Picture Boston’s famed Faneuil Hall and you will have some sense of what the Essex Public Market & Food Hall in Centerbrook is about.
It’s a modern day food hall offering counter service at several eateries along with a market, all under one roof. Meals can be enjoyed at community tables, to go or picked up curbside. It’s Chef Colt Taylor’s innovative answer to dining during a pandemic, and it officially opened Dec. 4.
“The food hall concept is something I’ve been looking to for a while. But with the pandemic we felt a shift away from the full service restaurant model and a need for inexpensive comfort food and variety, which is severely lacking,” Taylor said.
“We also wanted to create as many jobs as possible through this difficult time, and convert our space into something we genuinely feel the community needs - options, affordability, safe dine in, takeout and delivery in one.”
And the choices are many. For example, Los Charros serves up Mexican fare with dairy free and gluten free options for tacos, quesadillas and tortillas, along with the usual suspects like guacamole, nachos, homemade chips with a flight of salsa, and, of course, tequila.
Proof Pizza & Meatball Shop has pizzas, fresh salads and a selection of meatballs and sauces. There are vegetarian meatballs as well.
Umami Noodle Bar infuses flavors from Japan, Vietnam and Burma into its ramen, pho, sushi and curry dishes.
For chicken and burger lovers there is The Joint and for dessert, The Creamery has fresh-baked cookies and brownies, gourmet gelato, milkshakes, and you can design your own ice cream sandwiches and sundaes.
Handcrafted cocktails, beer and wine are also available. “While the public market is counter service where you seat yourself and there’s no reservations, we will still offer tableside cocktail service like our Los Charros margarita and our spiked frozen hot chocolate,” Taylor said.
For those desiring a full service upscale dining experience, The Essex, Taylor’s flagship award-winning restaurant, is still open. It has a separate entrance from the Food Hall, though it’s housed in the same building. It features modern American gastronomy with a changing menu depending on what’s in season and what can be procured from local and sustainable purveyors.
At both eateries, ensuring the public’s safety during the COVID-19 pandemic remains a priority.
“Aside from the basics of daily temperature checks, intense cleaning schedules and single-use (biodegradable) plates and glassware, which eliminates extra points of human contact, we enforce masks for all staff and all guests unless seated at their table,” Taylor said. “We have also invested in 4 Sterilite Far UV systems for our HVAC." Taylor also said the open kitchen and hoods have technology, which ensures air changeover every 10.5 minutes.
For those who prefer to cook at home, there is an onsite gourmet market with fresh fish and meat, a small assortment of groceries, dairy products and spices, as well as to-go meals.
“We have prepared foods from each of our restaurants like buckets of fried chicken and different sides to heat up at home. You can simply pop in the Market entrance, grab what you need and avoid the action of the restaurant altogether,” said Taylor.