City Market: The vendors 

click to enlarge Food courtesy of Fermenti - Artisan. - BRANDON KNAPP

For years, it seemed City Market was doomed to be known as nothing more than a food court. Like a stately Victorian mansion rehabbed with 1960s Pepto-pink tile and 1970s wood paneling, it was a piece of our city's history being forced to wear a new decade's "improvements," via chain food and mall-like atmosphere.

But that wasn't the original purpose of the City Market. And thanks to a recent facelift (now protected by a spot on the National Register of Historic Places), some additions (bathrooms are nice) and a slew of new, locally minded vendors, City Market is becoming much closer to its younger self: a place for downtowners to gather and support local businesses and artisans.

Here's a sample of just some of the riches inside.

Tomlinson Tap Room

Opened: November 2010

Hours: 2- 9 p.m., Monday-Thursday; noon-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

Climb atop a stool at Tomlinson and you'll be sitting at a 100-year-old bar pulled from the old Hook's drug store. As the bartender pours one of the Indiana craft beers on tap — and, by the way, they're all from Indiana — turn to the south and you'll see the walk-in cooler encased in wood salvaged from a barn in southern Indiana. It graces the handcrafted tabletops, too. Tomlinson Tap Room exemplifies local effort, from the beer to the logo.

Manager Kristin Knapp says that, while the fiercely growing craft beer industry in the city has given Tomlinson plenty of hype and customers, it can still be a challenge to get people to come into City Market after sundown. Because of its status on the Historic Register, no exterior signage is allowed. "Lots of people still don't know where City Market is," Knapp said.

But warmer weather will help give a clue. Starting this summer, once a month Tomlinson will offer outdoor seating in the City Market plaza, with food vendors setting up grills. Live music and a family-friendly atmosphere will be a visible, audible draw for those downtown — no signage necessary.

Read about the bike hub next door.

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City Market (Slideshow)
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City Market (Slideshow)

The City Market has something to offer every one, from food and flowers to a cold pint.

By Brandon Knapp

Click to View 34 slides

Fermenti Artisan

Opened: Super Bowl week

Hours: 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Monday-Friday; 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday.

Chef Joshua Henson and Mark Cox each have 21 years in the restaurant business. But it wasn't until five years ago that they became interested, perhaps mildly obsessed, with fermented and cultured foods. They are both certified healing-foods specialists who can tell you all the reasons their food is good for you.

"Once you start getting into cultured and fermented foods, a lot of what you might have learned in classical French culinary training begins to make a whole lot more sense," Cox said. "Use butter. Drink fermented beverages. Every culture in the world traditionally used fermented and cultured foods."

The business partners are fiercely loyal to local foods — their meats come from The Smoking Goose or Rhodes Family Farm, and they have a "one-state-away" policy for all cheeses. Stop in for a bite to eat, and you can also taste one of their on-draft pours of kombucha (fermented tea) or water kefir (cultured flavored water — like a mild tart soda).

With a start at weekend farmers' markets, their customers quickly wanted weekday access, and Henson and Cox had been eyeing City Market for a few years. Said Cox: "We wanted to help the market become again what it was when it opened — a place for local farmers and artisans to sell their goods."

Oberer's Florist

Opened: November 2010

Hours: 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday-Friday.

Jenn Burns came to Indianapolis to open a flower shop. The only restriction? It had to be in a farmers' market-like setting.

Her employer, Oberer's, is a company that until two years ago had never operated outside Ohio. They'd wanted to move into the downtown Indianapolis market, and at the same time, were trying to get back to their own farmers' market roots. City Market offered the venue to do both.

Oberer's in City Market is a wholesaler — so the prices can be half of what you might pay in a regular florist shop. This draws a good downtown customer base — Burns fills many orders for downtown businesses, but also enjoys regular walk-through customers.

Her favorite things about a retail location at City Market are working in a beautifully restored 19th-century building and getting to know people. "Regular customers walk through, and they like to stop and talk — it's a little like Cheers."

Just don't expect to buy flowers from Ted Danson.

Circle City Sweets

Opened: May 2010

Hours: 7 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Friday; 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday.

From small-batch jams to wedding cakes, everything you can buy at Circle City Sweets is made from scratch. Owner and head pastry chef Cindy Hawkins wouldn't have it any other way.

What started as an after-work hobby became a full-time gig just six years ago. Since then Hawkins has added professional training at The French Pastry School in Chicago to her resume, in addition to building — and already expanding — her full production kitchen and storefront at City Market.

Seems like a busy six years, but she's had help. She recruited her mother — the one who taught her to bake — to help in the kitchen (word on the street is that she makes the World's Best Sugar Cookie).

Drawn to the City Market by financial decisions, Hawkins loves the direction it's going under new leadership. "The community here, both with customers and other vendors — it's something I couldn't have had in a stand-alone store."

Jazzy Doris's Homemade Pies

Opened: 2009

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Wednesday.

"Anything with booze in it usually goes over well," Doris Castillo confides with a hearty and mischievous chuckle. She's listing the favorite pies of her customers — including her creme de menthe squares and Kentucky bourbon pies. A nearby regular puts in her vote for the sweet potato.

After working at a steel mill for 17 years, Castillo found pie-making by walking from her home at 54th and College across the street to ask for a job at Broad Ripple Pie Company. She's been making pies since then, over 13 years.

Some remember her from The Jazz Kitchen — the stint that inspired her current name. Her pies haven't changed a bit, and while she won't give away her crust secret, an astute observer might notice the seltzer water on the ingredient list.

The only drawback to Jazzy Doris's Homemade Pies is that, if you want a slice, you need to get it on a Wednesday. On the plus side is that, if you're willing to risk her selling out of your preferred flavor, you can show up after 1 p.m. and she'll give you two slices for the price of one.

U-Relish Farm

Opened: Fall 2011

Hours: 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Monday-Saturday.

Cara Dafforn spent five years making "terrible Crock-Pot meals" — but she was doing it to help her sister, a mom in need of a quick way to get dinner together. But those years taught her plenty, because her meals-in-a-minute, now wildly successful, are sold most often to busy mothers who would rather have a healthy meal on the table at home than swing by the drive-thru.

Stop at U-Relish, and you can walk away with a brown bag that contains the complete ingredients and directions for making a vegetarian Crock-Pot meal. If you're in a meatier mood, pick up some pastured beef from Richard Culler's farm right at Dafforn's storefront. In a pinch, she might throw in some hot sauce or cherry mustard before sending you on your way.

Dafforn grows the herbs for her meals — celery, parsley, thyme and rosemary — in her Fountain Square urban garden. She is an informal expert on all things Crock-Pot, and claims to own 49 of the slow-cookers.

"I'm in love with the Sylvania 1.5 quart," she said when asked and gave the reasons why. The biggest is that you can pick one up for $13 at Walgreen's.

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