Those of us of a certain age who spent our ‘80s childhoods at the local mall can well remember the allure of the food court. Those neon-lit arenas boasting relics like Sbarro and Orange Julius were both the fuel and the backdrop to afternoons of adolescent social networking.
While that mash up of fast food extravagance and open seating tailor-made for loitering may no longer exist anywhere other than the Starcourt mall of “Stranger Things” fame, the appeal of communal dining is alive and well. Grown-up and fancified new versions of the food court have been steadily popping up in cities all over the country in recent years, but none in Richmond. Enter Hatch Local Food Hall, a spiffy new development in the South Side that brings together an eclectic collection of both new and established fast-casual options.
Hatch Local is the newest project to spring from the Hatch group, which operates professional culinary spaces in the former tobacco warehouses at Compton Siteworks, off Cowardin Avenue. The group’s mission from the beginning, starting with Hatch Kitchen, has been to serve as a local food and beverage business incubator and support those small businesses in every aspect of their development. A natural next step for Hatch, according to Shannon Conway, vice president of operations, was to create a customer-facing space and provide more visibility for up-and-coming “locals,” as the stall owners are known. Opened in March of this year in a mixed-use development on Hull Street Road, Hatch Local is made up of two adjacent halls separated by an open-air dining space. In addition to a full-service bar and coffee stall, seven local vendors serve up a curated selection of specialties ranging from burgers and sandwiches to fried rice, tacos and smoothie bowls. While the location may not be known as a food destination yet, this abundance of good eats just a few minutes from downtown is well worth a visit.
Buttermilk & Honey, housed in the north hall, may be the busiest and most recognizable among the stalls, thanks to existing locations in Short Pump and in the former Pop’s Market space on Grace Street. Owners Michael Lindsey and Kim Love-Lindsey perfected their knockout fried chicken sandwich through trial and error at their restaurant Lillie Pearl, where the menu pays tribute to his Southern and African-American heritage. Lindsey takes pride in making sure his sandwiches pack a flavor punch, with toppings like kimchi, hot sauce and blue cheese, and DC mumbo sauce, but the star here is the well-seasoned chicken breast battered and fried to a satisfying crunch. The “OG” hits all the right notes with spicy honey, ranch and sliced pickles. Next door to Buttermilk & Honey, the Lindseys also operate Bully Burger, where they take advantage of sandwich-building synergies to create over-the-top burgers for those who prefer beef on their bun. Brave souls can test their appetites against the Bully Bird, an imposing tower of fried chicken, two beef patties, two types of cheese, and all the fixings plus spicy ranch. Tums not included.
The handheld options don’t stop there. Fat Kid Sandwiches, owned and operated by husband-wife team Jon Martin and Liz Clifford, started out as a pop-up at Hatch cafe, in the Hatch Kitchen space, in June 2020. One of their most popular subs, the Half-Pound Italian, was inspired by Clifford’s search for the sandwich she remembered from her New Jersey childhood, but hadn’t been able to find in Richmond. In addition to a hefty pile of cured meats, the FKS version of this classic features sharp provolone and a well-herbed oil and vinegar drizzle, which Clifford says are key to a good cold sub. Another customer favorite is the spicy BBQ banh mi, offered in a vegan version made with tofu. Every sandwich wants a cold drink next to it, and FKS doesn’t let you down. The iced tea Martin’s grandmother brewed in her North Carolina kitchen inspired their frozen pineapple sweet tea, a tangy riff on an Arnold Palmer. A daily rotation of playful sweet treats, like nutella crunch cake and fruit loop bars, show off Martin’s pastry experience.
Mixing up the meaty offerings in the North Hall is Odyssey Fish, a casual seafood concept by Lee Gregory, chef/owner of Alewife and Southbound. The small but well-curated menu at Odyssey showcases Gregory’s deftness at elevating seemingly simple dishes. Crackly hot rock shrimp pop with a dusting of spices, house-made ranch and diced pickles, while a crispy catfish sandwich gets upgraded with dill pickle tartar sauce and hot sauce slaw. Specials usually include a seasonal salad, like fresh melon with pickled blueberries, ricotta and crispy ham.
Across a shady courtyard of picnic tables, more tasty fare can be found in the south hall. Providing a haven for vegan diners, or anyone needing a juice fix, The Beet Box offers refreshing alternatives to some of the heavier, albeit tasty, options at other stalls. Ashley Lewis opened her first location of The Beet Box in Carytown in October 2020, with the goal of bringing a modern health food cafe to the community. Her menu focuses on fresh-squeezed juices and smoothies, with add-ins like spirulina and nut butters, and also offers hearty smoothie bowls and avocado toasts that eat like a meal. Ginger fans should check out the hella good smoothie.
Two stalls bringing international flavors to the line-up are Sincero and Royal Pig. Sincero was launched as a pop-up three years ago by co-owners, Alex Bobadilla and Karen Nevgevsy, as an expression of the traditional Mexican cuisine of Bobadilla’s roots. He notes that while his heritage is central to their menu, they view it more as inspiration than a limitation. Tacos are priced for mixing and matching, so there’s no need to choose between the excellent chorizo and fried pork belly. It’s no surprise that the crowd favorite on the menu is the Quesabirria, best compared to a cross between a taco and a quesadilla. Sincero’s version is stuffed with braised brisket and Monterey Jack, and served with a consomme dip that every meaty handheld needs next to it.
Royal Pig is the first venture from former bartenders Vanna Hem and Adam Stull, with a menu inspired by Hem’s Cambodian culture. The duo makes their mission clear with the motto “no spice levels, no mods, no frills, all flavor” and dishes like Cambodian fried rice with char sui sausage and the pleasingly earthy cellophane noodles with mushrooms deliver as promised. Lettuce wraps prepared in the Laap style, with a filling of minced chicken, lime, cilantro and mint make a satisfying light meal.