Remember when you were a teenager and everyone hung out at the local mall’s food court after school? We’d whine about the new chem teacher in front of Sbarro and share who we were crushing on near Orange Julius. You’ve grown up now, and so have your taste buds and appreciation for fine foods. Mall food is a thing of the past (except when you’re with YOUR kids now or during holiday shopping marathons). However, all these years later, there is still something comforting and downright fun about hanging with your crew in a food hall, trying different grab-and-go market stalls, as well as eat-in options, that bring you back to your teenage years.
Ponce City Market fills that need to try foods of different ethnicities, chefs and restaurants all in one amazingly massive location. Housed in the historic Sears, Roebuck & Co. building, off of (you guessed it!) Ponce de Leon Avenue near 10th Street, Ponce City Market’s Central Food Hall is brimming with cool restaurateurs. Honestly, every time I visit, there seems to be a new food stall opening its doors, and this is in addition to all the amazing retail and offices that have opened up in the space.
The best way to appreciate everything that PCM has to offer, food-wise, is to travel in a pack. Yep, just like those cliques from yesteryear, the best way to cover the most square footage and the greatest number of different meals is by hitting up the food court with a bunch of friends — which is what I did.
First on the list, Bellina Alimentari. This “ethical” Italian eatery changes its menu seasonally and offers food with an ethical, ecofriendly, humane angle, which customers can either eat in or take out. I visited in February, so Bellina’s scrumptious fare included pasta options like Tagliolini della Sorellina (fresh pasta with creamy mushroom ragu, $14) and Quattro Formaggi (oven-baked, molten cheese pasta, $11), as well as sandwiches like Funghi (pane toscano, shiitake mushrooms, fontina, chestnut spread and pesto, $12) and Prosciutto Cotto (schiacciata, Spotted Trotter rosemary ham, mushroom spread and taleggio cheese, $12). Other standout items included Polpette al Sugo (cheese-filled meatballs with tomato sauce and schiacciata bread, $12) and roasted beet salad ($10). Besides the regular menu, Bellina is a gourmet Italian market, where you can get authentic ingredients from Italy, as well as local purveyors.
If you prefer more surf than turf, walk a few feet down to W. H. Stiles Fish Camp for amazing seafood from the South. There’s shrimp, crab and crawfish caught in the Gulf of Mexico; snapper and cobia off the coast of Florida; and lobster from a bit farther north. And then there is the daily oyster menu. Pay by the dozen (which varies by day) for these juicy delicacies from all over the country, with options like Otter Island, SC, and Church Creek, VA. There are lots of other items to order from Star Provisions’ “urban fish shack” — perhaps BBQ Shrimp (featuring spoon bread, tomato and Worcestershire, $16) or Wedge “Lobster Louie” Salad (with iceberg lettuce, lobster, eggs, olives and Louie dressing, $24).
Liven up those taste buds and walk over to El Super Pan, a sandwich stop with a Latin flair. Chef Hector Santiago, originally from Puerto Rico and featured on season six of “Top Chef,” has been a culinary mainstay in Atlanta, sharing his talent with a variety of notable local restaurants. PCM’s El Super Pan offers tasty Cuban-inspired sandwiches (hence the “pan”), like the Pork Belly Bun, $5.50, and the Smoked Tofu Bun, $4. Both of these were our two favorites of the night. Pair El Super Pan’s sandwiches with tasty sides, like maduros (toasted sweet plantains, $3) and Piggie Cookies (bacon fat shortbread cookie with guava jelly, $1.50 each). Perhaps you’ll get to say hi to the chef himself — one of the nights we dined at PCM, we got to greet Hector in person and pay our respects to his creativity and obvious talents.
It would be sacrilegious to write a story about Ponce City Market Food Hall and not include H&F Burger, from the people who brought you Holeman & Finch. The latter’s 10 O’Clock Burger became the stuff of legends and eventually, this double cheeseburger broke through the time restraints and made it on to the regular menu … and inspired what is now H&F Burger.
This burger, $12, pretty much monopolizes the H&F Burger menu, though customers can customize it with additions like bacon, fried egg or avocado. You can order other options like the veggie burger (with cremini mushrooms, brussels sprouts slaw and pepperjack cheese, $9), or a Spotted Trotter hot dog, $6, but let’s be honest. You heard about the famous burger, you waited in line for the famous burger, you’re going to order and eat the famous burger. (Don’t forget to really destroy your diet by matching your double cheeseburger with hand-cut, twice-fried fries and a chocolate shake or root beer float.)
Savory specialties continue with South African fare and all-natural beef jerky from Biltong Bar; the apple of the South’s eye — fried chicken — (served with biscuits and sides) from Hop’s Chicken; Mexican food from Minero (seriously, the smell wafting from the hostess stand was beyond enticing); Brezza Cucina; Simply Seoul Kitchen and more. In fact, as we write this article, there are restaurants being opened in real time (we’re looking at you Marrakesh) or set to open in a few months (Ton Ton and Botiwalla).
To finish our meal (and really put an exclamation mark on the gluttonous feeling trying to pop the button off my jeans), we had to hit up the dessert options. We went with a Raspberry Lime pop from King of Pops and a few scoops of gelato from Honeysuckle Gelato. If you prefer to finish your meal with an after-dinner cocktail, try The Mercury upstairs (they also have a great food menu). If you want a hot coffee, try Dancing Goats Coffee Bar or for a juicy concoction, try Lucky Lotus Juice Bar.
As the sun sets on this article and I realize how much my friends and I actually ate at Ponce City Market, I have the overwhelming urge to go on a diet … AND head back to the food hall to hit up all the restaurants I never had a chance to visit the other times I was there.