Restaurants inside grocery stores are no longer new, but an Austin H-E-B got its first in-store food hall this week.
Food halls are a cluster of eateries, not unlike a food court at a mall, and we currently have a couple of them: Faregound downtown is Austin’s only stand-alone food court, and H Mart in Cedar Park and Hana World Market and 99 Ranch Market in North Austin have several restaurant concepts inside the grocery stores. Each Whole Foods Market has at least one place to buy ready-to-eat food, but they don’t market it as a food court or food hall.
This strategy makes sense for a grocery store: It keeps customers in the store longer and draws a few more dollars out of each one while they are there.
H-E-B is is jumping into this game with its debut food hall, called Main Streat, located inside the Mueller location. And let me tell you, it’s working. I had a chance to visit for the first time on Wednesday to try a few of the menu items on my livestream on the Austin360 Facebook page. I’ve pulled together five takeways of what you should know before you go:
1. The restaurants are small, but there’s lot to choose from. Each of the five restaurants (plus the bar, which offers small bites) has a tiny footprint with only two employees in each space. H-E-B is testing out which layout works the best so it can improve on the concept as they add more food halls to other stores around the state. The cuisines vary (Japanese, Mexican, grilled cheese, fried chicken and barbecue) and each menu has a small, but well-curated selection of dishes.
2. The fried chicken sandwich is huge. Chef Tiffany Derry’s Roots Chicken Shak is the cornerstone of the food hall, and her spicy duck fat-fried chicken sandwich is gigantic, easily two meals’ worth of food. And one of the best fried chicken sandwiches I’ve had.
3. The bar serves booze, including frozen margaritas. It’s not uncommon to find in-store bars in grocery stores these days (Central Market and Whole Foods have them here), and the Mueller H-E-B previously had a craft beer and wine bar, but this new bar — called Bar at Mueller — has a full list of cocktails, including frozen margaritas, and Texas-made spirits.
4. Free delivery from Favor, including the giant chicharron. The H-E-B-owned Favor offers free delivery of all the food from Main Streat, and they even figured out a way to deliver a huge, freshly fried sheet of chicharron. Not chicharrones. One giant chicharron, served with a scoop of guacamole in the middle. You can also buy cocktails and beer to go, but not for delivery.
5. It’s open late on Friday and Saturdays. With an outdoor patio and a relatively late closing time on Friday and Saturday nights (10 p.m.), Main Streat is aiming to be a gathering place for people who want to hang out and linger. The tables currently separated enough to allow for social distancing. During the rest of the week, the food hall is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.