This Miami Food Hall's Best Dish Isn't on the Menu: It's a Community Thing

1-800-Lucky, Wynwood

It wasn't until my summer trip to London that I realized the extent of the food hall phenomena. It seemed that all the major department stores had their own food hall the origins of which can be found in European markets like London's Borough Market. This massive open air warehouse is a destination and a central hub for the local community and, of course, a few tourists. See all these people just hanging out and checking their phones? It's a great spot to connect (pun intended). So let's circle back to Miami. Is there anything even close to this in our hood? Hint, it's less flash, and more community impact, but you need to read to the very end to find the answer.

Borough Market, London

St. Roch Market, Design District

Contestant #1: St Roch

Tucked away on the second floor of the beautiful Palm Plaza, the St. Rich Market was really the first to hit the Miami scene. The entrance is understated, but the second story pergola, which is outfitted with modern, oversized swings that take me back to my childhood, begin to create a mini hub of activity, but enough to create a real community hub.

Escalator to St. Roch Market

From the base of the escalator, you'd never know the market was there. It's kind of a surprise when you reach the top and the first thing that catches your eye will be the swings.

St. Roch Market

And the interior is modern and lovely with some terrific restaurants. Normally I don't focus on interior spaces, but just for fun, I've included a shot of each food hall bar. The bars are the ultimate hub and each is designed really differently. There wasn't a ton of action at this one, but to be fair, it was midday and after the lunch rush.

Mercato, Brickell City Center

Contestant #2: Mercato, Brickell City Center

Mercato is a beautiful addition to Brickell. It's a multi-story gourmet food hall with sit down restaurants and self service. But the point of this photo is the location. Mercato is tucked away in the back of the shopping center.

Main Entrance Brickell City Center

Here's a photo of the Brickell City Center entrance from the main entrance. Can you see Mercato? In this case the activity hub is the shopping center and the food hall plays a secondary role. But great food and wine. Small bar on the first floor.

Contestant #3: Lincoln Eatery

Located behind Lincoln Road, the Lincoln Eatery has a nice entrance with outdoor tables and chairs to encourage folks to hang around. Wide sidewalks and a generous overhang with tabletop umbrellas make the space cozy, cooler and dry. And it doesn't hurt to have that nice big shade tree framing the edge of the sidewalk. But when this photo was taken, the Marshalls was getting a little more action than the outdoor dining. The Lincoln Eatery definitely adds another dimension of activity and interest in an area that is already a center of activity.

Lincoln Eatery, Miami Beach

The interior space is open and airy with some amazing vendors.

Contestant #4: TimeOut Market

They've really marketed the hell out of this new gem, and I can see why. A carefully curated pool of restaurants, beautiful bar, hip lighting, dj and movie screen. The TimeOut Market website boasts that unlike other food halls, this one is based on food and food culture of Miami. Although in their YouTube video, they describe all of their TimeOut Markets projects as "starting with a relevant building with soul and presence", I just didn't see it. The concept is terrific in terms of the food, but not so great in terms of activating the street. The building occupies a sleepy corner on a quiet street just south of Lincoln Road. I'll blame this one on the City code, which might have restricted outdoor seating, awnings and signage.

The Runner Up: 1-800 Lucky

1-800 Lucky is kind of off the main Wynwood drag. It's a very cool concept. Lucky Records occupies the front of the house and Asian restaurants and communal tables fill the back. This entrance is pretty discrete.

But hold on, this second entrance is pretty cool. The wood framing, the artistic "Feelin Lucky" neon sign and the greenery peeking out from behind draws you into a courtyard and an amazing Japanese ice cream truck. Very inviting.

(Get the unicorn cone.)

Once you enter the courtyard head to the back for a very low key outdoor bar.

There are also tables and chairs for people to hang out, covered and uncovered seating and premium indoor air conditioned seating for those that can't deal with the heat. The design of the entrance makes it feel open to everyone gives a real community vibe. Alas, 1-800 Lucky is a hub in an already popular and successful entertainment district. Like the Lincoln Eatery, it adds to the neighborhood vibe. But it is a destination and a popular hangout so it gets the runner up award.

And the winner...

First Place: The Citadel

Why? Because it landed right in the middle of El Portal's tiny commercial Main Street, between Miami Shores and Little Haiti on NE 2nd Avenue and is beginning to transform the neighborhood for the community that lives there. This is exciting stuff. And you gotta love the big retro sign.

I'd been reading about this place for a year and I would drive by the shell of a building and wonder what it would look like and how it would fit in with the neighborhood. Who would come here and would it be another typical story of gentrification- pushing out the minority businesses and residents and bringing in hipsters with money.

But one step into this place and it's clear, this is not your typical food hall and it's not for the upper crust. The design is simple and beautiful. The space is vast and cozy. The bar is gorgeous and the materials and colors are warm and soothing.

There are a variety of spaces to work, hang out and eat- couches, high tops, communal tables, round tables and charging stations at every table. The restaurants are eclectic and are representative of the Haitian neighborhood, the Latin American community, Asian and gringo. Half the building is set aside for the food hall and the other half is a large event space with rotating art displays, play areas for children and pop-up retail. Both spaces hosts special events for community members and there is even a rooftop venue. But what I liked about the Citadel, was that it is a place for everyone and enjoyed by everyone. Unbelievable.

So how has this little project began to build community in the neighborhood?

Parking Lot:

Let's start with the parking lot. This back entrance is great for people who don't want to park on the street, but it's open and inviting for anyone to use. It's well maintained, beautifully landscaped and clean. It is not an eyesore to the neighbors on the street, but adds green and beauty.

Building a District:

Tony Goldman knew that you had to have a cluster of activity to make a district successful. His recipe was art and food. Here, the recipe seems to be retail and food. The developers of the Citadel have two more buildings on NE 2nd Avenue. One right next to the food hall on the opposite corner will house creative retail space.

The other is a rehab of an existing building with the same kind of creative retail uses. More community driven and community run. The result of these three buildings is something special. It shows a commitment to the neighborhood that is both caring and attentive to the community.

It also came on the heels of the NE 2nd Street redesign and construction. With new sidewalks, landscaping and pavement, the Citadel and it's sister buildings create a real wow factor. It just makes me happy every time I drive through here.

And the poetry of the place is best visualized through this photo. Through this keyhole is an entrance to the main food hall space. In the foreground is the buildings history which the owners of the Citadel honor. But peer down the long corridor and you can see that something new was added to make the space relevant and contemporary for the community.

Lessons Learned:

It's not just enough to have a great restaurant line up and a cool space, the best food halls are part of the community and make their neighborhoods better.

Citadel nailed it.

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