Food halls, one of New York City's most relentless dining trends of the past five years or so, seem uniquely unqualified to reopen during a pandemic. Crowded, sometimes subterranean indoor spaces where you're required to wander through cramped aisles and all tables are communal? Uh, yeah, no thank you.
Still though, the concept of having multiple restaurants serving a wide range of cuisines all in one location remains an appealing one, even if you're getting takeout. And if there's any safe-feeling outdoor public seating nearby, the potential for a handy neighborhood lunchtime or even dinner destination is high.
Dekalb Market, located in the basement of Downtown Brooklyn's City Point Mall (also home to Alamo Drafthouse, Target, Century 21, and Trader Joe's), was one of the city's most popular food halls when the coronavirus shut it all down back in mid March. Now, almost four months later, the Market is crawling back to life, with a highly abbreviated, rotating roster of vendors setting up curbside "ordering stands" on the sidewalk of Albee Square West.
The logistics here are simple. Each vendor — there were six in action on Tuesday, but more are promised soon — has a table outside with a menu, and a masked-up staffer to take your order. Your food is cooked downstairs in the Market proper, then delivered in full takeout mode to you on the sidewalk. You never even have to enter the building, unless you want to use the bathroom at Target on the second floor.
It's too bad having a massive construction site as a neighbor prevents Albee Square West from being named an Open Street outfitted with tables and such. But Albee Square itself, around the corner fronting Fulton Street, does have a few appropriately-distanced seating options, and newcomer Willoughby Square Pop-Up Park up the block has a lot of completely unused space, including a substantial turf lawn upon which you could comfortably picnic.
There were many good choices to be had among the six vendors that were part of the Dekalb Open Air Market during a visit this week. The iconic Katz's is here with many of their classics, including Pastrami (as sublime as ever) and Corned Beef Sandwiches, Hot Dogs, Matzo Ball Soup, and Potato Knishes. Likkle More Jerk has some fiery Jerk Chicken as well as other West Indian favorites like an Oxtail platter and Goat Rotis.
Hana Noodle Station features a full array of dishes featuring their hand-pulled beauties as well all kinds of Bubble Milk Teas. I decided to try the Shanghai Cold Noodle with Shredded Chicken, and it was delicious, but any number of other concoctions here looked equally tempting. You can also get Fujinese delights like Char Siu Rice Bowls and Fish Ball Noodle Soup at 100% Mr. Lin.
Rounding out the vendors yesterday were the Pierogi Boys (get a sampler platter to try all three dumpling varieties), and The Flo, with cold brewed coffee and chewy, jumbo-sized cookies. Other restaurants that may be appearing in the near future: Kopti Donor with their Donor Kebabs, Andrew's Hard Times Sundaes starring first-rate "roadside" burgers and fries, and BK Jani with dishes such as Chicken Tikka and Seekh K'babs.
The setup isn't ideal — the city should definitely let them take over that currently barren pop-up park on Willoughby Street — but these vendors are all doing a nice job of making do with what little they've been given, and serving some very good food while they're at it.
The Dekalb Open-Air Market will be set up in front of 445 Albee Square West, between Fulton and Willoughby Streets, and is currently open weekdays from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (dekalbmarkethall.com)