The Hugh, like a lot of us these days, can't seem to catch a break. This striking new food hall, located inside what used to be called the Citigroup Center on 53rd and Lexington, was originally slated to open in the spring of 2020—a plan obviously torn to shreds by COVID's first wave. And even after the vaccines made indoor dining feel safer and more normal again this summer and into fall, the impressive lineup of 17 restaurants and bars here waited until November for the grand opening, as office workers and tourists finally started to return to the area. And now: omicron and a big "who knows?" about the neighborhood's immediate future.
But if you're in Midtown anytime soon, or even looking for an adventure-destination over the holiday break, The Hugh is definitely worth checking out. First of all, the place is spectacular, a 30,000 square foot, two-story atrium with a sprawling, almost park-like central seating area filled with real trees. Masks are required when not eating and drinking, and security does vax checks just to enter the space. The tables and cushioned banquettes are spread out enough to create comfortable distancing once you've gathered your meal from the various vendors.
The lineup at The Hugh has plenty of variety. There are heavy hitters like Miznon, home of those buttery roasted cauliflower heads and one of the city's great burgers, which arrives folded into a pita; the giant-sandwich geniuses at Alidoro; Pierre Thaim's excellent Teranga, which highlights hearty African home cooking; and Mah Ze Dahr, where you'll find, among many other delights, two of the best doughnuts in town.
There are several outfits making their debut here, including the seafood shack Pesce Lulu, which owner Jeffrey Tam (also a well-regarded hair stylist) named after his two daughters, Lulu and Luanne; chef H. Kemis Lawrence's Jumieka NYC, which serves a terrific Goat Curry as well other traditional Jamaican dishes like Jerk Chicken and Oxtail Stew; and the Craft + Carry crew's first food venture, Joseph Brothers, a spacious bar toward the back of the place where you can eat big, sloppy sandwiches while chugging your way through the 30 beers or so on tap.
The popular Greenpoint Fish and Lobster runs two of The Hugh's other bars: a regular boozy one, and a raw bar with oysters, clams, scallops, and shrimps. You can also get beer at Kotti Berliner Döner Kebab, or Korean soju at Mokbar, or bissap, the national drink of Senegal, at Teranga. Rob Guimond of Park Slope's P.D.A. Pizza switches it up a bit here in Manhattan by slinging slices, both classic New York folds and some first-rate Detroit-style beauties. And chef Toon Lau brings a full menu of Thai favorites to her Thank You Come Again booth.
And despite all of the pandemic-related challenges, from the long-delayed opening to the still-depleted population of office workers in Midtown, enthusiasm was high among the vendors we spoke with last week. Noah Levine, one of co-founders of Teranga, told Gothamist that he remained excited about being here: "The opportunity has been great for us, being in the heart of Manhattan, and bringing our African fast-casual concept to a much wider audience. The fact that we're able to be in the heart of the business center of the world, providing exposure to this type of food, is huge."
P.D.A. Slice Shop's Guimond has no regrets either. "It's awesome," he said about being in Midtown. "Opening a restaurant in Manhattan is kind of the dream when you're in New York City in the restaurant business. Brooklyn is fun [Guimond previously worked at Speedy Romeo and Roberta's] but it's its own little town. When people think of NYC, they think of Manhattan. I'm optimistic that, after the holidays, after this omicron variant dies down, hopefully more and more people will come back to the office and we'll see sales pick up through the spring."
The Hugh, by the way, is named after the building's architect, Hugh Stubbins. Completed in 1977, and now simply called 601 Lexington Avenue, it is the city's youngest landmark.
The Hugh is located at 157 East 53rd Street, with an entrance at the corner of 53rd and Lexington Avenue as well, and is currently open on Monday through Friday from 7 a.m to 11 p.m. Individual vendors may open later or close earlier. Weekend hours coming sometime early in 2022 (thehughnyc.com)