Tasting Intown: Grazing through Ponce City Market

Looking down at the Central Food Hall form the mezzanine.
Looking down at the Central Food Hall form the mezzanine.

By Megan Volpert

There is so much good food at Ponce City Market and I want to tell you all about how to approach that delightful challenge, but first, I feel a moral obligation to warn you about the parking. Huge urban lifestyle complexes like this often get a rocky start, so I let PCM breathe for a full month before checking it out. You can pay for parking in one of two ways, either use the machine or an app. Well, it’s chilly out and I don’t want to stand around messing with my smartphone, so the machine wins – which means I lose a full five minutes repeatedly force-feeding my credit cards into an unsympathetic box to no avail.

We marched inside in a huff, joining a lingering crew of complainers similarly bewildered by parking mishaps. A very nice, very stressed out young gentleman carrying a clipboard asked if he could be of service. He had suggestions, took notes, tried to remember to smile. Ten minutes later, we were officially off the hook for paying. A dozen friends of mine have been to PCM since, and all report similar situations – except for this one smug millennial I know who just said he hadn’t noticed parking problems because he’d always either walked there from the BeltLine or cycled his way to the rooftop bike valet.

Anyway, on to the eats. Let us begin by declaring a clear winner of the epic battle of cuisine taking place at Ponce City Market’s Central Food Hall. I’m speaking of course of Linton Hopkins versus Linton Hopkins: amazing fried chicken sandwiches versus the classic diner burger. If you can only get one or the other, go to Hop’s Chicken instead of H+F Burger. The chicken on a biscuit was divine and the chicken on a bun was almost as great.

The cheesy goodness of an H&F Burger.
The cheesy goodness of an H&F Burger.
Waiting in line for Hop's Chicken.
Waiting in line for Hop’s Chicken.

I’ve eaten the Holeman + Finch burger many times: when it was offered in limited edition on the late night menu, when it was offered in an unlimited supply at brunch, when it was offered on a massive scale at Turner Field, and now this. I have to say, the more that burger proliferates, the less I like it somehow. But any way you like it, Linton Hopkins is certainly the current champion of fast casual dining in Atlanta.

Amongst the artisans in the Food Hall there are two gems: Simply Seoul Kitchen and 18.21 Bitters. Eat at the former and drink at the latter. The so-called “Kimchi Queen” of Atlanta, Hannah Chung, is responsible for Simply Seoul and she makes a mean mushroom bun. 18.21 Bitters is not actually a bar, but I found myself engaged in an impromptu tasting of tinctures and bitters that included a half dozen of the best tastes I had at PCM. Took home three small bottles of magic and can’t wait to serve my smug millennial friend.

Tinctures and bitters at 1812 Bitters.
Tinctures and bitters at 18.21 Bitters.

One of the best things about PCM is the overabundance of beverage options: cold-pressed juices at Lucky Lotus, whiskeys at Brezza Cucina, coffees at Dancing Goats, shakes and floats at H+F Burger, tequilas at Minero, flavored seltzers at W.H. Stiles Fish Camp, and even popsicles at King of Pops. Whatever your mood at whatever time of day, you have great choices. If wandering through the cavernous West Elm store for hours is your idea of a good time, you could go from coffee to smoothie to cocktail quite easily.

Food and drink form Simple Seoul Kitchen and Lucky Lotus.
Food and drink form Simply Seoul Kitchen and Lucky Lotus.

I went to Ponce City Market with four other people. Each of us ran off in a different direction and we reconvened a half hour later to assemble a giant potluck of basically everything in the Central Food Hall. All of it was delicious, most of it was reasonably priced, and everyone had a blast picking at the cornucopia. We really got to know each other better by the food we brought back, what we tried and what we liked. My personal highlight was Fish Camp’s crab beignets.

For more about new restaurants opening at PCM, be sure to check out the New Year, New Eats feature.

Megan Volpert lives in Decatur, teaches in Roswell and writes books about popular culture.