Food Halls Take #EatLocal to a Whole New Level

German Chocolate cake at C. Adam's Bakery in the Milwaukee Public Market food hall (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

I came to a screeching halt when I saw this German Chocolate cake under glass at C. Adam’s Bakery in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Public Market (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

With the recent increase in food-centered culinary tourism, it’s no surprise that cities are turning to a centuries-old concept to revitalize downtowns and attract visitors – food halls.

There are nine new ones opening in the U.S. in 2016, in diverse locations including Birmingham, Alabama.

A food hall is an indoor market that has a variety of food and drink merchants and specialty groceries, plus sit-down places so that people can eat what they purchase on site. Usually located in a convenient, central urban area, they are popular with both locals and travelers because they’re one-stop shopping with an interesting mix of people and products, and they’re an excellent way to experience what’s unique about that destination.

Since they are open year-round, from early in the morning until fairly late at night, you can grab a bite, pick up something to go, or just browse the offerings no matter when you’re in town.

A few more suggestions….

Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market

Be prepared to wait in line and navigate some crowds packed into an older, slightly grungy building, but don’t miss this Philadelphia ode to food in all its glory – the Reading Terminal Market.

Hashtag sandwich ingredients at Meltkraft Grilled Cheese in Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market food halls (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Ingredients for the “Hashtag Sandwich” at Valley Shepherd Creamery and Meltkraft Grilled Cheese, in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

It’s right in the center of town and easy to reach via public transportation.

Seating can be pretty tight (you may have to eat standing up propped against a wall somewhere at peak hours) but the variety is astonishing.

There are white-capped Amish women selling cheeses right across from some guy hollering orders in a deli and not far from a wine merchant and seafood places. I recommend whatever they’re selling at Flying Monkey Bakery (it was Guinness whoopie pies when I was there.)

Milwaukee’s Public Market

A highlight of my quick visit to Milwaukee, Wisconsin was walking from my downtown hotel along the Milwaukee River to the historic Third Ward and the Milwaukee Public Market.

Entrance to the Milwaukee Public Market food hall (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Entrance to the Milwaukee Public Market (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

This modern food hall is not particularly large, so you don’t feel lost in massive crowds and there’s plenty of opportunity to stroll around and see everything. High ceilings and lots of glass mean that it feels light and airy even on a glum winter day.

If you go when there’s a Green Bay Packers football or Milwaukee Bucks basketball game on, there will be plenty of locals talking trash to the TVs in the eating areas, which adds to the ambiance.

Spice House as seen from above at Milwaukee Public Market (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Spice House as seen from above at the Milwaukee Public Market (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The Market’s Spice House held my attention for quite awhile, even though I’m the laziest cook ever. They even have spice sets based on Milwaukee ethnic neighborhoods.

San Francisco’s Ferry Building

Located at the foot of Market Street since 1898, the City by the Bay’s Ferry Building also houses the Marketplace on the first floor.

It has survived earthquakes, the demise of ferry traffic when the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges were built, plus the indignity of having the ugly elevated Embarcadero Freeway running smack in front of it for several decades (thankfully torn down after the Loma Prieta earthquake.)

There are many sit-down restaurants within the Marketplace, plus food hall standards like bakeries and pastry shops, farm produce, meats and seafood, and northern California success stories like Cowgirl Creamery artisanal cheeses.

Department Store Food Markets

They are not public markets, but you can also find all sorts of culinary treasures in the basements of many famous department stores in Europe and Asia.

In London, explore the ones at Harrods or Fortnum & Mason (I found F&M’s to be the more elegant of the two.)

In Tokyo, I spent hours in the downstairs food emporium depachika at Mitsukoshi, smiling and bowing as I tried samples and tried to place orders in mangled Japanese.

Learn more in the Wall Street Journal‘s look at Tokyo’s department store basement eateries.


Do you have a favorite city food hall? Give us the inside scoop about it down the comments!

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