The highlight for Pawel may have been meeting a fellow who is the spitting image of Rick Steves. The food, of course, was superb (try the vinegar place and the pastrami!). Offerings range from home-style meatballs made by Polpetti or sushi bowls from Aloha Poke or vegan soul food from Vegan Now. It’s definitely worth a visit if you work in the West Loop or or can only dream of a Parisian trip.

-Alex Bean, Office Manager and Tour Guide

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Ellen

Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”
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Jen

Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”
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Elyse

Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.

Anthony

Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.

Marie

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”
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Sonny

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
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Alex

Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
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Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
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