Royal Caribbean – Salt City Market: Our reviews of every vendor at Syracuse’s new food hall
Syracuse, N.Y. — The Salt City Market opened in downtown Syracuse two weeks ago today, and it’s been packed ever since, with lines of hungry Central New Yorkers waiting to get in stretching down Salina Street. Imagine what it’ll be like when the coronavirus is no longer limiting how many people can go inside this 24,000-square-foot food court.
The market features food from Thailand, Jamaica, Burma, Iraq, Vietnam and the American South. It also has a coffee bar, a juice bar and a cake bar.
We sent three syracuse.com writers — Charlie Miller, Don Cazentre and Jacob Pucci — to the new hot spot to try a few items at each of the 11 stands.
Here’s their take. You can see each vendor’s full menu by clicking on their name below.
Firecracker Thai Kitchen
Food type: Thai
Item: Spicy Basil Chicken
Food for thought: We’ve been enjoying Chef Sara’s cuisine for years, from her days at the Century Club, Bellevue Country Club and most recently at Lemon Grass downtown. Each step of the way, she seems to get better. Now that she’s run her own spot, she’s free to explore. And she’s doing just that.
Her spicy basil chicken is basically breakfast, lunch and dinner all on one plate. It’s minced chicken cooked with garlic, chili peppers, sweet soy and fish sauces and Thai basil. It’s served around a mountain of jasmine rice and topped with a perfectly cooked sunny-side-up egg.
It’s just spicy enough to wake you up before returning to the office.
Item: Crispy Wings
Food for thought: If you like chicken wings coated with a spice rub rather than drenched in sauce, you must try these. Heck, you should try these regardless. Syracuse knows good wings, and these are GREAT wings.
Sara first marinades the batch of five jumbo wings in a fish sauce and then fries them to a golden crisp. Out of the fryer, she dusts them with a sweet chili salt. This delicious hot-sweet combo will be playing tricks on your palate the whole time you work through the plate.
Food type: Middle Eastern
Item: Falafel Sandwich
Food for thought: The last time we bumped into Firas Hashim, he was sharing this restaurant with a car wash in Fairmount. His food was so good that we named it a Hidden Gem of CNY. And his food was so good that he won a spot at the Salt City Market.
His all-homemade food has improved, probably because he’s now creating meals in a much larger state-of-the-art kitchen.
And he’s still not charging enough. The falafel sandwich is about 13 inches long.
Firas grinds his own chickpeas for the falafels, and he holds back on the parsley, so the inside isn’t all that green like most falafels. They’re also not overpacked so they’re much lighter. The sub roll is lined with his tahini sauce, onions, tomato and pickles. A true bargain, especially since you’ll be bringing half home with you. That’s a $2.50 lunch!
Food for thought: Watching Firas making this cucumber yogurt salad is almost as fun as eating it. He takes great care in spreading it across the plate before drizzling extra virgin olive oil across the top. He finishes it with his own blend of spices including sumac.
Food type: Vietnamese baked goods
Item: “Lotus” Cake
Food for thought: Duyen Nguyen uses nothing but pure ingredients for her cakes and other desserts. The Lotus cake looks simple on paper: chocolate cake, Lotus cookies and cream with a caramel dripping, garnished with a whole Lotus cookie jammed through the top layer of icing.
Slow down when you eat this because you’ll be able to taste how complex this dessert really is.
Also, this slice is huge, certainly big enough to share with one or two friends. We shared this among six people.
Item: Rosé Cupcake
Food for thought: Valentine’s Day is just a few days away. If the Cake Bar has any of these left, you should scoop up a couple for your sweetheart. It starts with a 1911 rosé cupcake filled with Turkish honey rose jam and frosted with white chocolate ganache.
Don’t try to take this cupcake down in two bites; savor the thing. You’ll realize exactly what honey rose jam is. Most of us have never had it before, at least those of us with amateur palates. It’s quite good, and forgive me, very delicate. Take your time.
Farm Girl Juicery
Food type: Juice
Item: Citrus 23
Food for thought: With all this food we were eating, we figured we’d need something to wash it down with. And it might as well be healthy.
