I first fell in love with the Rochester Public Market during a wintertime visit in January of 2015. I remember walking along the stalls, my breath hot with fog, marveling at the produce, the fish that gleamed like precious jewels and the rosy-cheeked shoppers and vendors I would soon call my neighbors and friends.
Maybe it’s because of this first impression, but I really think that the Rochester Public Market in winter captures Rochester at its true essence. Sure, the seasonal produce isn’t as bountiful and you may need an extra layer or two, but what you do get is tried and true. From the produce vendors braving the winter cold to the regulars who call the coffee shops and market eateries home, one is able to observe a sense of true local pride.
Winter, spring, summer or fall, you’ll find me at the market shopping for my week’s groceries. And while I could go on and on about each and every vendor and shop, I, as a newfound local, have developed particular habits and mainstays of my own. I’m excited to share them with you now.
The Best Coffee at the Market
Groggy from sleep and the chill of the morning, a good cup of coffee is a must when visiting the winter market. If you’re like me or a majority of market attendees, you’ll visit the Best Coffee at the Market. This roastery and cafe has been open for 10 years, and is host to a cast of characters
that visit on a weekly basis to catch up with friends or enjoy a warm beverage.
Half of the establishment is dedicated to its roastery, where huge, gleaming machinery roasts a wide range of international, sustainably sourced coffee. I buy their single origin roasts by the pound each week, ground precisely to suit my french press.
Giordano Cheese Shop
Even if my fridge is stocked with cheese (and it usually is), I can’t help but stop into Giordano Cheese Shop each weekend. Like the snowflakes falling outside the shop’s windows, no two cheeses are alike. Soft, hard, oozing, or colorfully streaked with careful aging, visiting Giordano’s is always an adventure. And that’s no accident.
Vincenzo grew up in Basilicata, Italy, where as a boy, cheese was part of his daily life. For 18 years, Vincenzo and his family have shared their passion for cheese with Rochester, as well as their selection of olive oils that are sourced from their family olive orchard in Basilicata.
Egg sandwiches are a hotly debated topic in Rochester’s food community, but me? I know where my loyalty lays. Sandwiched between a fresh, homemade soft roll, Union Bakery’s egg sandwiches satisfy my hearty breakfast sandwich craving. Made to order, the sandwich standard is bacon egg and cheese. Personally, I skip the bacon and opt for peppers and onions which pack a savory punch to my classic favorite breakfast food.
Union Bakery is open seven days a week and makes all of their food from scratch. I’m still working my way through their expansive offering. I’ll get there someday.
Juan and Maria’s Empanadas
The beginning and end of Rochester’s empanada addiction leads to Juan and Maria. Perhaps the most beloved of Rochester Public Market eateries, the husband and wife duo have been making empanadas together since 1977. At the time, Juan worked at Xerox and would bring the empanadas in for his co-workers. One Friday, Juan brought as many as 120 empanadas, and that’s when, in his words, things started getting “out of hand.” Maria started selling the empanadas from their apartment.
In 1980, Juan was laid off and decided to pursue his beloved empanadas full-time. Juan and Maria soon established Rochester’s first official food truck, where they passed their delicious, every-thing-from scratch empanadas to their loyal customers.
Today, Juan and Maria are at the market, where generations of loyal customers sit at the counter to indulge in their expansive empanada menu, including other Spanish delights, like classic rice and beans.
But at the end of the day, it’s all about the customers and the connection Juan and Maria form with them. “I cook for myself and share it with my customers,” Juan said with a laugh.x“Here, you don’t get it your way, they get it my way, and that’s what they like.”
Small World Food
As I’ve gotten to know the market over the years, I have developed a roster of sorts for my produce. At the top of my roster is Small World Food. Celebrating their 10th anniversary this year, the bakery, fermentery and food collective has become a hub for locally sourced, organic produce and groceries in the Finger Lakes region. The food collective has a network of farmers and agricultural producers from which they source their products and ingredients.
My refrigerator is alight with the colorful array of Small World’s fermented goods, from the zesty, deeply satisfying fermented garlic that I literally eat off the spoon (don’t judge me) to the gut-healthy sauerkraut. Their produce selection, which heavily depends on the growing season, offers seemingly perfect pairings to their hearty breads, ferments, organic sausage and poultry, cage-free organic eggs and First Light Creamery dairy products. I daresay it’s my one-stop shop — especially during the winter.
When they’re not at the market, you can find Small World Food at their location on Canal Street with plans to relocate later this year.
“I cook for myself and share it with my customers,” Juan said with a laugh. “Here, you don’t get it your way, they get it my way, and that’s what they like.”