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King of the Hall 

Exploring why food halls are so hot right now.

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ALEX SPRINGER
  • Alex Springer

With the recent opening of Block Party 2700 (4044 S. 2700 East, blockparty2700.com) in Holladay, the concept of food halls has given me pause to reflect. Over the past decade or so, food halls—large, cafeteria-like spaces that house multiple restaurants—have started to gain traction. Utah first joined the food hall movement with Hall Pass (153 S. Rio Grande Street, hallpassslc.com), and it wasn't long before Utah County got on the bandwagon with The Hut (495 E 600 North, Provo). Now that our food hall options have expanded all across the Wasatch Front, it's time to take a deep dive into our love of communal dining.

My own entry point into food halls as we currently know them was courtesy of the food court at Fashion Place Mall circa 1997. I needed money to fund my high school exploits, so my older brother got me a job at the mall's Sam Goody/Suncoast, a CD and video store that was eventually purchased and squashed out of existence by Best Buy. The food court was a bit of a refuge for my after-school shifts spent restocking Backstreet Boys albums and awkwardly selling Playboy Channel VHS tapes to crispy old dudes. During my break, I'd wander over to the collection of fast-food joints and let the smell of sizzling fries, pepperoni pizza and Mongolian barbecue mosh their way into my nose. I had my favorites, of course, but I loved the fact that I could try something new during every shift if I wanted to.

Back when shopping malls were the acme of consumer culture, the food court merely existed to fuel the capitalist ideology of shopping until one dropped. Its staggering variety was designed to exploit the mall shopper's desire to hunt down the perfect item for their money. In our evolution as consumers, food has become its own kind of stylistic commodity. Dining out has become a social event akin to going to the movies or a concert, and food fans obsessively follow chefs and restaurateurs on social media in the same way they follow celebrities of stage and screen. This shift in our consumer culture has made it possible for the traditional food court concept to exist independently of an adjoined shopping center, which demonstrates the power foodies have over the world of commerce.

I visited Hall Pass when it first opened, and though I thought the variety and quality of food was great, I had a tough time buying into the concept. Maybe the Netflix-ification of restaurant culture was a bit too much for my decision-fatigued brain, or maybe I'm just getting old and grouchy. All the same, Block Party 2700 was a bit easier for me to approach since it's bringing more of a local vibe to the food hall concept. It was conceived by Frank and Kami Granato, owners of Granato's Gourmet Market (granatos.com), who have converted their Holladay location into an epic partnership with three additional eateries.

Joining Granato's for Block Party 2700 is food truck-turned-storefront called Over the Coles BBQ, a coffee and gelato shop called Elephant Press Café, and a third location for Rose Park-based taqueria Santo Taco. The food hall itself has plenty of space and a welcoming vibe, and I think it's done right by its selection of restaurants. Elephant Press is perfect for a breakfast pastry and some fresh roasted coffee, or a quick pop-in to indulge in some gelato. You can't go wrong with a sandwich or pizza from Granato's for lunch, or even a plate of tacos from Santo Taco, for that matter.

Over the Coles was the one place I hadn't previously tried, so after a warmup of birria tacos ($7.99) from Santo, I popped over to see what they had cooking. Their menu offers the standard Texas barbecue fare—smoked chicken, pulled pork and brisket—and they earned some brownie points for having smoked spicy sausage as well. I ordered the two-meat plate ($16.29) with sausage and chopped brisket—which costs $1.50 more, but was well worth it. The brisket is as tender as a dream and comes with plenty of that smoked exterior for a bit of texture. The sausage comes in a full link, and I was surprised to find that it's stuffed with a bit of cheese for good measure. It's got a nice snap and excellent flavor, but its spicy kick was a bit muted for my taste.

As long as dining out and discussing good food remains a social experience, the concept of food halls and food truck roundups will endure. I'm glad the concept has taken root locally as well. Visiting a food hall like Block Party 2700 that is owned and operated by a family that has been a part of Utah's food scene since the 1950s just makes you feel all warm, fuzzy and full inside.

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