Don't know what it is? Not to worry. I'll explain. Chelsea Market is to Manhattan as Reading Terminal Market is to Philadelphia, or as Pike Place is to Seattle. (But let's be honest; Pike Place wins hands down with me, so I'm not even going to feign modesty. My hometown's market is the best.) Anyway, Chelsea Market lives in a very large building that spans the entire block between 9th and 10th Avenues and 15th and 16th Streets on Manhattan's west side. If you had not already inferred this, it is located in Chelsea, a gay and fabulous neighborhood that was, until the 1970s, full of factories but is now full of very expensive haircuts and many dogs with bows on top of their heads.
The building houses the market on its first floor, and the remainder acts as office space for The Food Network, Google, Oxygen, and NY1. If you hung out there long enough, I feel like you could probably "just happen to run into" Rachael Ray or Bobby Flay. If you're into that sort of thing. The closest I've ever gotten was a glimpse of Martha Stewart's daughter.
The market is home to several things that make me giddy. There is Manhattan Fruit Exchange, a slightly refrigerated store (take a sweater) where you can find fresh herbs, dried and fresh fruits of all types and sizes, loads of veggies, and some candies and chocolates. You will also find there Amy's Bread, complete with a wall of windows that allows you to watch the bakers cooking copious amounts of flour into pillowy loaves. There is Buon Italia, which is slowly becoming my favorite due to the great deals I've found there recently, as well as Chelsea Market Baskets and Bowery Kitchen Supplies. I particularly appreciate the existence of The Lobster Place (a fish market), because it offers fresh fish and sushi at reasonable prices. Let me tell you: Fish that is both fresh and reasonably priced is hard to find in New York. When I find it, I take notice.
And that brings me to my last point. Chelsea Market has some good deals as well as the usual overpriced items you would expect of specialty stores. If you go there looking for bargains, you must be discerning. However, the fun you'll have finding new treasures and treats is well worth the visit. I think of it as a field trip. A field trip where all you do is shop for lunch and eat lunch. And that sounds pretty darned good to me.