Downtown food hall High Street Place was slated to open just as COVID struck. After a two-year delay, it finally debuted last month, joining the likes of Boston Public Market, Hub Hall, and Time Out Market. Did the city really need another food hall? Yes, it turns out, and in this exact location.
At lunch and after work, the 20,000-square-foot High Street Place is mobbed with people in search of something delicious or thirst-quenching. Between peak times, it calms down, a conveniently located spot to meet a client or interview a prospective hire. (On High Street between Congress and Federal, it is an easy walk from the commuter rail and multiple T stations.) With 20 vendors, it offers a good mix of concepts novel and familiar. But what truly distinguishes the food hall may be its design, focused around usability and experience.
High Street Place was worth the wait. Here’s what makes it worth a visit:
Pizza. Oysters. Bubbly.
Chef Tiffani Faison (Orfano, Sweet Cheeks), who just won Food Network’s “Tournament of Champions” competition and is nominated for a James Beard award, is in her glory at High Street Place. Three of the concepts come from her Big Heart Hospitality restaurant group:
Eat pizza and “grindahs” with a glory days (’70s and ‘80s, baby) vibe at Tenderoni’s. The pies are kind of genius: You know those brownie pans designed so every piece is an edge piece? Long and rectangular, these pull off the same trick. You’re guaranteed at least two crispy edges with browned cheese and perfect crunch. I grew up ordering “a corner slice of Sicilian, please” at my local pizza shop, and this approximates the experience. Although the namesake Tenderoni pie (red sauce, mozzarella and Fontina, and pepperoni) is a good thing, the white mushroom pie is the sleeper hit, with Taleggio, Gorgonzola, roasted mushrooms, and kale and pumpkin seed pesto. There are plenty others to try, too, from the shishito pepper and salumi to the pineapple, bacon, and jalapeno ($7-$8 a slice, $23-$28 a pie).
The seafood-focused Dive Bar offers New England classics — your chowder, your oysters, your lobster roll (hot or cold) — and more. There’s a shrimp po’boy, lemon pepper fish nuggets, a chopped salad to which you can add lobster, shrimp, or steamed fish. The oysters ($3.75 each) are on ice behind the counter, shucked in front of you. The chowder ($7 for a cup) is creamy, not too thick and not too thin, brimming with quahogs, littlenecks, house-smoked whitefish, potatoes, and bacon; it’s quite smoky and quite good. The hot lobster roll ($37) is swathed in brown butter, reminiscent in flavor of the version at Eventide but on a more-traditional griddled, buttered (brioche) bun. A tuna melt ($14) with tomatoes and iceberg comes on Texas toast with a blend of cheddar and Fontina. Don’t miss the happiest thing on the menu: the “supafries,” a tossed-together medley of shoestrings, tots, curly fries, waffle fries, and onion rings ($8, $6 with a sandwich). It’s simple and clever and puts a smile on everyone’s face.
And Bubble Bath is a real-deal sparkler-focused wine bar. While the Champagne vending machine beside it is adorable, you should definitely sit down and ask the knowledgeable bartender to recommend a glass ($12-$22). The resulting pet-nat, Swiss cider, or Wisconsin champagne of beers (Miller High Life, of course, $6) will be worth your while. There are some nice bubble-free selections, too, plus splurgier bottles of Champagne if you’re feeling extra-festive. On my visit, the popcorn machine was, sadly, dormant. I wish you better luck.
A user-focused experience
Food halls generally delight visitors with well-chosen vendors and plentiful options. But the experience is sometimes chaotic, involving multiple separate orders and a search for seating. High Street Place offers big communal tables, more-private booths and nooks, counters to stand at, and outdoor seating. There are no buzzers to tell you when your food is ready; you can order from multiple places at once, then wait for a text letting you know it’s time to pick up. You can then bring your Tenderoni’s slices over to Dive Bar for a feast of pizza and oysters, which is not remotely terrible. Some actual human also said, “You know what’s annoying? When you’re surrounded by restaurants but there’s no place to just grab some gum, or a bottle of water, or a birthday card for your mom.” So there’s a little store, EGO Convenience (it stands for Essential Ground Operations). And the meandering layout lends itself to discovery, which makes the place feel fun.
