Chicago is already home to plenty of food halls, so if newcomers want to impress, they’ll need to really make a splash. Time Out, one of the world’s largest media brands, came to play serious ball when it opened the gargantuan Time Out Market Chicago in late November starring 18 of the city’s most acclaimed and adored chefs. It was one of 2019’s most hotly anticipated openings, so what are customers saying about Fulton Market’s gigantic new food jungle? Here are some early thoughts:
It’s clear that Time Out leaned into a more-is-more approach when it came to designing the Chicago market — at 50,000 square feet, it’s the largest in the U.S. and includes three floors with a roof deck. For some, it’s an awe-inspiring feat of design: “This place is absolutely beautiful,” one Yelper wrote. “The interior design here is barred none in Chicago in all the places I’ve visited. This is truly a work of art.” Others admired the massive skylight that hangs over about 70 percent of the space and praised its selfie potential. “I must say that I was most in awe of the vast space, and the glass roof draws in such beautiful natural light - making food and people look more attractive.”
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⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ - Highly recommend you check out Time Out Market if you haven’t been yet; tons of great restaurants in a beautiful space! • • • • #restaurant #architecture #light #sun #food #foodie #foodporn #instafood #bar #dinner #cafe #delicious #foodlover #lunch #chef #yummy #instagood #love #wine #foodies #foodblogger #drinks #pizza #tasty #eat #foodgasm #party #cocktails #photooftheday #picoftheday
On a practical level, however, the “hectic” first floor earned both positive and negative comparisons to the atmosphere of a mall food court, or as one commenter put it, “the boujiest cafeteria of all time.” Those fleeing the hungry hoards on the first floor found that upstairs levels are significantly more “chill” and “intimate,” but one Yelper said while there she was treated to a spectacle of kids flailing around and “smashing themselves” into the furniture.
With 18 distinct food vendors to choose from, it’s no surprise that opinions and hot takes on the market’s culinary offerings range from delight to disappointment. Its biggest hits include Brian Fisher’s (Entente) “super tasty” chicken katsu sandwich and a “Chicago Mix Fancy Pop” from Dana Cree’s Pretty Cool Ice Cream. Fans also feel that Bill Kim’s chicken pho udon is a “delight” and his katsu udon offers a “a unique Thai/Viet twist,” and that Ed Kim’s Mini Mott burger is “unbelievable.”
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Chicken Katsu sandwich from Chef @brian_fisher • • @timeoutmarketchicago | Fulton Market • • #timeoutmarket #chicagofood #eaterchicago #eeeeeats #chicagofoodie #insiderfood #chicken #katsu #infatuation #comfortfood #chicagofoodscene #foodgoals #forkyeah #choosechicago #topcitybites #chicagogrammers #curryfriedwaffle #timeoutmarketchicago
One of the biggest obstacles for the food hall is quality control, feeding the masses while still trying to live up to the big names that bring those customers in the door. An Art of Pizza loyalist said she enjoyed her slice, but it arrived cold, and a Split-Rail customer found her fried chicken breading to be “thick” and “hard.” Translating a top-notch restaurant into a food hall stall isn’t an easy task, and one reviewer recommended managing expectations: “If you think about it, most businesses here are working in a small space versus the huge kitchen they’re used to,” she wrote. “Things aren’t going to taste exactly the same, and most things will be fried.”
Time Out Chicago organizers decided to target nighttime and bar business with six prominent drinking venues scattered across three floors, a departure from the typical food hall focus on weekday lunchtime activity. Drinkers seem to love second floor “speakeasy” bar Secret Sound (from the team at tiki icon Lost Lake) and its photogenic, flower-laden cocktails. Rooftop bar Tony’s was deemed a “nice treat.”
Some customers aren’t thrilled about the market’s heavy emphasis on bars and drinking: “If the bar is the emphasis and your major feature on the first floor, it seems that you’re endorsing a bar atmosphere and not a food establishment,” a Yelper wrote, noting that Time Out Markets in Miami and New York tuck their smaller bars away to feature food more prominently. “In this latest iteration, you walk through the doors and almost immediately have to navigate around people congregating around the bar.”
There is one drink, however, that eluded many: water. Time Out Market customers can’t get water at individual food stalls and there aren’t any water stations, numerous parched reviewers explained, so customers need to make an extra trip to retrieve it from the bar. There’s arguably no surer way to turn a happy customer into a crabby one than to complicate access to water, which portends well for the future of the planet.
Some handled it more delicately than others, but reviewers found consensus around their reactions to costs: eating and drinking at Time Out Market is expensive. Those who otherwise enjoyed their dining experience are willing to pay the price for access to food from such a large group of acclaimed chefs, but for others, the check added insult to injury.
it never ceases to surprises me how much millennial yuppies will pay for overpriced “decent” fusion food for a mediocre (or like an “ok”) environment.— Andres Villatoro (@netoduk) December 23, 2019
19 dollar sandwich with an egg anyone? (No side) #timeoutmarketchicago pic.twitter.com/8JQcCfiOSX
Chicagoans aren’t easily impressed when it comes to food halls anymore, so new entries are usually regarded with skepticism. For many diners, Time Out’s Chicago market bounds over the most significant hurdles — culinary diversity, atmosphere, and novelty — but could use some tweaks when it comes to consistent quality. Plus, customers could really use some help staving off dehydration.