The world of food courts is in turmoil: As new halls open up — some not far from earlier ones — it’s unclear if there are enough vendors to fill stalls, whether it’s because we’ve hit a food hall saturation point, the deals aren’t small-business friendly, or both. Even so, the story of each food court is slightly different, a subtle interaction of the changing dynamics of restaurants, real estate, and the food-gobbling public.
Not long ago a new one opened at 103 North 3rd Street between Berry and Wythe called Williamsburg Market. Followers of food halls may recognize this space as having been another food court that launched in 2018 with the rather uninspiring name of North 3rd Street Market. It managed to fill up most of its 20 stalls before closing down in 2020 as the city catapulted into the pandemic. Like The Deco, it positioned itself upscale, with a dramatic entryway featuring tangled branches and a pair of glassed-in stores set into its front. Tenants included Lobster Joint, Baba’s Pierogies, and an attention-getting first offshoot of Di Fara Pizza, producing a slice that was a reasonable facsimile of the Midwood original.
Reopened in November as Williamsburg Market, it has one tenant in common with its predecessor: Di Fara Pizza, which occupies the same cul de sac in a rear corner.
In the new version of this food court, the seating is better than any other in town except perhaps Hudson Eats. A flock of tables on two levels in front telegraph a trendy café, while padded booths with lighting sconces along walls of gleaming white tile make it seem like a fancy restaurant. Those booths are already being used as a low-budget site for business meetings.
The first thing you see upon entering Williamsburg Market is a bar. Many new food halls have been seeking out full liquor licenses so they can double as cocktail lounges. This one has its own list of invented cocktails — but no official name for the space. The bartender lamented that, so far, it’s not on the neighborhood radar for drinks, and without a name, one can understand why.
From the bar which is the midpoint of the room, pathways snake around 19 stalls of various configurations if you count the bar, with 13 occupied and the others still empty (though two have signs for future tenants.) I went on three days and ate extensively, and here are the five things I most recommend.
Five Best Dishes
Plain cheese slice at Di Fara Pizza
Since the founder’s demise, the pizza offered at this L-shaped offshoot is different than it was in Dom De Marco’s day. An array of slices are on offer as if this were any neighborhood joint, but the fundamental cheese slice ($5) remains excellent. Yes, the crust is a little puffier, the cheese a more boutique-y mozzarella, and the basil ripped and strewn frantically, but damn! this slice is worth savoring anyhow.
Spicy Korean rice cake soup at Urbanbelly
There’s some wild fusion going on at this counter spawned by a restaurant in Chicago’s Wicker Park. The menu lists a coconut curry pho, lemongrass chicken dumplings, and udon with kimchee and scrambled eggs, but I went for the Korean rice cake soup ($17). Its bright red broth was mellow rather than spicy, but what I loved best were the fish balls and McNugget-like chicken cutlet, which benefitted from the sweetness delivered by jagged cubes of fresh mango. What a nutsy bowl of soup!
Fratelli at Alidoro
Those familiar with Soho’s old-time Italian sandwich shop will be surprised to see the expanded combination of products this food-court branch offers. Most startling are the hot sandwiches, which include the fratelli ($18.50) on a choice of three breads. Normally sliced thick and put on a sandwich with no other ingredients, this version of a porchetta sandwich is cut thin and heaped on focaccia with mozzarella, hot peppers, pesto, and the ubiquitous arugula, making for a memorable, if non-traditional variation.
Smash burger at Paper Plate
This smash burger ($9) is one of the city’s better versions: A brisket and short rib blend goes into a patty that’s so aggressively seared that half of the patty seems to be like a soft and flavorful piece of leather. Then American cheese is added at just the right moment so that it half melts, followed by caramelized onion, and the assemblage deposited on a puffy potato bun. Speaking of potatoes, the shoestring fries ($4.25) are pretty good, too.
Buttermilk fried chicken at Harlem Seafood Soul
Sired by a cart that parks in front of the Harlem Office Building, this counter is the site of some spectacular soul-food cooking. The fried chicken ($16) is a good-size portion of four hefty wings and thighs soaked in buttermilk and fried to order, turning crisp and juicy. Herbed fries come alongside, but fail to upstage the wonderfully crisp chicken.
Williamsburg Market Café (coffee and breakfast pastries)
Effin Egg (egg bowls and egg sandwiches)
Harlem Seafood Soul (fried chicken and fish)
Temakase (sushi rolls)
Paper Plate (smash burgers)
Oh-K Dog (Korean rice dogs)
Urbanbelly (Asian fusion noodles)
Newlight Breadworks (bread bakery)
Di Fara Pizza
Mexology (tacos and bowls)
Bklyn Wild (vegan bowls)
Alidoro (Italian sandwiches)
Pasta Di Martino
Bao Tea House