The Farm Girl Juicery had five different freshly squeezed/blended tonics. We went with the Citrus 23, simply because it had jalapeño pepper. This 12-ounce bottle starts with a healthy amount of beet juice flavor, but after it goes down your mouth will feel the slight burn of the pepper. The fruit juices (watermelon, lemon and apple) eventually cool it down. Who would’ve thought that a shot of beet juice would serve as the perfect pick-me-up for a busy afternoon to come.
Pie’s the Limit
Food type: Pie
Item: Shaker Lemon Pie
Food for thought: Your run-of-the-mill lemon meringue pie is flavored with lemon juice and perhaps a little bit of lemon zest. But this classic Midwestern pie, which gets its name from the Shaker communities, utilizes the whole lemon—rind and pith included. The result is a brightly flavored pie with a marmalade-like balance of sweet and bitter flavors.
The lemon was sliced thin enough to be rendered tender, with a texture like candied citrus that stood out amongst the smooth curd.
This slice is a winner, especially after a particularly rich meal.
Item: Sausage Roll
Food for thought: The same flaky pie pastry found in the Shaker lemon pie is now wrapped around pork sausage in this very British handheld. The sausage is homemade and would likely fall under the “sweet category,” though with a great deal more fennel than your average supermarket link.
Even after being baked and kept warm for serving, the sausage was juicy and tender. A cup of HP sauce on the side for dipping would’ve been perfection.
Food type: Soul Food
Item: Stellar Plate
Food for thought: We originally planned to order the oxtail platter, but Miss Prissy’s was unfortunately sold out this day. As it turned out, the fried chicken wings aren’t a bad substitute.
The six large wings, dredged in a crispy, craggily breading and fried, are crunchy, juicy and come with two sides.
The macaroni and cheese is baked as a casserole. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a corner scoop, because the crispy, browned cheese that tops the dish is simply divine. The macaroni wasn’t the least bit mushy, a problem that often plagues pasta that’s been boiled and baked.
The collard greens are cooked with smoked turkey, which lend a wonderful savory flavor complimented by a generous shake of red chili flake. The greens are also cut into long strips, as opposed to being finely chopped, which helped preserve the right amount of bite. The greens weren’t sitting in a puddle of liquid either.
Item: Fried Green Tomatoes
Food for thought: Dredged in a corneal breading and fried, these tomatoes were soft and tender on the inside and crisp on the outside. However, we do wish they came with a sauce for dipping. Miss Prissy’s does a dish of fried shrimp tossed in a creamy, spicy sauce that one might describe as “boom boom-esque.” A little cup of that on the side would complete the dish.
Food type: Jamaican
Item: Jerk chicken (half-sized)
Food for thought: At $9 for a half-portion (pictured above) and $13 for a full, this jerk chicken is a winner on value alone. It doesn’t hurt that it’s delicious too.
It’s billed as mild, though it would likely fall in the “medium” range for most customers. The sauce is intensely flavorful—not just with heat, but with allspice, nutmeg, garlic and other flavors. The chicken is served with rice and peas, a light cabbage and carrot slaw. The sweet fried (maduro) plantain on the side was the cherry on top.
Item: Jamaican beef patty
Food for thought: Available in beef (pictured), chicken and vegetable, there’s no mistaking these golden-hued pastries. Erma’s Island has said they’re sourced from Royal Caribbean Bakery in New York City. The finely-textured filling is flavorful, with just a bit of heat. Though unavailable on the day of our visit, guests have the option of getting their patty served inside a split piece of sweet coco bread for a delicious, if carb heavy, treat.
Salt City Coffee and Bar
Item: Cereal Milk Latte
Food for thought: In a million years, who would’ve thought a coffee drink designed to taste like the milk left behind from a bowl of Fruity Pebbles would be good? Well, let me tell you, Salt City Coffee did, and thank GOD they did!
