It took three years for Carlos Mouta to transform Bishop Ladder Co., a 20,000-square-foot warehouse he owns on Park Street in Hartford, into Parkville Market, the first food hall in Connecticut. The plan never included opening in the midst of a pandemic, but his vision, aided by a bit of luck, finally came to fruition in May. When fully inhabited, the building will boast 20 restaurants, separate bars for beer, wine and cocktails, and retail shops and popups on the second floor.
Inspired by Chelsea Market and Dekalb Market Hall in New York City and Time Out Market, which has six worldwide locations after debuting in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2014, Mouta felt the space originally built a century ago for the Capitol City Lumber Co. provided the perfect bones to support his ambitious endeavor. A pair of crucial decisions during the construction process enabled Parkville Market to get up and running despite the restrictions placed on restaurants. First, he wanted each vendor to have the capability to take food orders from both inside and outside the building.
“Those outdoor service windows, he pushed so hard for those. It actually made the construction process a lot more challenging,” says his daughter, Chelsea Mouta, director of operations for Parkville Market. “In the end it was the reason we were able to open when we were because we could start doing takeout.” Customers leery of an indoor setting can order from multiple vendors, grab their food, sit down and enjoy their meal without ever entering the building. For those comfortable dining indoors, there is plenty of seating at picnic tables made of reclaimed wood from the renovation. “He was super passionate about the fact that we needed this ability to order indoor and out,” Mouta says. “At the time it was so you can get double the volume. People don’t have to come in; if they’re coming from downtown to pick up their lunch order they can just grab it off the terrace.”
His second vision of luck — converting a wide driveway into a courtyard — quickly became one of the top selling points of the whole market. “When we opened for outdoor dining, thank god we had kind of envisioned that space where the tables are on the blacktop,” Mouta says. “We didn’t know that it would become such an integral part of expanding our outdoor dining capacity. We had always thought that’s how trucks will get in and out for deliveries. But now that stays closed permanently. We have music on Thursday nights.”
Mouta says the vendors offer a large, distinctive variety of cuisines — a taste of Hartford if you will — that are representative of the people who live in the area. And there won’t be any overlap or “category double-dipping” to spark internal competition. Disco Forno will handle the pizza and The Portly Pig has the barbecue covered. Other cuisines you can find at Parkville Market include Tex-Mex (Lucky Taco), Indian and Nepalese (Bombay Express), Peruvian (Mercado 27) and New England seafood (J’s Crab Shack), just to name a few. “Choose your own adventure and sample a little bit of everything,” Mouta says. “That’s why a lot of the restaurants have small bites or appetizers.” There are even collaborations among the vendors, like when The Portly Pig smokes mushrooms for Disco Forno pies.
It’s an ideal setup for people who are looking to broaden their gastronomic horizons without being forced to commit to a full meal of the unknown. My first visit to Parkville Market is on a beautiful Friday afternoon in July, and I manage to hit five spots for the type of one-stop lunch you can’t get anywhere else in Connecticut. I start at Chompers — its cuisine is “crunchy balls of goodness” — and order a sampler of bacon cheeseburger, chicken parm and taco balls, each of which comes with its own dipping sauce. Next up is Bombay Express for some chicken tikka masala and warm naan bread. I then grab a small margherita pizza at Disco Forno before heading down to Mofongo for papa rellenos bites and canoa. I pick up a birthday cake milkshake from Crave Leche for the ride home.
Everything hits the mark, but the highlight is Mofongo. The papa rellenos bites (mashed potato stuffed with ground beef) are killer and a steal at $2 for two. But the canoa, a baked sweet plantain stuffed with seasoned beef and topped with melted mozzarella, is truly a standout. I leave content and satisfied, but still with a feeling that I missed out on so much and need to return. I imagine that’s how the Moutas want it.
Future plans, other than eventually topping out at 20 food vendors, include more retail on the second floor and a small grocery store, which would sell certain ingredients used in some of the restaurants. In a world without restrictions, Parkville Market is intended to be an 800-person space. “The food might bring people in, the retail might keep people there. Then they become a regular of the retail and it’s just this ecosystem that works really well,” Mouta says. “Add in the groceries, and you can walk around with a cocktail and shop. That’s good for everyone.”
Parkville Market vendors
Disco Forno (pizza); Chompers (crunchy balls of goodness); Lucky Taco (Tex-Mex); Bombay Express (Indian and Nepalese); Mercado 27 (Peruvian); Mofongo (Puerto Rican); Crave Leche (ice cream and dessert); The Portly Pig (barbecue); The Butcher & The Bean (European-style cafe); Las Tortas MX (Mexican tortaria); PhoGo (Vietnamese); Gula Grill (Brazilian); Que Chivo (Salvadoran); Hartford Poke Co. (Hawaiian Pacific); Okinawa Boba Co. (boba tea); J’s Crab Shack (New England seafood); Twisted Italian (trattoria-style Italian)*; Jamaican Jerk Shack (Jamaican)*
*expected by the end of August
1400 Park St. Hartford
Lunch and dinner Tue.-Sun.