It's midday at Roosevelt Field, and Joyce Goldsamt of Hewlett is feeling good about the colorful ensemble she's put together: a baked potato, in a cloak of vegetarian chili, corn, broccoli and Parmesan. She found it at Potatopia, part of the culinary collection in the mall's just-launched Dining District.
The new eating space, part of a $200-million mall makeover, features an open layout filled with light and greenery. Situated upstairs on the mall's northeast side, the area is accessible via a bridge leading from the upper level parking deck between Dick's Sporting Goods and Bloomingdale's.
It bears little resemblance to the old food court, now undergoing transformation into retail space. Instead of a closed-in ellipse with seating capacity for 900, the 50,000-square-foot district is a meandering mix of counter-service eateries with seating options including an outdoor patio. Overall, it can easily handle 1,200 hungry shoppers at a time.
What they seem to be most hungry for is change. "We wanted to offer our customers something different in a mall environment," said Francis X. Scire, who put together the district's collection of eateries. Scire, vice-president of leasing for the Simon Property Group, said that nine newcomers have opened and seven former food court tenants have returned.
For the right mix, he targeted some of Manhattan's hottest "quick-serve operators" -- places like Melt Shop, specializing in grilled cheese, and Tres Carnes, offering smoked meats in a Mexican vernacular. Locally, he also brought in a Syosset Thai restaurant, Galangal, to launch a mall spinoff.
Healthier options were big on the agenda. Which means you'll find places such as the meat-free Maoz Vegetarian and The Little Beet, with a farm-to-table mindset and a gluten-free repertoire. Most important, many of these new places are cooking at a higher, more sophisticated level than traditionally found at malls.
Just ask Mona Friedman of East Meadow, who was deep into a falafel sandwich from Maoz Vegetarian last week. "This," she says, "is the real thing. The best falafel I've had -- in the world."