We’re coffee drinkers, the whole lot of us. But we might change our approach to our caffein intake. This cup made of locally roasted coffee infused with ‘cereal milk’ sprinkled with fruity gluten-free flakes packed with 11 essential vitamins and minerals is a jolly version of our normal morning joe. Don’t worry, you can get plain black coffee here (~$3), and it’s spectacular.
The Cereal Milk Latte is like drinking a pre-teen breakfast with enough caffeine boost go get us to lunch. You can be a kid and an adult at the same time, thanks to Salt City Coffee.
Item: Oatmeal Cream Pie
Food for thought: This delight comes from the Toast Bakery and Cafe in Cazenovia. Salt City Coffee opens a couple hours before the other restaurants here. So you can come for a cup of coffee and pastry, go back to the office, and come back for lunch. (And come back for happy hour and dinner after work, too.)
We tried this breakfast alternative simply because it was the biggest thing behind the Plexiglas. We made the right choice because it did, indeed, hold us over until we had to return for all of our lunches. It’s two 5-inch oatmeal cookies with a half-inch of sweet cream cheese filling.
Do yourself a favor: Cut it in half and give it to a friend, a co-worker, whatever. You’ll fall asleep by 10:30 if you don’t. It’s that good.
Food type: Vietnamese cuisine
Item: Banh Mi Curry Coup D’Etat
Food for thought: This is one of three versions of the classic Vietnamese banh mi sandwich at the Mamma Hai stand. All are served on a crusty bread roll with pickled daikon and carrots, cucumber, and a healthy dose of cilantro. This version features lemongrass coconut curry chicken with toasted peanuts. The result is a tangy, nutty and creamy curry that builds a slight bit of heat. The peanuts and cilantro also stand out in this flavorful dish.
Item: Bun Thit Nuong (Rice Vermicelli Noodles with Pork)
Food for thought: There are two versions of this noodle dish, one vegan and one with pork. This meaty version has spicy and rich-flavored pork chunks served over a bed of firm but chewy white noodles. Mint, herbs and a savory fish sauce give this dish a well-rounded flavor punch. Also comes with two egg rolls.
Food type: Southern/soul food
Item: Fried Catfish
Food for thought: A crispy, crunchy cornmeal breading provides a perfect accompaniment to the deep, savory flavor of the catfish in this Friday-only special at SOULutions. It’s a bold take on the fish fry. Our was accompanied by the Fire Mac & Cheese, which was both creamy and chunky with kick of habanero peppers.
Item: St. Louis Style Ribs with Sage and Apple Chutney
Fall-off-the-bone pork highlights these ribs whose deep and rich flavor is accented by the accompanying the house seasoning and a dollop of chutney. The result is a nice peppery and sweet combination. From a choice of sides, we took Candied Yams (soft, creamy and sweet) and the Not Your Utica Greens (spicy and juicy with the southern touch of smoked turkey.)
Big in Burma
Food type: Burmese
Item: Ohn Htamin & Kyat Thar Hin (Coconut Rice & Chicken Curry)
Food for thought: From a relatively extensive menu, we chose this rice dish, in which the curried chicken is served on the side of the rice, rather than stop it. The chicken itself is quite juicy and somewhat mild. But it yielded layers of nuanced flavor, matching with the earthy but sweet-tinged rice.
Food for thought: Three crunchy fried triangles (which the menu describes as Burmese ravioli) comes with a curry filling that packed some spice with a creamy satisfying texture. The dipping sauce added a fruit touch.
MORE CNY FOOD
Locally made barbecue sauce has become a hot seller during the pandemic
Fulton’s Blue Moon Grill inspires loyal following (Dining Out review)
Syracuse Downtown Dining Weeks returns, but it’s different this year (of course)
Charlie Miller finds the best in food, drink and fun across Central New York. Contact him at 315-382-1984, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find him on Twitter @HoosierCuse. Don Cazentre writes for NYup.com, syracuse.com and The Post-Standard. Reach him at email@example.com, or follow him at NYup.com, on Twitter or Facebook. Contact Jacob Pucci at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter at @JacobPucci.
Royal Caribbean – Salt City Market: Our reviews of every vendor at Syracuse’s new food hall
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