By Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
Eric Fine, director of sales and marketing for the Illinois Restaurant Association, after reading my last article on the Epcot Food and Wine Festival correctly reminded me it is not necessary to travel all the way to Florida to experience foods and culture from around the world. Chicago, already a great restaurant city, similar to many other cities, is experiencing the new phenomena of food halls.
For restauranteurs, food halls are a way to reach a large number of guests. For customers, it’s the ultimate way to create your own dining, drinking and shopping experience. Food halls represent the way Americans approach food and the way chefs and restaurateurs are getting their products out in front of hungry guests.
The modern food hall offers diners the opportunity to pick and choose elements from different vendors to create the often chef-driven meal we desire. Many halls provide the opportunity to sit down in an attractive atmosphere, enjoy a drink with a friend and maybe eat off real dinner ware china while soaking in the hustle and bustle of a food market.
For the restaurateur the format is attractive as well. Tenants share overhead expenses while getting the exposure and traffic that come from being part of a high profile venue. For established chefs it is a way to meet the locals and spread their brand to a broader audience. For the up and coming chef it is a way to break into the business without a lot of cash. My research shows that food halls are not a new concept and the oldest I could find dates back to 1892-the Philadelphia Reading Terminal Market. New food halls are often found in once abandoned urban spaces as local governments and neighborhood groups establish the way for developers.
Eataly (www.eataly.com), located at 43 E. Ohio in Chicago, is a bustling Italian marketplace with 65,000 square feet overflowing with restaurants and cafes, take-away counters, and a cooking school that serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even just a snack.
Housed in the old ESPN Zone on Ohio Street (just off Michigan Avenue), Eataly offers you a gelato stand, a Nutella stand, a pizza stand, a pasta maker, a pastry shop, a brewery, a meat market, a fishmonger, a bread shop, a wine shop, wine bar, cooking classes, a cookbook store, a cheese counter, a vegetable-centric eatery, a seafood restaurant and Baffo, a “tony” fine-dining establishment. Their mantra is “We cook what we sell, and we sell what we cook.” Schedule a few hours to take it all in.
Eataly’s partners include Lidia Bastianich, the PBS chef and Italian-cooking star, and son Joe Bastianich, a judge on Fox’s “MasterChef” and Mario Batali. The first Eataly opened in 2007, and there are now 17 locations around the world.
When you visit one tip is that the closest garage is located one block west of Eataly at 10 East Grand Avenue and is accessible via Ohio Street, State Street, Grand Avenue, and Wabash Avenue. With a $20 Eataly purchase (from any restaurant or retail counter), there is a reduced parking charge.
Latincity (latincity.com) is located at 108 N. State in what I still, as a former Chicagoan, call the “loop.” We have not personally visited but will do so the next time we are in the city. Opened last November, Latincity Food Hall and Lounge is described as “a multi-sensory experience” featuring 10 innovative kitchens, a tapas restaurant, coffee café, full bar, market and lounge and I am told a spacious eating area that one Chicago writer describes as “blissfully tranquilo.” Latinicity brings the unique flavors of Latin America, Spain and Portugal to the heart of Chicago – from Brazilian chocolate, Spanish canned fish, Argentine wine, celebrity cookbooks to Pata Negra, the food halls full-service restaurant that sits in the center of the space. One recent reviewer wrote that “this restaurant will hold up against any Spanish tapas operation in Chicago.” The reviewer especially enjoyed brochettes of candied bacon-wrapped dated held in check by crumbles of Cabrales cheese.”
Revival Food Hall (revivalfoodhall.com) is located at 125 S. Clark. Revival Food Hall is described as “an all-local dining concept spotlighting the best of Chicago’s acclaimed culinary scene under one roof.” The food court derives its name from legendary Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, a neoclassic revivalist who designed the century-old tower, the former headquarters of ComEd and later Chicago Public Schools. The massive, 24,000 square foot venue is located in the heart of the “loop.” This collaborative project opened in August and boasts 15 fast-casual stalls featuring many of Chicago’s favorite neighborhood restaurants in a grab-and-go setting, plus a handful of all-new, quick-serve concepts debuting from several acclaimed Chicago chefs. One of the restaurants, Aloha Poke features Poke, the unique seafood item served in a bowl that I wrote about in my last year’s Food Trends column.
Foodlife (foodlifechicago.com) What many would consider the original food hall is Foodlife, located in Water Tower Mall at 835 North. Michigan Avenue. It even has its own You Tube video www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLvPAQJrmco. Operated by “Lettuce Entertain You,” Carol and myself have dined here often and highly recommend. Foodlife features 14 kitchens serving made from scratch food. From fresh squeezed juices and build-your-own salads to pizza, barbeque and sushi, guests can personalize their own dining experience by ordering items from any number of the diverse concepts. When you arrive at Foodlife, you receive a very smart swipe card and a table. The swipe card can be used at any of the 14 kitchens. The options feel endless. Foodlife kitchens include Barbeque, Big Bowl, Breakfast, Comfort, Dessert, The Grill, Juice, Pasta, Pizza, Salad, Souplife, Stir-fry, Sushi, Taqueria and M Burger. In addition a full a salad bar with choice of ingredients, fresh wheatgrass shots at Juice and Magic Pan crepe creations. Sacred Grounds, located directly next to Foodlife, features La Colombe on draft, Intelligentsia, and a variety of specialty coffee drinks, fresh pastries and treats, juices, house-made paninis and more.
Some say that in our fast culture we have lost the art of eating well. Food Halls offer us the opportunity to still eat well, have extensive choices, and experience new cuisines.