Food Courts of the Future Here (and There) Today

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Florida Mall entrance

Within the last few weeks I’ve visited two futuristic food courts. One was in Lower Manhattan, at the new Brookfield Place, a shopping center in front of the World Trade Center. The second one was at Florida Mall in Lower Orlando.

Hudson courtHudson dining

In New York, the food court at new the development on the site of the Winter Garden is called Hudson Eats, and indeed most of the facility features stunning views of the Hudson River and New Jersey on the opposite shore. It has some New Yorky vendors such as Chop’t, a custom salad maker, Umami Burger and Tartinery, a counter version of a very pleasant restaurant on Mulberry Street. It also has a French marketplace called Le District, with a cheesemonger, bakery and full service restaurant called Beaubourg, and will soon welcome L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

Florida Mall’s reimagined food court is called the Dining Pavilion and occupies the space that once was a Saks Fifth Avenue. But that’s about the only direct connection to New York. There’s no indication that a Joel Robuchon restaurant will open soon, or even a Beaubourg, for that matter. But there is one of two Central Florida outlets of La Madeleine Country French cafe chain, so there’s that.

OK, so there are few similarities between the two. But one thing they have in common is the apparent attempt to elevate the mall food court of last century to something that doesn’t feel like you’re dining in steerage on a steamship crossing the Atlantic.

Florida Mall’s Dining Pavilion is a nice improvement. There are some of the usual mall rats of the culinary type, such as Sbarro, Taco Bell and A&W. But there are also such newcomers as Spoleto, Bubbleology (bubble tea) and Dumpling and Noodle Bar.

That last one was one of at least three vendors that were pushing bourbon chicken samples, so in that regard this food court is still in the 1990s.

But there was a sort of Chop’t-like salad maker called Ugrean, which I first tried to order from. However, there was no indication of where one was supposed to order, so after waiting behind a customer in front of me at the cash register only to be told by the man behind the counter that one orders at the other end — where there is no sign or marker to suggest it — I decided I really didn’t want to spend $11 for a salad.

Florida Mall Meson

Instead I wend “next door” to Meson Sandwiches, a restaurant chain from Puerto Rico that is branching out to mainland U.S. There I ordered the Argentino, which has roast beef, swiss cheese and chimichurri sauce lightly hot-pressed in the restaurant’s signature criollo bread. (Featuring margarine, an asterisk proudly proclaimed. Or disclaimed.)

Florida Mall sandwich

At first the sandwich looked like it had an ample portion of the thinly sliced beef, but upon lifting the bread I could see that it was a bit lopsided. Still, the flavors were good and the chimi gave it a nice little bit of spice.

Florida Mall Carlos(I think I'd let the tall guy go to the front of the line.)

Several months ago, when the Dining Pavilion has just opened, Meson Sandwiches had the longest line of any of the vendors. No more. There wasn’t a line at all when I visited. But there was one place in the court where they queued up for a long wait. That was the just opened Carlo’s Bakery, of television’s Cake Boss fame.

I don’t stand in line for food if I don’t have to, especially not for pastries. I learned that lesson some years ago after waiting 45 minutes for my turn to order a cupcake from Magnolia Bakery, also in New York.

Some things never change.

This is where I’d give you a link to the Florida Mall’s website so you can see all the details about the Dining Pavilion. But oddly, there is no link to it. Food vendors are mashed together in all the store listings, among the Gaps and Banana Republics (which despite the name does not sell fruit). So linking to it just isn’t necessary. But here’s a link to Meson Sandwiches’ website.