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Thursday, July 20, 2017

San Antonio's First Food Hall Opens Monday — Here's What You Should Know

Posted By and on Thu, Jul 20, 2017 at 6:06 PM

click to enlarge COURTESY OF GIANT NOISE
  • Courtesy of Giant Noise

As you read this, a very select number of people are already experiencing the latest in San Antonio dining. The public will get their first chance inside The Bottling Department Food Hall, a first of its kind for San Antonio and second in Texas after Houston's Conservatory, on Monday, July 24. The Food Hall is several years' worth of planning and research by the Pearl management that's adding not one, not three, but five new eateries to the already popular district known for pushing San Antonio's food scene into the national spotlight.

Food halls, a staple in Europe, are taking the U.S. by storm with early adoption from either coast and now San Antonio is getting its very own in a matter of days. Like food halls in L.A. and Atlanta before it, The Bottling Department will be used as incubator spaces for young entrepreneurs, but expect to find familiar faces inside the building, originally built in 1894, destroyed by fire in 2003 and brought back to life by Clayton & Little Architects (also responsible for Cured and the former Arcade Midtown Kitchen).

With five new eateries and a bar opening, the rush the area is about to experience is worrisome for this writer, but Shelley Grieshaber, the Pearl's director of culinary operations shared what steps were taken to guarantee a successful launch including a 20-member team of Bottling Department staff from bartenders to utility workers.

"There's lots of failsafes in place; we’re hoping for that kind of rush, which we expect when we first open," Grieshaber says.

The five concepts changed within that handful of years Grieshaber researched food halls across the country.

"I was not looking for specific concepts but was looking for food not represented here, so as to not create undue competition," Grieshaber said while sharing a list of items that she felt needed to be available at the food hall. The diversity in items is impressive — there's ramen and Japanese fare, donuts, hand pies and soft serve, fresh bowls and salads, rotisserie chicken and porchetta and burgers. All are ideal for the programming the Pearl's doled out with the addition of the splash pad-equipped Pearl Park that's hosting families for movie nights, kiddos on said water feature, and people of all ages looking to pack a picnic and dance around during Canciones and Soundcream Sessions.

Of course, when a restaurant opens these days, the brouhaha that follows from the influx of food lovers, influencers, and food writers can lead to long waits and skewed first impressions. Maybe, because this is five restaurants opening at once, we could give it a minute.

"I’m hoping, the public will be patient," Grieshaber says. "It's a very different model. We know we’ll get slammed upfront, and will have kinks to work out."

In other words, don't go hangry.

Here's a quick breakdown of what diners can expect from the city's first food hall.

Tenko Ramen

Patience will be required if the lines resemble those from Tenko's early pop-up days at Brick. Opened by chef Quealy Watson (formerly of Hot Joy) and business partner Jennifer Dobbertin, Tenko — named for a mythical, gold nine-tailed kitsune or fox — will serve up a similar menu to those 2016 pop-ups. Expect to find kimchi, chicken fajita karaage, gyoza, and a chicken katsu sandwich, as well as three mainstay ramen bowls, a Tokyo shoyu ramen, spicy miso tonkotsu ramen and a double mushroom ramen. Prices will vary from $3 to $11, with ramen add-ons ranging from .50 cents for chili and garlic and $3.50 for chashu pork.

But with limited seating in the Bottling Plant (100 or so for all five eateries), most will offer to-go options. Large deli storage containers will be used for ramen, but Tenko's enlisted the help of local artist Jamie Stolarski to take their packaging in a more specific direction.

"They're going for the weirder the better, unexpected and fun," Stolarski says.

The artist (responsible for the infamous Manu prayer candle) drew influences from 1970s Japanese horror cinema, posters and graphics for the shop's packaging and branding that extends from chopstick wrappers to square sandwich boxes for the katsu sandwiches.

11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
click to enlarge COURTESY OF GIANT NOISE
  • Courtesy of Giant Noise
You’d think that as accomplished a trio as Bakery Lorraine’s Jeremy Mandrell, Anne Ng, and Charlie Biedenharn could whip out a donut shop with five hands tied behind their collective backs. Apparently, if you want to avoid packaged mixes and knee-jerk “unicorn” glazes, it ain’t that easy.

In contrast to Lorraine’s extensive menu, Maybelle’s will offer donuts, fried pies, coffee, and soft-serve ice cream — that’s it. But “some people may want donuts one morning and fried pies the next afternoon,” suggests Biedenharn, speculating that the donuts (they will be made at Lorraine’s commissary kitchen on Eleanor) will likely be the first to sell out, whereas the fried-to-order pies are expected to last all day. Both have been subjected to extensive testing — the donuts are fried four at a time in a countertop fryer, before the big “donut robot” had arrived at the commissary.

“We’re doing a brioche dough yeasted donut,” says Mandrell; “we tried to make it ‘leaner’ but it just wasn’t satisfactory.” Nor was the cake-style donut a piece of cake to develop. “It was harder than we thought — but the chocolate cake version (still being tested) is even harder.” Nor are the chefs looking at glazes purely with Instagrammable flash. Chocolate glaze with sea salt, dehydrated raspberry with hibiscus, and passionfruit with strawberry — combinations that work are the goal. “We could get wild and make a $7 donut,” says Mandrell, “but our ‘competition’ is really Shipley’s, so nothing over $2.50 or $3” is contemplated in accord with the family-friendly nature of the Food Hall and its adjacent park.

For their part, the pies — all sweet, as “the hall’s savory aspect is taken care of with other vendors” —will be wrapped in puff pastry (house-made, of course), and all fillings will be made from scratch. Think peach Melba and strawberry with rhubarb and a price point of around $4. The soft serve will be the last to come together as the machine had just been installed minutes before our interview. "We were experimenting with doing our own waffle cones, but maybe not — you have to pick your battles, and there are people who already do that well,” said Mandrell. There may be special dips, though, even if their competition here isn’t exactly Dairy Queen.

