You’re in trouble.
Look, you’re going to take an escalator downstairs and enter a land unlike any other in Brooklyn. Some might call it the Disneyland of food. Neon signs add a jolt of Las Vegas. But that’s not where you’ll find trouble. The trouble comes when you have to decide what to eat.
This surfeit of excellent choices at the largest food hall in Brooklyn was deviously conceived by managing partner Anna Castellani, who was in charge of selecting tenants. Thursday night was a pre-opening party, and the hall officially opened to the public today after whispers of its debut since 2011.
The hall has pulled off an impressive feat: bringing together the best of New York in one giant basement. But who needs natural light or cell service when vendors are this diverse and notable, including the first outpost of Katz’s Deli away from the Lower East Side mothership, and Hard Times Sundaes, whose signature double burger with caramelized onions might leave Shake Shack fans pledging allegiance to a new bun in town.
At 60,000 sq. ft. (including the as-yet-unopened Trader Joe’s), the space is enormous, but don’t expect to log very many steps on your FitBit. After finishing the potato knish and pastrami sandwich at Katz’s, it takes all of nine steps to get to Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue for burnt ends and cornbread. Walk three more steps and you arrive at the station for the infamous Arepa Lady, where Brandon—a cute young grandson to the “Arepa Lady” Maria Cano herself—served me an arepa so transcendent I could have wept. Had I known my new favorite food in the world was in Jackson Heights this entire time, I would have jumped on the 7 train long ago.
But exposing people to their new favorite foods is the point. “It’s meant to be an exploration. We want you to come back and try new things all the time,” says Castellani, who’s also owner of Foragers Market in Dumbo, and who between running around ahead of the opening managed to sneak in a few answers to The Bridge’s questions about the hall.
The two criteria for prospective vendors were “amazing food and great personality,” she says. “The original tenants were offered good lease terms and attractive rents. We really wanted to feel at home here, since for many of them this will be their first brick-and-mortar location,” she says, and leases are reportedly below market rate.
Other boroughs are well-represented, too, and the neatest trick really is the expert curation. You won’t find many vendors that are everywhere else. The banh mi at the hot space Bunker, whose flagship is now in East Williamsburg, is suddenly infinitely more accessible.
The hall also features the seventh location for borough favorite Ample Hills Creamery, who’s scooping a special ice cream flavor specific to this space, Harry & Eigel’s, named for the founder and master baker of Junior’s Restaurant, is a chocolate malted ice cream with pieces of Junior’s marbled cheesecake and malted milk balls. Try that before or after the truffle fries at Home Frite, with sauces ranging from curry ketchup to herbocado. There are no rules here.
Meat lovers will be happy. So will cheesemongers. (This is the first brick and mortar for Belle Cheese.) Even healthy people won’t be turned away! Two Tablespoons serves kale and beet bowls and veggie burgers. Like pickles or pizza? They’ve got pickles and pizza at Guss’ Pickles and Forcella.
Many of the businesses are happy to be back in the brick-and-mortar game. Cuzin’s Duzin had to leave their previous location of 44 years when the new City Point development was planned and they coped by pivoting to a catering business. Now they’re back with pillowy puffs of fried dough—and alcohol-infused donuts for grown-ups. “I’ve been doing donuts my whole life,” says Eric Santiago, who started working at Cuzin’s when he was 12 years old. He’s 25 now and earned the title of New York Donut Boss on his business card.
Even in such close quarters, each stand keeps its own personality. Neon signs call out like casinos. There’s Steve’s Key Lime Pie, far from its Red Hook home, Brooklyn native Wilma Jean with fried-chicken sandwiches, and Bunsmith with Korean fried-chicken buns. Indecisive eaters should just close their eyes and point at the menu at Lioni Italian Heroes, whose menu boasts 108 different sandwiches.
There’s also Paella Shack and the Pierogi Boys, irresistible churros at Dulcinea and Shanghai-inspired street food at Jianbing Company. Honestly, I’m surprised you’re still reading at this point and haven’t jumped on the train.
If you do head over, invite a friend. Because the most overheard phrase I heard during opening night was “Should we just get both and split?” The right answer, the only answer, is yes.