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City Acres Market May Be NYC’s Worst Food Court

The FiDi grocerant needs work

It seems that every possibility for a food court has become a reality, with the newest, City Acres Market, resembling the food hall at Whole Foods in Williamsburg. Located just north of Wall Street, it features stalls, seating, and cash registers on the main floor, with the actual supermarket exiled to the basement.

As at Whole Foods, customers must line up to acquire food at the counters, and then line up again to pay for it at the cash registers. This can be annoying. These registers also serve as check-out for the supermarket downstairs, which was nearly empty on three separate visits.

Entering on Pearl Street, visitors walk past a nice but narrow L-shaped seating area that can accommodate 35 customers at picnic tables and window stools. Every square inch of the tight food court space features shelves stocked with packaged snacks, nuts, chocolate, plastic-wrapped bagels, cookies, fruits, and other immediately consumable groceries. The place looks like a convenience store.

That convenience store-feel is exacerbated by a huge steam table anchored in the middle, filled with around 20 selections, sold at $8.99 per pound: goopy sweet potato lasagna, roasted broccoli, fried potatoes dressed with cheese and bacon, vegan spaghetti and meatballs, mac and cheese, meat loaf, pork loin in black bean sauce, and chicken stir-fry.

Another area contains a salad bar, with fundamentals like mozzarella balls or beets in vinaigrette, along with mayo-heavy egg salad and Italian antipasti. The presence of steam tables, reach-in refrigerators, wrapped sandwiches, heat-and-eat main courses, and stocked shelves is distracting in that it lures customers away from the more conventional food court counters, which sometimes generate long lines in the already cramped space. Here’s a rundown of what’s available, listed alphabetically.

Artichoke Basille — This ubiquitous pizza chain features the thick and soupy Staten Island style pizza baked on premise. It represents the best food choice in City Acres Market, with no diminution in quality from the chain’s free-standing stores. That said, skip some of the soupier selections like the artichoke slice, which tastes like Campbell’s Soup. Recommendation: With a zippy tomato sauce and good cheese, the square Sicilian is the slice to get ($5).

Beyond Sushi — One of a plethora of vegan and vegetarian choices, this veteran food court operator specializes in elaborate sushi rolls in a rainbow of colors, deploying avocados, random pickled vegetables, fruits, and alternate grains instead of rice. The result is showy, but can it be still be called sushi? I didn’t like my “pickle me” roll, in which the pickles were way too hard to chew, or my badge dumplings (four for $5.95), which constituted a meager serving for the price. Recommendation: Skip this stall.

Cinnamon Snail — Food court stalwart and vegan fave Cinnamon Snail started out as a truck, proving that doughnuts can be made without the benefit of butter or other dairy products. Nevertheless, they tend to be excruciatingly sweet. Pick the simplest, and avoid the burgers with names like “beast mode burger deluxe”: they’re expensive and sodden with mac-and-soy-cheese and BBQ sauce. Why don’t they make a plain-ish, satisfying veggie burger? Recommendation: The apple cider doughnut is definitely worth eating, though not the equal of farmers’ market examples ($2.50).

City Acres Delicatessen — You might be impressed by the large number of cold cuts and cheeses that call out to you from the refrigerated shelves behind this sandwich counter run by the supermarket, which has an old-timey butcher shop feel. That is, until you notice the sign that says they all come from Boar’s Head. This is not to nick Boar’s Head, but why feature it exclusively? Anyway, the bread tends to be spongy and sweet. Recommendation: Skip the massive collection of pre-made sandwiches and have yours made to order from an obsolete luncheon meat, such as olive loaf ($8).

City Acres Salad — This free-standing counter run by the supermarket makes salads to order, but since it is understaffed counter, it’s a tortuous process. The counter is also ringed with grab-and-go options, like the pre-made salmon salad with orange fish steamed to an alarming off-white, sided with beets, mozzarella marbles, and sweet potatoes, on a very thick bed of arugula ($11.99). Recommendation: Skip this counter and go to nearby Chop’t.

Juice Brothers — Is it a pharmacy or a food stall? This Dutch juice chain makes all sorts of extravagant claims for the medicinal properties of its juices, which should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. Juice is so passé, anyway. Recommendation: If you crave juice and don’t mind the empty calories, the one called unicorn’s blood isn’t bad, featuring watermelon, pineapple, ginger, and lemon.

Vanessa’s Dumplings — The familiar chain doesn’t make dumplings here, so they must be transported from other branches, and the result is thicker skinned dumplings (6 for $4.88), below the usual quality and above the usual cost. The sesame bread sandwiches are good, though, while the sides that are stocked in a cold case next to the stall aren’t. Recommendation: Get the duck sesame sandwich ($5.88).

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