Offering variety, convenience and a sense of community, these food courts for grown-ups are being embraced across the country.
By Roger Grody
Teenagers hanging out at the local shopping mall may consume greasy pizza and hot dogs on sticks, but reimagining the food court with high epicurean standards is a hot development trend. Across the country, sophisticated food halls are filling historic buildings in reenergized downtowns.
At the new venues, food is not an afterthought, but the main event in a concept borrowed from diverse cultures. Department stores like Harrods in London or Le Bon Marché in Paris dedicate entire floors to culinary discovery, while street food vendors in Singapore rent stalls in hawker centers.
Some food halls in the States originated as places where farmers, fish mongers and bakers sold their goods, with a few food stands or cafés sharing a common seating area. Examples include Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, Seattle’s Pike Place Market and Grand Central Market in Los Angeles, all historic venues now filled with restaurants.
Photo by Lana Neiman Chicago French Market (Chicago), www.frenchmarketchicago.com
Photos courtesy of ADYA Latinicity (Chicago), www.latinicity.com Anaheim Packing House (Orange County,CA), www.anaheimpackingdistrict.com
Grand Central Market was a remnant from a bygone era until the gentrification of downtown L.A. attracted more sophisticated dining tenants. Old school butchers and taquerías remain, but now share space with chef-driven Prawn, Wexler’s Deli and Eggslut, a trendy food truck spinoff.
In suburban Orange County, California, the century-old Anaheim Packing House has been transformed into a food hall housing two dozen eclectic eateries beneath a galleria-style glass roof. At Adya, chef/partner Shachi Mehra tweaks authentic street foods from her native
India with fresh California accents. “There’s an energy that’s infectious and uplifting throughout the space, and I wanted to be located in a place that celebrates diversity,” she reports. “What makes the Packing House so special is its sense of community, which for many first-time owners like myself, is important,” adds Mehra.
Photos ©Kassie Borreson Ferry Building (San Francisco), www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com
Eataly venues are so large (50,000-plus square feet) that virtually any Italian product — prosciutto to Pecorino, pappardelle to Pinot Grigio — that one desires to grab-and-go or consume onsite is found in unprecedented abundance. “When our customers visit Eataly, they realize that we’re not only a store, or only a restaurant, or only a cooking school. We’re all three under one roof, inviting everyone to experience high-quality food in 360 degrees as they eat, shop and learn,” says Eataly USA CEO Nicola Farinetti.
Photo by Lana Neiman
At Chicago’s Latinicity, the diverse flavors of Latin America (whether it be Lima, Buenos Aires or Mexico City) are offered at eight food stations and a sit-down restaurant. Founded by renowned Mexican-born chef/restaurateur Richard Sandoval, the concept was inspired by a market he visited in Colombia, reinforced by the success of Eataly. “I wanted the market to showcase approachable food,” says the owner of 50 restaurants around the globe. “I didn’t want to go high-end but back-to-basics with good home-cooked market foods,” explains Sandoval.
The Chicago French Market was the Windy City’s first food hall when it opened in 2009, and while it offers Camembert and pâté to-go or beef bourguignon to enjoy at a table, it is not exclusively French. It was designed in the spirit of Parisian markets, but its 30-plus vendors feature a global representation, ranging from Italy to Argentina, Japan to the American South.
“There are so many different ethnic groups in Chicago, and this market brings them, even young people, back to their roots,” says owner/manager Sebastien Bensidoun, whose family is the largest operator of markets in Paris. Insisting the venue has equal appeal among billionaires and starving students, Bensidoun explains, “My philosophy is never to open a market only for affluent people. Everybody should be able to find something they can afford and enjoy.”
The Ferry Building, a distinctive Beaux-Arts landmark on San Francisco’s waterfront, has been converted into a long, linear food hall. Where commuters used to board ferries, foodies now browse organic produce or nosh at trendy eateries like Mijita, where acclaimed fine dining chef Traci Des Jardins nostalgically recreates Mexican street foods.
Photo by Francesco Saoienza Eataly (New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles), www.eataly.com