7 a.m.-9p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-10p.m. Friday-Saturday.
click to enlarge COURTESY OF GIANT NOISE
  • Courtesy of Giant Noise

The Good Kind

The Tim McDiarmid-led project was technically announced last summer and was going to have a very different feel than as part of the five-some going into the Food Hall. Originally slated for the space formerly occupied by One Lucky Duck, The Good Kind seamlessly transitioned its plan into the Bottling Department Food Hall. Those familiar with the Canada-born caterer's concept, Tim the Girl, already know what's in store: good, guilt-free food.

Market-goers have had a chance to sample The Good Kind's menu for the past several months, but TGK's menu offerings are extensive. A Grab-n-Go refrigerator will make it easy to pick up clean, nourishing, sustainable and delicious food that can accommodate paleo and Whole30 diets. Expect to find salads (soba noodle, Lacinato kale salad, cilantro pumpkin seed slaw), sandwiches (a hippie sandwich with hummus, yogurt feta, shaved veggies; roast beef and Havarti with pickled onions and horseradish aioli) side salads, dips and snacks, dressings, and protein-add ons (chicken, feta, beef meatballs, bacon, avocado, hard-boiled eggs, nuts and seeds).

The dine-in menu will feature more breakfast options, smoothies, warm and pressed sandwiches and toasts with prices ranging from $6 to $9.

7 a.m.-9p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-10p.m. Friday-Saturday.
click to enlarge COURTESY OF GIANT NOISE
  • Courtesy of Giant Noise
Bud's Rotisserie

Another familiar face comes by way of Bud's Rotisserie from chef Pieter Sypesteyn and wife, Susan. In fact, Where Y'at Food Truck, the Sypesteyn's first project was going to be a porchetta truck before chef pivoted his menu.

"We ended up putting it on the back burner and then opened Cookhouse and NOLA Brunch, but this opportunity came up," Sypesteyn says.

He's adding what he calls the two most essential and classic Southern dishes — rotisserie chicken and Louisiana-style porchetta — with accompanying sides. With a kitchen about as big as the one in NOLA Brunch & Beignets (read: not very big), Sypesteyn and co. aren't trying to reinvent the wheel. They'll feature Southern-inspired sides with an extra bit of oomph such as roasted potatoes with drippings from the pork and chicken, Cajun cornbread, potato salad, candied yams and braised greens.

The proteins will be available in sandwich or plate form and prices will range from $12 for plate/sandwich and two sides, or $8 for a quarter-pound of porchetta or half chicken. And Bud's might give other rotisserie birds a run for their money when they make whole roasters available to-go.

11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
click to enlarge COURTESY OF GIANT NOISE
  • Courtesy of Giant Noise
Fletcher's Burgers

Sergio Remolina is perhaps the freshest face in the batch of restaurateurs to join the Food Hall, but his resume is equally impressive. The chef hails from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where he opened a Mexican contemporary restaurant. After border violence forced him away from home, Remolina found his place at the Culinary Institute of America. He was the opening chef for the school's Bocuse restaurant in New York City before being named Director of Latin Cuisine Studies and relocating to San Antonio. Remolina left his position with the CIA to open Fletcher's, a casual joint that aims to deliver burgers made with quality ingredients.

"Fletcher's was an opportunity to get back into the restaurant industry," Remolina says. "When they asked me to do it, I couldn't think of a food more democratic than burgers."

Brioche buns will be shipped in from Tribeca Ovens in New Jersey, chicken will come from Red Bird Farms and 100 percent grass-fed beef will be used for this endeavor. Expect three burgers, one crispy chicken sandwich, a hot dog and grilled cheese for the kiddos.

"Expect a good, simple All-American burger," Remolina says.

11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

Wine List
Scot Ota is a busy guy. Not only does he run High Street, a popular, seven-days-a-week wine bar at Pearl, but he has taken on the job of devising a universal wine list for Pearl’s Bottling Department Food Hall. He’ll also be training staff in the basics of wine and wine service. Crazy or what?

“This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” says Ota. He’s referring specifically to a way to make wine ordering easier for the ordinary customer. Yes, one side of the document he’s devising for the hall will be relatively standard, listing wines by style: bright white, earthy red, sparkling, etc.

But the other side is where the innovation comes in. It will be laid out like a floor plan of the hall with a section devoted to each business (ramen, burgers, healthy bowls, donuts … ) as you would encounter it walking through the main door. And each designated section will contain a listing of the wines recommended by Ota for that vendor: bold reds (mostly) for burgers, Rieslings (maybe) for ramen, bubbly for donuts and fried pies (because why not)…

Ota admits that “the [low] price point may pull some of our customers away at High Street” in that he’s contemplating no wines by the glass above $9 and no beers above $6. But he’s equally convinced that that same pricing will help create a new audience for High Street, an audience that will grow to prefer good glassware to plastic cups and an extensive, world-wide selection to the “15 or 20 value wines” he’ll be able to accommodate at the hall. No merlot, in case you were wondering.

But there will be exceptional wines in every “weight class,” to include cabernets, chardonnays and even a “very food-friendly” mencia from Spain. And whether fruity or earthy, bright or bubbly, each wine should get to you in under a minute — “just slightly longer than ordering coffee.”

And no more intimidation, as part of Ota’s staff training will be to both instruct servers in the use of terminology that isn’t highfalutin’ and in the proper ways to encourage customers to express their own preferences. We look forward to testing out the result.

11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

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