Pennypacker’s porchetta sandwich
I apologize if this knowledge becomes a problem for you, but Pennypacker’s porchetta sandwich ($11.95) is uncannily good, like maybe someone made a deal with the devil to get it to taste like that, or maybe someone just laser-focused on this One True Thing and perfected it as a way of giving life meaning. The Italian rolled pork roast is seasoned with herbs and garlic, then cooked slowly into fatty, melting tenderness and crisped until the skin becomes a thick, crackling bark. It comes on ciabatta with your choice of sweet-sour, dark brown onions or seasonal fruit mostarda to cut the richness. Porcivores, it’s glorious. I’m not sure enough people make it out to Pennypacker’s in Magoun Square, Somerville, or to the food truck, and I just want better porchetta access for those who appreciate. Pennypacker’s also has grilled chicken, lamb, and steak sandwiches ($11.95-$12.95) that I’m sure are excellent, but I’m sorry, I just can’t get past the porchetta. Also here: bar snacks like chickpea fries with chile aioli ($6.95) and fried pickles with jalapeno ranch ($6.50), meat and cheese platters with sourdough and sauces ($25-$39), and some salads that sound very lovely (roasted beets and radishes with labneh, grilled romaine and radicchio, farro with chickpeas and veggies, $6.95 small, $11.95 large) and that I promise to one day try.
It gets with the beverage program
High Street Place doesn’t go so hard on the alcohol that it becomes a drinking spot, but neither does it ignore that alcohol has a place when it comes to dining. In addition to wine bar Bubble Bath, the food hall includes Alewives Tap Room, featuring craft beer from Newburyport Brewing Co. and other area breweries, and proper cocktail (and mocktail) bar Daiquiris & Daisies, from bartenders Daren Swisher and Joseph Cammarata (Backbar, JM Curley, Hojoko). That’s just enough dedicated spaces to foster the convivial social scene important for after-work bonding/venting sessions. But there’s also an understanding here that a Pennypacker’s sandwich is really great with a Peroni, or that one might want some Fernet afterward. Chicken sandwich ($11.95) specialist Haley Jane’s lets you get an “adult Capri fun” or Bud Light with your Smashville (Nashville-style hot chicken) or Ricky Bobby (fried chicken with hot honey and pimento cheese) sandwich. Taco joint North East of the Border has margaritas and sangria, and sushi specialist Fuji at High Street Place offers sake and Japanese whiskey. An appropriate beverage can enhance the dining experience for those who partake.
All the mezze at Hum’oveh
Mediterranean concept Hum’oveh offers sandwiches of grilled cauliflower, sumac chicken, and spiced beef, along with rice plates and skewers. (It’s one of the healthier options at High Street Place, along with the Farmacy Cafe and Mother Juice; Kutzu, specializing in “pho-men” bowls and other Asian-inspired dishes, is from the same team.) But it’s the mezze that really draw me in. You can try most of them at once by ordering the chef mezze plate ($18), a bountiful array of hummus, baba ghanoush, walnut harissa, labneh, Armenian eggplant, and shepherd salad with grilled lavash. Get some drinks from Daiquiris & Daisies, and you’ve got yourself a fancy little cocktail party.
Options for the area
For those who work and live downtown, more options are always better. And during COVID, lunchtime staples from Haymarket Pizza to Sakurabana closed for good. With more people returning to the office, High Street Place is a welcome addition. Near the Greenway and prominent attractions, it is also a boon for tourists. But it’s not just the variety of vendors, it’s the hours. High Street Place opens at 7 a.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. on Saturday. Monday through Wednesday it closes at 9 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday at 11. (It’s closed Sunday.) This means early risers can get coffee at Gracenote, bagels at Mamaleh’s, and egg sandwiches at Mike & Patty’s (plus doughnuts at Blackbird, opening Wednesday). And, in a neighborhood where standbys like Al’s State Street Cafe and Zo Greek often close in the afternoon, many High Street Place vendors keep going to fill the void. This helps make it the kind of functional “third space” we all loved and needed before the pandemic.
Sometimes you just need a good burger. Wheelhouse is here for that. Its burger won a 2019 Best of Boston award from Boston magazine, and it’s easy to see why. Two beef patties, a squishy bun, wax paper — it’s simplicity itself. I like the namesake Wheelhouse burger ($10.49), with house sauce, American cheese, onions, and pickles. But for those who like to make life a little more complicated, there’s the Pimento (pimento cheese and bacon) or the Chuck Norris (bacon, BBQ sauce, and cheddar, with onions smashed into the patties). Follow that up with a scoop of pistachio at Gorgeous Gelato and call it a day.
High Street Place, 100 High St., Boston, www.highstreetplace.com
Devra First can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.