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Like its sister restaurant Volunteer Park Cafe, Canal Market in Portage Bay holds all the markers of the neighborhood haunt. Entire Pilates classes trooping in after a workout. A knot of kids, clutching a parental credit card to buy imported pasta and a block of cheese (“We’re making dinner for Mom and Dad!”).

The mustard-walled charmer with the ribbed glass pendants and chalkboard signs and galvanized tubs filled with $29 oven mitts belongs to that ascendant genus of high-end retailer, cafe, and takeout spot every place seems to want to be these days—a combination which frankly holds its confusions for anyone browsing among the organic pretzel sticks and boutique mortar-and-pestle sets and bushels of fresh leeks. Once again, neighbors know the drill—that you order prepared food at the counter and then find a seat, that the honey for your breakfast toast is over by the busing station, and that the deli salads are around the corner. Nonregulars must crack the code, and do so through service that is unfailingly stylish but often aloof.

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And then your food arrives: Small sandwiches with enormous flavor, like slow-roasted pork and smoky jack cheese with Mama Lil’s peppers and roasted onion aioli on Columbia City Bakery rustic bread. A slice of galette, topped with sweet, sweet caramelized onions and ham and gruyere, crusted with a thousand sheets of flake, and served with a side salad. A toffee cookie, chewy within and crisp edged without. 

Pastries are perfect at Canal Market, salads more of a crapshoot—and not everyone will get it. When asked what people come in for most, the cashier sighed. “A lot of people ask for batteries and ice.”

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