Hype and novelty have never been mutually exclusive, especially when it comes to food offerings. But hype has a minor shelf life at best. When was the last time you “oohed” and “aahed” over a cupcake that was truly “kick ass” from your local food truck? Or decided that spending upwards of $45 on artisanal pickles was a well thought-out decision that left you entirely satisfied and free from complicity in socioeconomic divides? But… it’s just food. And they’re just trends. And if trends don’t always deserve lionization, their endurance is as much subject to saturation as they are to hyperbole.
If you’ve been following local food openings over the past year, you’ve invariably heard that 2019 is destined to be “the year of the food hall” in Boston, and you'd be forgiven if you didn't know what exactly a food hall is. A food hall is, in essence, a gourmet food court. (Sorry, Slate magazine. You can wax rhapsodic about the “utilitarian period” of turn of the century America all you want, but it’s still a food court. And no matter how much you charge for a shrimp taco, it’s still a shrimp taco.) We have those already, from Faneuil Hall to the Japanese restaurants clustered in the Lesley Building in Porter Square . There are also serious indicators that the food hall bubble is poised to burst at any given second, owing as much to both proliferation as skyrocketing vendor fees.
Be even so, aside from the unveiling this weekend of Encore’s Boston Harbor Casino, one of the most highly anticipated local debuts has been Time Out Market, who finally announced their opening date of Thursday, June 27th earlier this week. And in spite of the breathless impatience Time Out Media Group PLC is expecting from humble patrons of their “curated mix”, the lineup is actually impressive. o ya’s Tim and Nancy Cushman have already been on deck with two offerings: Ms. Cluck’s Deluxe Chicken & Dumplings, an Asian inspired stall offering… well, chicken and dumplings, and Gogo Ya promising nori sushi tacos and bento bowls. Craigie on Main has already been slated to provide a smaller scale burger outpost. Peter Ungár announced the second location of his Union Square based Tasting Counter last week. Tico’s Michael Schlow will be operating a wood-grilled pizza stall on its premises, and the now unavoidable spectre of Trillium Brewing Company will be haunting Time Out Market with its tap room expansion. All in addition to vendor offerings ranging from glorified gelato slingers to the now-customary artisanal donuts from Union Square Donuts.
The question is: how sustainable will this trend be?
Not including what are in practice already existing food halls that simply aren't marketing themselves as such, there are currently three other competitors to the food hall crown scheduled to enter the ring over the next year: the Financial District’s High Street place, Causeway Street’s the Hub and the recently confirmed opening of the Beat, scheduled to open in 2020 on the site of the former Boston Globe printing facility. Already, local restaurants have been marketing themselves as food hall inspired despite the fact that they’re… well, standalone restaurants.
Then again, people laughed at food trucks when they debuted in Boston seven years ago and derided them as a passing fad. Today, there’s currently over 200 (and growing) throughout the city, despite regulations that include over $17,000 in annual fees and a 32 step process. So Didier Souilliat and the fine, fine people at Time Out Media Group PLC… perhaps I miscalculated you. I’m certain the opportunity to sample $36 shrimp tacos alongside Wellesley soccer moms looking to make an afternoon of it is, in and of itself, a unique cultural experience.
Time Out Market Boston will be located at 401 Park Dr in Boston and is scheduled to open on Thursday, June 27th. For more information, visit www.timeoutmarket.com/boston