Monday, March 23, 2015

North Hill Market Tour

Please welcome guest blogger Roza Maille as she shares about her experiences while taking a tour of North Hill.  Roza has written for us several times before, most notably about the Artist of Rubber City and the Box Gallery.  Do you have an Akron-specific experience you'd like to share with us on Akron Empire?  Contact us--we'd love to hear about it.

North Hill Market Tour
by Roza Maille

Have you ever explored a neighborhood in Akron that’s not your own?  Well, I’ve been doing plenty of that lately and I must say, it’s pretty awesome!  I’ve lived in Akron for over nine years and have basically stayed in my little Highland Square bubble, which I realize that many people also do. My recent job change has allowed  me step outside this bubble and it’s been rather eye opening.  

In October, I started working at the Akron Art Museum as project coordinator for Inside|Out, a community activated art project.  We are installing 30 reproductions of artwork from the museum’s collection all over Akron at outdoor locations starting this April.  I won’t go into too many details, because this blog post is about something else, but I will say we have been working with a variety of organizations and community members for this project.  This has given me the chance to get to know Akron better than I ever have before. 

One of the first communities that I have had the pleasure of working with is North Hill, which is as it turns out chock full of really committed, active community members.  This year, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (who is also sponsoring Inside|Out) is funding a program called Akron Better Block.  The idea of Better Block is to take a single block in a neighborhood and transform it into pop-up businesses, bike lanes, cafes, art galleries, or anything else the community would like to see be permanent fixtures for one weekend.  This will hopefully encourage permanent changes in the neighborhood.

North Hill’s Better Block will take place from May 15-17, 2015 but until then, the North Hill Community Leaders are organizing monthly market tours of their neighborhood to educate community members about its uniqueness.We visited four locations for the February 28th tour, including Stonehedge Entertainment, Patterson Park Community Center, Dhimal’s Mini Mart, and San Miguel’s Latin Market.

We started at Stonehedge Entertainment which houses bowling alleys, arcade games, a sports bar, and Stray Dog Grille.  Stray Dog has recently partnered with Three Sisters Momo. (Momo is a type of dumpling from Nepal.) We learned that Stray Dog Cart and Three Sisters Momo are teaming up for Better Block, so look out for some menu specials that weekend. We also got to see a momo making demonstration, which included samples and Nepali spiced milk tea!  

Next we hopped on the trolley and headed over to Patterson Park Community Center.  We heard about their programming and their commitment to community engagement.  I was impressed by how much they accomplish at their community center.  They serve between 400-500 kids with their sports camps, meal plans, and after school programming.  They even have classes where they learn basketball and math simultaneously.

From there, we then headed over to Dhimal’s Mini Mart which is a small Bhutanese market on Cuyahoga Falls Avenue.  Dhimal’s is owned by a family of refugees here from Nepal who settled in Akron about five years ago.  This type of  story is not unusual in North Hill.  The International Institute helps many new immigrants and refugees settle into their new homes in Akron, resulting in a very diverse community.

Dhimal’s carries a variety of grocery items including produce, spices, grains, flours, and so many different types of lentils.  In addition, they also sell ceremonial wedding attire, religious items, and gifts.  I bought some coconut ginger candies which were amazing.  The owners also brought us some complimentary mango drinks.

After we sampled our purchases, we visited San Miguel’s Latin Market which is located in front of Stonehedge. As expected, they offered a variety of hot sauces, spices, and everything you need to have the best taco night imaginable. They also carry intriguing flavors of candy, many with chilies or tamarind, which I didn’t have the courage to try at the time. Of course, many people from our tour crew were seen walking away with Mexican Cokes.  

An orange taco stand called Mr. Trompo’s sits on the side of the San Miguel’s building.  We were offered samples of some tacos but I was slow to the draw and couldn’t make it over before they vanished.  That’s no surprise but I’ll need to return to do some sampling of my own.

On Saturdays and Sundays, San Miguel’s offers a variety of Mexican sweet breads that are handmade by a gentleman named Damien and his family.  We also got to taste his delicious desserts including cake (which I believe was tres leches) and flan.  Damien takes orders for custom cakes for celebrations or you know, just because you feel like eating a delicious cake.

We finished off our tour back at Stonehedge at the Stray Dog Grille.  The owner, Charley, explained his evolving small business that now includes twelve employees and five hot dog carts in addition to the Stray Dog Grille.  As a former pastor, his need to help people is always an important factor. As a result, he hires many people with disabilities.

We also got samples (you get well fed on these tours) of all the unique hot dogs he offers as well as pizza. The toppings range from pulled pork to fried fish to the filling from the momos. There’s even a hot dog that has cheese balls as a topping.  

I’ve learned so much about North Hill on this tour and appreciate the rich diversity it has to offer.  Also, if you like food, this is the place for you.Going on these tours really gives people the opportunity to get to know their neighbors.  I have definitely enjoyed getting to know mine.

If you are interested in learning more about Akron’s North Hill neighborhood, follow Akron Better Block’s Facebook to keep updated on tours* and events. Happy exploring everyone!

(*Walking tours are scheduled for March 28 and April 25.  The April tour will include a tour of some of the Inside|Out reproductions.)

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