Once upon a time in Europe there were food halls. Well actually there are still food halls. Like the amazing Mercato Centrale in Florence where everything from fish to flowers is for sale along with prepared foods from lovely little cafes and market stalls. During my first trip to Florence, as a child of the 70s and American food courts, I thought I’d entered nirvana. The beauty and aroma of real food, not fried everything sitting in a water bath under an electric sign, was breathtaking. Mercato Centrale has changed since my first visit…what hasn’t changed is the focus on quality food. Meanwhile back in the American 70s suburbs were sprawling all over the place and town centers were either disappearing or never existed. So the shopping mall developers decided they’d move food into their now enclosed shopping malls and kill several birds, literally, with one stone. I’m just guessing, and I could be wrong, that shopping mall developers care more about their bottom line than whether their vendors are selling local organic produce, so what we got was cheap fast food around a sea of plastic tables.
Here we are several decades later, and we seem to have finally caught on. Food courts are so last century. Food halls are what people want…places where food is center stage. Have you noticed? Food courts are dying people so stop building them! Give us a variety of quality foods, some meat to take home for dinner, a cafe or restaurant to relax in, a nice glass of wine and we will spend that hard earned cash. Win win.
Union Market DC
Originally opened in 1871 Union Market has grown and changed dramatically. Today the market offers amazing food and food centric shopping, bbq outside, outdoor movies in the summer. The market hopes to be the center of an entirely revitalized neighborhood that has fallen on hard times. On vacation a couple of weeks ago we saw the building top sign from our hotel and walked over. After the sterility of most of tourist DC, the Union Market was a breath of fresh air, particularly the surrounding neighborhood which is still clearly working class. The market was absolutely packed both inside and out with couples, singles, families all enjoying amazing food and a bit of shopping as well.
I’ve said it before, if you are in New York do yourself a favor and go to Eataly hungry. Several restaurants and cafes, even more take out, and more groceries than you can possibly fit in your fridge. All the shopping you need to do made better with a glass of wine in your hand! Four years old and still buzzing… definitely worth the ride down to Gramercy.
The behemoth market of all food markets must be the Chelsea Market in Manhattan. A block wide and a block long (and if you know New York you understand that one of those blocks is damn long), the 15 year old Chelsea Market has everything: cafes, restaurants from petite to super fab, coffee and tea, herbs and spices, libations, clothing, haircare, shoe shine. Seriously everything. The teen who lived at Walmart should have bought a bus ticket east.
San Pedro Square Market
Back on my own coast we have an up and comer down in San Jose, the San Pedro Square Market. On a street that was pretty scary back in my college days, the market has transformed the area to a hub of activity minus the police sirens. At the market you’ll find food, drink, a patio with music and summer evening movies, shops and a barber. Yup, a little swipe from Chelsea.
and back here in San Francisco
We are finally getting a food hall or two. According to Eater SF, the biggest will be located on Castro Street and should open next month. My only question is, what took so long? This is San Francisco people….we pay for food before we pay our utility bills!
Have a great week and keep in touch,
a major ps here….yes, we do have (and have had for a very long time) our beloved ferry building. We can thank the Loma Prieta earthquake for getting SF to finally tear down a nasty freeway that separated us from our beautiful waterfront and gave birth to not only a visitor friendly ferry building but several new restaurants and walking paths along the waterfront. And yes, the ferry building is definitely a food hall. So I apologize to the ferry building for leaving it off of this list. It was, after all, a predecessor to all the rest. (And I was apparently asleep at the wheel…updated June 8, 2015)