Austin’s first food hall Fareground offers a new high-class dining experience

Danielle Ortiz

In the heart of downtown Austin, the iconic stairstepped 111 Congress building contains a new addition to unite both foodies and millennials alike. 

With modern wooden accents and high ceilings, Fareground, the city’s first downtown food hall, has so many options, it’s an easy spot to gather. It took Austin restaurant concept developers ELM Restaurant Group almost three years to transform the basement of the building into a modern food venue, equipped with indoor and outdoor spaces and six restaurants to choose from.

Fareground’s lineup of restaurants includes local favorites such as Easy Tiger, Contigo and Antonelli’s Cheese Shop, while spinoff restaurants Dai Due Taqueria and Henbit add new flavors to the menu. Later this spring, Fareground will welcome its second bar.

Don’t get Fareground confused with a food court. Fareground is part of a new 21st-century trend that emphasizes bringing fresh, local and artisanal foods under one roof. Typically, food halls are modern warehouses with multiple restaurants that combine the convenience of a market with the city’s trendiest eateries.

Austin is not the first metropolis to jump on the food hall trend. These eating concepts are also popular in New York, Portland and across Europe. In the U.S., the number of food halls grew by 37 percent in 2016 and is predicted to double by 2019, according to a report by real estate company Cushman and Wakefield.

There are no designated seats at Fareground. Just go to one of the eateries to order and sit down with your food on one of a large variety of seats, ranging from couches to butcher-block style tables.  

Bob Gillett, one of the founders of ELM Restaurant Group, said the design of Fareground is simple and welcoming to make cuisine decisions easier.

Willis Wiest, a human dimensions of organizations junior, attended the opening of Fareground on Jan. 18 with his family. Wiest was interested in trying the new restaurant Ni-Kome, a mashup of local Kome Sushi and Daruma Ramen, but found seating a bit challenging.

“It felt like I had to fight for my space,” Wiest said. “Eventually we were able to find seats for our group of five, but it was a bit stressful, which is why I like restaurant settings where I’m given a designated space.”

Despite his difficulties, Wiest  said he can see why many are drawn to Fareground’s style of eating out.

“I think Fareground’s style of dining out is an interesting idea,” Wiest said. “The concept certainly works well if each member of your family wants a different type of food.”

Government sophomore Anthony Dolcefino visited Copenhagen last summer and encountered a food hall similar to Fareground for the first time. He said the food hall he visited served small portions so patrons could sample a variety of offerings.

“It’s great to hear Austin has one now,” Dolcefino said. “I’d like to see an interesting vibe at Fareground that is uniquely Austin, with vendors with foods from around the world.”

It’s no coincidence Fareground has the same premise as what Dolcefino experienced in Copenhagen. Gillett said his team drew heavy inspiration from food halls in Europe for Fareground’s design, intending to make it a one-stop shop for everything the city has to offer.

“Having experienced amazing food halls in New York and in Europe ourselves, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to bring this international phenomenon to Austin and give it a local spin,” Gillett said. “It’s so exciting to be a part of a global dining movement and have the opportunity to showcase some of Austin’s best-loved chefs and restaurateurs.”