Eataly and the NY Food Hall Craze

I admit it. I have restaurant fatigue. All that work scouring Yelp, Zagat’s and Chowhound and then trying to score an impossible reservation has worn me down, especially when the fruits of my labor seem, more often than not, way too mediocre given the price and effort. For a while I just want really good food that doesn’t cost me a fortune or make me wait forever to be served by some smarmy 20 something who’s been convinced by management that the customer is just damn lucky to be there. In New York this past weekend that fatigue boiled down to “bring on the food halls”.

Ok, I hear you, these are just tourist traps. But I don’t live in the City so that makes me, in fact, a tourist. I may know a lot more about New York than many of my friends but I don’t come close to having the local knowledge that true New Yorkers have. So let’s be real about what I’m bringing to the table.

Anyway, it’s 7:30 PM Friday night, no reservation, I’m tired and hungry and I just want something good to eat. I start the deadly search and then realize my hotel is four blocks from Eataly. That’s right, Eataly, the godfather of the food halls in NY (at least until Anthony Bourdain’s new place opens and maybe provides some real competition).

This is not my first time to Eataly and, as usual, Eataly definitely makes me want to eat, but even more it makes me want to cook. I’m always disappointed that I just can’t grab some of that fresh pasta, meat or fish and go home to my kitchen and have at it. But for tonight we’ll be eating here, starting with some burrata – seemingly the current most popular menu item in the world – a little salami, and a glass of wine at a stand up table. It’s good. Really good. And so easy. You go figure out if there’s a tiny place hidden in Brooklyn with the BEST burrata in the world. I’m happy. Quick service, fast check, now for a walk with my glass of wine.

I love that I can walk around Eataly with my wine and figure out what I want next, or just check out the spring pea ravioli, fresh branzino, and beautiful osso bucco. Tonight the second course is a soft shelled crab, a salad, and a cold beer at the seafood bar. If I’m still hungry I can get up and try something else, or I can just walk out. Ahhh freedom.

Eataly was so good and so liberating that we decided to check out two other food halls over the course of the weekend. Next stop was The Gaansvoort Market in the Meatpacking District. We stopped there early on a Saturday evening when the party was just starting to ramp up. Limos were arriving from the suburbs packed with people ready for a big night. Full disclosure, we didn’t eat anything here. Just went for a look. It’s a lot smaller than Eataly and where Eataly is a complete package tied with a big ribbon, Gaansvoort is more a mix of shops trying not to look too much like a food court at the mall. Anyway, we opted for a sit down meal at the nearby Bakehouse Bistro and Bar. It scratched the itch for someplace easy to get into but with great reviews and did not disappoint. Check my separate review.

Last food hall stop was part of a Sunday morning walk downtown, ending at the granddaddy of food halls, Hudson Eats at Brookfield Place. Adjacent to the World Trade Center Memorial site, Hudson Eats is big, clean and pretty much lacking in character. If Gaansvoort Market is trying not to look like the food court in the mall, Hudson Eats is the food court. The views of the river are great but the space is just sort of a flavorless, office building/mall. Not much appeal. I wanted convenience but I have my limits. At least for now don’t waste your time unless you are right in the area and want a quick look. Hey, burrata is on the menu! But keep an open mind as they begin to roll out Le District, the French answer to Eataly. Currently only small portions are open so we’ll wait to see the finished product.

So as I sing the praises of Eataly, I feel your pity New York. But as I walked back to my hotel to head home I made one last dash inside for a plate of prosciutto and cheese, some truly delicious razor clams, with chilies and garlic, and a half dozen fresh oysters. No waiting and no fuss. My kind of fast food.