Elm City Market Cafe: Downtown’s Gourmet Secret

When New Haven Register contributor Stephen Fries suggested I visit the Elm City Market Cafe for a NewHavenEats blog post, I had to stop and think. It’s not really a restaurant … does it “qualify” for my blog? But one bite of what the Cafe offers erased all doubt. The Elm City Market Cafe easily rivals many of New Haven’s best delis.

The Market opened last year at the corner of State and Chapel streets, on the ground floor of the 32-story 360 State Street. The City of New Haven sold the land to the market’s investors for $1, and the deal was that a retail grocery store would be part of the mix. Elm City Market is a cooperative, so members are owners as well, but you don’t have to be a member to shop there. Customers get one hour of free parking in an attached garage.

Amy Christensen, the marketing and member services manager, is proud of the Market’s offerings: 16 sandwiches, plus more sandwiches made-to-order, a hot bar, a salad bar, hot soups and stews, a grab-and-go case filled with house-made salads, side dishes, entrees, and a bakery that features breads and baked goods from 12 local bakeries. “We have mac and cheese every day or there would be an uprising,” she says. But wholesome combos like Brussels sprouts with pancetta are popular, too.

“We are locally owned by the community, that is really important to us,” Christensen says. “The thing that we wrap our arms around the most is this community and the local aspect of it.” The market is stocked with items from 170 local vendors and farmers, and the Cafe takes full advantage of them for its made-on-site-daily offerings.

“Just like it’s a community market where a bunch of people came together to make it happen,” it is the same in the Cafe, says Christensen. The outgoing, cheerful employees, from New Haven and nearby, have a lot of input into what the Cafe offers. Additionally, “With so many member-owners we get a lot of suggestions and ideas submitted to us so we take those into account as well. For instance, one person was really passionate to make sure that we keep it to the seasons. Right down to the simple suggestion of cutting the Brussels sprouts in half to make the salad that much better. It didn’t have to be some management decision,” adds Christensen.

That group effort makes for delicious food. Instead of the same-old, same-old deli fare, I was delighted at the crunchy freshness, the perfectly-balanced flavorings, the cooked-just-to-doneness of all the ingredients, the variety of side salads, and vegetable stews that are light and hearty at the same time.

Although the seating area of the Cafe is a little hard to find, tucked between the salad bar and the windows facing Chapel Street, it’s a sunny spot for customers to take their breakfast, lunch and dinner, if they don’t bring it to their office or home to their dining table. The Cafe space does double duty in the evenings as a spot for tastings and classes.

Christensen says that just like the Market, the Cafe is “something that is from – and for – the community.”

Mara Lavitt

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Restaurant Website: http://www.elmcitymarket.coop/

• The Detes: 777 Chapel St., New Haven. 203-624-0441.  The Market is open Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. – 9 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. The hot food bar hours are 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. – 8 p.m.

• Price Range: Breakfast burrito $3.49, sandwiches $6.99, salad bar $7.99/lb., deli items $4.99 -11.99.

• Style of Food: Contemporary deli

• Favorite dishes: Macaroni and cheese, Fair Haven Burrito, Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta, the #11 Spicy Turkey Sandwich, the #2 Grilled Chicken Sandwich

• Vegetarian/Vegan/Gluten-free: Most definitely

• Drinks: everything an organic market can offer, plus the usual fare of sodas and beer

• Outdoor seating: it’s in the works

• Indoor seating: on the Chapel Street side of the salad bar, by a bank of windows

• Catering? yes

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