Can downtown make a comeback? High Street Place is banking on it. The food hall opens Wednesday, March 2, after a two-year delay. It was slated to open right as COVID-19 hit in March 2020. The space stood empty in the meantime, a time capsule from a simpler world.
The food hall was created to meander like a Parisian street, says architect Julie Reker from Gensler, the firm that designed High Street. Reker has also worked on design projects at the Capital One cafés and the Prudential Center.
High Street runs from a breakfast area with Gracenote Coffee, Mother Juice, and a bodega to lunch stalls, ending with a bright atrium and dinnertime options such as Newburyport Brewing and Tenderoni’s pizza. After dark, a wall lined with evergreen boxwoods and reindeer moss becomes illuminated with twinkling lights, intended to look like fireflies. A massive 28-foot video screen hangs above Newburyport Brewing. For the COVID-conscious, there’s plenty of outdoor seating, too.
And lest you question the difference between a food hall and a food court: High Street offers table-service from its 20 vendors, plus programming. In the coming days, there will be appearances by DJs as well as a yoga session, something you probably wouldn’t attempt in front of Sbarro.
Each stall has a definite aesthetic. Tenderoni’s looks like a mash-up between Roller Kingdom and your favorite 1970s pizzeria. Bubble Bath, a champagne bar, would fit in on a cruise ship with its deep blues and golds. Each vendor is from New England, and there is some diversity: 10 businesses are women-owned and eight are minority-owned, though there are no Black-owned vendors as yet. The vendor roster has also changed since 2020. Noodle Boss has been replaced by Kutzu, serving ramen and pho; Blackbird Doughnuts is new, too.
But, for the most part, vendors have hung in. Rockhill Management, which runs the property, didn’t charge rent. Restaurateurs also had a strong incentive to wait it out: built-in liquor licenses held by the property, which can be otherwise notoriously hard to obtain in Boston.
“It made the possibility of having a bar of any kind inside Boston proper something that was actually within reach for us,” says Daren Swisher from cocktail bar Daiquiris & Daisies.
On the whole, menus are small and curated. Think greatest hits, not 20-course meal. Here’s the full lineup.
Blackbird Doughnuts: Doughnuts from the team behind South End gastropub Banyan Bar + Refuge.
Of interest: Look for monthly specials like red velvet and cream cheese or strawberry cheesecake.
Bubble Bath: A champagne bar from Tiffani Faison (Orfano, Sweet Cheeks).
Of interest: Buy gold tokens to use on a champagne vending machine.
Daiquiris & Daisies: A classic cocktail bar from Joseph Cammarata and Daren Swisher, responsible for drinks at spots such as Hojoko and jm Curley.
Of note: A $12 pineapple daiquiri, and an old-fashioned made with root beer and absinthe.
Dive Bar: A raw bar with Southern twists, like a shrimp po’ boy, also from Faison.
Of note: A tangle of fries of every persuasion: tots, curly, waffles, and more; add “creamy jalapeno goo” for an extra $2.
The Farmacy Café: Salads and superfood smoothies.
Of interest: Waffles topped with cashew queso, pickled onions, jalapenos, and black beans.
Fuji at High Street Place: Sushi from the popular mini-chain.
Of interest: A High Street roll with tuna belly, salmon belly, sea urchin, micro greens, cucumber, fresh truffle, truffle oil, and black pepper sauce, plus sake and whiskey. This is Fuji’s only spot for strictly sushi, with a compact menu.
“We’re serving the best of the best from all our restaurants,” says owner Jimmy Liang.
Gorgeous Gelato: Gelato by Donato Giovine, who comes from Milan, Italy. Gorgeous is a big hit in Portland, Maine.
Of interest: Their version of a panini is actually a doughnut topped with gelato.
For years, Giovine’s fans in Portland asked him to open a big-city location. He’s hopeful that the effort will pay off. “We’re a successful business, and mom and pop — but, you know, mom and pop working like mules in the desert,” he says.
Gracenote Coffee: Espresso, cold brew, cappuccino, and more. There’s another location in the Leather District.
Of interest: You can spike your caffeine, if you dare.
“I think having all of these local small businesses under one roof just totally changes the game for this part of the city,” says manager Harry Pesce, who thinks that office workers will return soon.
“A couple of my friends at the dog park that I go to in Medford say that their offices are rolling out plans to go back part-time,” he adds hopefully.
Haley Jane’s: Fried chicken sandwiches, Bourbon punch, and Budweiser.
Of interest: A “pad thigh” fried chicken sandwich with Thai-style peanuts.
Hum’oveh: Hummus and Mediterranean “panini”: toasted lavash stuffed with fillings.
Of interest: Hum’oveh also serves Arak, a licorice-tinged, anise-flavored liquor, especially popular in Lebanon.
Kutzu: Noodles, especially a pho-ramen mashup they’ve dubbed “pho-men.” Rice bowls, too.
Of interest: A chicken banh mi slathered with an optional chicken pate.
Mamaleh’s Delicatessen: The Jewish deli favorite in Kendall Square and Brookline, seen here in a smaller space.
Of interest: All-day breakfast and lunch: whitefish salad, chopped liver, hot dogs with deli mustard and sauerkraut.
Mike & Patty’s: Egg sandwiches from the Bay Village original.
Of interest: A “squashed” roast beef sandwich using meat from their Bow Market restaurant, Hot Box, served with butternut squash on sourdough.
Mother Juice: Cold-pressed juices and cleanses.
Of interest: A taco bowl with walnut “meat,” kale, and vegan queso.
Newburyport Brewing: Twelve taps, including gluten-free beer.
Of interest: That enormous-screen TV hangs just above the bar.
North East of the Border: A la carte tacos from the Greenway food truck.
Of interest: This location will sell margaritas and sangria.
Pennypacker’s: Roasted meat sandwiches. The Somerville original is known for a porchetta sandwich with broccoli rabe.
Of interest: Owner Kevin McGuire will also sell to-go grocery items like quarts of pickles, sliced steak and lamb, and roast chicken.
He’s also betting that the downtown location will give the restaurant more exposure.
“You’re going to get more notoriety; more people are going to notice you when you’re in with other big-name groups. So, for our next step, this seemed like kind of the right move,” he says.
Tenderoni’s: Grinders and 2.5-foot-long, cheesy, crisp-at-the-edges pizzas (with an optional side of ranch) from Faison, along with a Ms. PAC-MAN game in the corner.
Of interest: Faison’s vision was inspired by the Book-It readathon program, familiar to any Generation X-er. Kids who read enough books were treated to a party catered by Pizza Hut.
“I ended up having to lie about reading books to eat free pizza,” Faison remembers.
The space, she says, “Is my dream. It’s a chef’s dream. You can order everything on an app and it can come to you. This is where I would bring all my girls and: Let’s go! Let’s eat everything.”
Wheelhouse: Breakfast sandwiches and burgers, not for the faint of heart: A “man cave” burger is topped with Bourbon onions, bacon, and beer cheese.
Of interest: If you’re sad about commuting again, perhaps breakfast fried rice with sausages and a sunny-side-up egg will ease the pain.