Florida embraces the food hall fad

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La Centrale at Miami's Brickell City Centre.
La Centrale at Miami's Brickell City Centre.

Major cities from New York to Seattle are making it easy for visitors to experience many of their culinary highlights in one building. And Florida has certainly gotten in on the action. Practically every major city in the Sunshine State has at least one food hall, Jacksonville being the most conspicuous exception -- although "Top Chef" alum Kenny Gilbert has just announced that he'll be pursuing a food hall concept in the Jacksonville Beach area.

Here's where to send foodie clients looking for a place to graze like a local in Florida' major metro areas and take home some edible souvenirs as gustatory mementos of their trip.

Orlando

The very first food hall in town was East End Market, a co-op consisting of six smaller food "stalls" (as they're known in the industry) and one major restaurant operation, the ramen temple Domu. East End Market first drew attention when the James Beard Foundation Awards chose the location to announce its national semifinalist list in 2014. The market now houses, among other comestibles, Gideon's Bakeshop, singled out as having the "best chocolate chip cookie in Florida" by foodie website Delish.

Other food halls in Orlando include Market on South, which focuses on vegan foods and market items, and Market on Magnolia in the heart of downtown, housing three food stalls, including a poke bar and wood-fired pizza. Several other food hall locations have been announced, including one in Lake Nona, a suburb south of Orlando; one in Winter Park; and one in Sanford, all opening within the next year.

The food hall concept has become so popular that Universal's newest high-rise hotel concept, the Aventura, will feature a food hall, called Urban Pantry, instead of a signature restaurant. Urban Pantry will offer food stalls for burgers, pizza and Asian dishes, among other offerings, the details of which are forthcoming. The Aventura will open in August at Universal Orlando Resort.

Miami

Not to be outdone by sister tourist magnet Orlando, Miami has made food halls a priority in its new development areas. The flagship is La Centrale, an Italian-themed concept food hall similar to the renowned Eataly in New York. Located at Brickell City Centre, the culinary experiences at La Centrale are divided up by major food theme: meats, pasta, fish, cheese, etc. The 40,000-square-foot building is home to several full-service restaurants, bars, cafes and markets plus a wine shop and a cooking studio, where clients can learn to make risotto, the perfect Negroni or gelato, among other classes, by registering on the website. Classes start at around $50 per person.

El Palacio de los Jugos is where clients should head for a more classic Miami culinary experience. The Calle Ocho location has been up and running for over 20 years and offers food vendors selling traditional Cuban juices; entrees like ropa vieja; snacks like croquetas and empanadas; and desserts.

Time Out Market is opening later this year with seating for 440 and will feature 17 food stalls from local and celebrity chefs as well as cocktail bars from Miami's best mixologists. The Asian-themed food hall, 1-800 Lucky, features seven food stalls with ramen, a dim-sum style sushi omakase and the elusive soup dumpling.

St. Petersburg

St. Pete takes pride in innovating past the status quo -- see its myriad museums, cultural spaces and art installations for evidence of that -- and was one of the first in Florida to open a food hall, in partnership with celebrity chef Michael Mina. Locale Gourmet Market is just moments from the Morean Arts Center where the Dale Chihuly collection resides, so it's easy to pop over for lunch or dinner after strolling the riverfront and taking in the art.

Inside the 20,000-square-foot space, visitors will find a mix of take-away options to eat in the common dining room, including an ice cream shop and bakery, a sushi and noodle bar and a burger spot simply known as the Grill. Locale also has a full-service, chef's table restaurant called FarmTable Cucina, serving fine-dining Italian with family-style plating. "FarmTable Cucina offers one of my favorite styles of dining. It's casual, family-style with sharing plates and authentic dishes that combine the highest quality ingredients," Mina said.

Reservations can be made through the Locale Gourmet Market website.

Tampa

Ask any local where you might find the coolest nosh pit in Tampa and they'll likely tell you it's at Armature Works in Tampa Heights. The building was formerly the cable car repair building for TECO, the Tampa Electric Co. It has been fully restored, with modern twists on many of its antique fixtures. The Heights Public Market within Armature Works, contains 13 food vendors ranging from outposts of beloved Tampa restaurants like Ava pizzeria to more experimental options like Astro Ice Cream Co., which makes its sweets using liquid nitrogen.

Tampa's Heights Public Market within Armature Works contains 13 food stalls and one major restaurant, Steelbach.
Tampa's Heights Public Market within Armature Works contains 13 food stalls and one major restaurant, Steelbach.

Steelbach is the Armature Works' first full-service restaurant and carries the building's modern-industrial concept into its dining room. They've even preserved the building's original conductor's station and made it into a romantic fishbowl-style table for two, perfect for a special occasion. Other restaurants are in the works and will open within the next year.

Just steps away from Armature Works is the Hall on Franklin, another food hall concept that's quite lively on weekend evenings. Seven food vendors have set up shop here, including a bakery, a fish camp-style seafood shop and a craft coffee bar.

West Palm Beach
Grandview Public Market opened in April and is now West Palm's hottest culinary destination. Grandview is home to 10 food vendors, including Latin American fusion restaurant Zipitos, Ramen Lab Eatery, Detroit-style pizzeria Corners and Thai-style rolled ice cream shop Crema.

Fried chicken sandwich with slaw at Grandview Public Market in West Palm Beach.
Fried chicken sandwich with slaw at Grandview Public Market in West Palm Beach.

Visitors can also take home small-batch olive oils, vinegars, cheeses, hummus and more from the Olive Oil of the World market and locally made home and paper goods from Quinn. The market also hosts chef's dinners as well as sports-viewing and wine-tasting events throughout the year. A list of events can be found on the Grandview Public Market website.

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