Searching for shelter from the scorching heat after a day at the beach on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, we duck into the stately, early-20th-century building and ascend the short marble staircase in its foyer. As we enter the shaded, cavernous hall — the kind you’d see in a big-budget period film — we’re presented with a difficult choice: Hot dogs or ribs? Pho or fresh seafood? A combination of two … or perhaps three? And to wash it all down, maybe some craft beer or gourmet lemonade?
Opened in July 2017, the Odessa City Food Market is not your average food court. Modeled on a modern European food gallery — marrying trendy food and lavishly restored surroundings — it brings together around a dozen local vendors from this historic port city’s increasingly vibrant food scene. Capturing the spirit of a buzzing sidewalk market, the two-level establishment is more like a “communal apartment,” says owner and veteran Ukrainian restaurateur Alex Cooper.
It’s a place where locals mingle with chefs and owners of bistros, such as Eleven Dogs, a hot dog joint, and Vegano Hooligano, which serves up vegan fare. “That kind of synergy allows for a good atmosphere,” Cooper says. It’s why you’ll find a healthy cross section of Odessa’s urbanites — from artists to techies — dining at the City Food Market.
And then there’s the building itself. Even with your face buried in a gyro or forshmak, a Jewish specialty of minced herring, you can’t help but notice the sculpted ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows. These features of the former bank, built during the twilight years of the Russian Empire, were restored to their original specifications, according to architect Slava Balbek. He and fellow architect Pavel Dobrovolskyi collaborated with Cooper on the design, which is balanced by a color scheme of neutral tones that emphasize uniformity to keep the focus on the food.
The project reflects the eclectic spirit rooted in Odessa’s rich history. The city has long been a melting pot of cultures, where creativity and art have thrived despite bouts of political turmoil and revolutionary tumult. Its grandiose architecture and charming boulevards speak to its historic importance as a southern outpost of the Russian Empire. These days, the city is searching for a more modern identity, and projects like the City Food Market could help it establish that.
But while cultural history is cool, sometimes all you want is a satisfying meal. And with some of the best street food in Ukraine, this place certainly has that covered.
Go There: Odessa City Food Market
- Location: Rishelievska St. 9A. In the heart of historic Odessa, a short walk from the city’s famed opera house. Map.
- Hours: Every day, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
- Pro tip: Grab a seat on the upper level to fully appreciate the building’s vast interior.
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