“So, what’s up with all these food halls, Scott, aren’t they just like food courts without the mall attached?”
I’ve been getting asked that a lot lately since food halls and markets have been trending. At first glance, some of them do resemble a mall food court, with various stalls of food vendors with walkup counters where you place your order, pay for it, then carry it on a tray to a table, if you can find one.
The biggest difference with food halls and markets is that the food stalls are more likely to be operated by independent chefs and restaurateurs – you’re not likely to find an Auntie Ann’s Pretzel or Orange Julius – and offer a more complete dining experience of appetizers, entrees and desserts.
Now, the recently-opened Hall on the Yard in Ivanhoe Village takes the food hall concept to a different level. Like other food halls, HOTY features a variety of restaurant concepts and cuisines and also has two large bars, one inside and one outside. But it operates more like a conventional restaurant, including host seating, with waiter service and customers ordering from as many of the vendors as they wish from one spot. You can even make a reservation.
There were a couple of things I found surprising on my three visits. First, the place is huge. The food stalls – nine of them – are strewn throughout the first level; there is ample private function space upstairs. You may be seated at a freestanding table, one of the bars or at the food counter of one of two open kitchens – Humbl, the plant-based concept, or the Chef & I (I’ll have a focus on Chef & I Tuesday). Wherever you sit, a server will greet you to explain things and to take your orders, even if you select items that are from two or more far-flung vendors. This operation model allows the chefs to cook without having to worry about the “front of the house,” even when the front of the house is surrounding them.
But the most surprising thing of all was that it seemed to work.
Not that there aren’t areas to tweak and improve upon. All of the food offerings are crammed onto the front and back of one large menu, so you can virtually stroll about the stalls to make your selections. If you prefer to take an actual stroll, you can read the video display menus next to each of the vendors.
The printed menus are not easy to read because so much has been crammed on to them. And on one of my visits the bill of fare was already obsolete because one of the vendors had already packed up and left the building.
And the number of food options is daunting. Don’t expect to do any advance research – the website for the Hall on the Yard only promotes the Hall on the Yard, not its vendors. I would have appreciated being able to see the menus before my first visit.
On that first visit I requested a seat at Humbl’s counter even though I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to order from its menu – the inside bar was crowded and I liked that there wasn’t anyone else sitting at Humbl’s counter and I could keep a distance.
And then my server appeared right behind me and spoke over my shoulder. So there’s that.
For my appetizer I chose the pork belly Mothra bao buns from Wabi Sabi, the Mothra apparently a reference to Godzilla’s nemesis. They weren’t monstrous but the doughy buns held a fair amount of good and fatty meat, topped with pickled purple cabbage and crushed peanuts.
For my entree I selected the butter chicken from Spice Affair’s list of Indian dishes. It featured hunks of chicken in a tomato gravy tinged with cream, overall mild but with a spicy aftertaste. It was served with a heart-shaped mound of yellow rice. (I could have used more rice.) The dish went well with my pint of Ivanhoe Hopp’r pilsner.
On another visit my companion and I sat at the outside bar and were served by the bartender, who kept her distance across the counter. This time we did order from Humbl, the nacho’s (sic), made with blue corn chips topped with crumbled meatless chorizo, cheese made from cashews, black beans, corn and pickled jalapenos. It all would have been fine if the ingredients hadn’t been tepid.
I ordered the Farmhouse burger from the Fork & Hen (be sure to enunciate when you say the name). It was an impressive half-pound patty of angus beef, topped with tangy pimento cheese and bacon jam with a slice of tomato and red onion. It would have been perfect if it hadn’t been cooked beyond the requested medium rare. The accompanying fries had a nice crispy crust and a meaty inside.
Food comes out quickly, and I would recommend that if you’re ordering multiple courses from different vendors, either be very specific with your server that you’d like the apps first or just order your courses separately.
If you’re into sharing, the Hall on the Yard is a great way to experience various cuisines all at once.