At lunch or dinner, Fred’s offers meat-centric, mostly American sandwiches, and Yalla sells casual Middle Eastern fare. Technically, they are two different stalls, but I like to think of them as a single spectrum of heavy indulgence to healthy virtue. On the one end, you’ve got Fred’s pastrami Reuben packed full of smoky, peppery, fatty brisket, melted Swiss, sauerkraut, slathered Russian dressing on toasted rye bread. On the other, you’ve got the salatim bowl at Yalla, a vegetable bowl that contrasts bright, fermented flavors with creamy hummus.
Fred’s specializes in big, ugly, satisfying sandwiches. When unwrapped, most of them will be dripping with cheese or sauce. The breads are noticeably fresh. The house pastrami sings with a vibrant cure. The burger patties are thin but not overcooked. These sandwiches, more so than the Krog location, tend on the extra ugly side. I wouldn’t say a pastrami Reuben should be pretty, but it helps if it isn’t so mashed and unevenly loaded in the paper wrapping that one can hardly pick it up.
A recent sabich bowl overloaded with labneh from Yalla likewise wanted for more finesse, but in general, there’s refreshing flavor to these veggie-loaded bowls and an excellent balance of crisp and herby flavor in the falafel.
The Israeli salad from Yalla has hummus, baba ganoush, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and parsley. Yalla is part of the Canteen in Midtown. CONTRIBUTED BY WYATT WILLIAMS
Square Bar has a cute periodic table-themed menu, a few standard highballs, and some oddball drinks that still need work. A drink of bourbon and coconut water is sickly sweet, and the slushie margarita doesn’t fare much better. On the other hand, the bartender here is the closest thing you can get to service and, in my experience, a friendly guy who can stir a pretty good Old-Fashioned. The only trouble is that you have to drink it out of a plastic cup.
It’s a metaphor for a chef’s position in the fast-casual age: a $9 Old-Fashioned, stirred and stiff as it should be, garnished with those perfect, dense, expensive Luxardo cherries, and poured into a cheap plastic Solo cup. Sure, the drink matters more, but is it really so much to ask for a real glass?
Sitting down at Square Bar at night, those with a little local restaurant memory may find it hard not to notice some hand-me-down furniture from the previous tenant, the Spence. The place was a celebrity chef's ego trip helmed by "Top Chef" star Richard Blais, complete with an open kitchen so dramatically lit that it could've been a stage, plates topped with smoke-filled bell jars, a menu overloaded with the chef's comic taste for culinary trompe l'oeil. A restaurant like that used to be the end goal for any ambitious chef, a place where one's creative ego can be pushed to the max and bankrolled by a flush restaurant group. It still is for many chefs, I suppose, but increasingly less so.
Ginsberg is just as good a chef as Blais, maybe better, but his style has never leaned toward the smoke-and-mirrors, ego-on-the-plate show. He’s more of a behind-the-scenes guy, apparently less interested in reinventing the wheel than building a very good wheel. It seems like an ambition unique to this moment that he didn’t aspire to have some stalls in a food hall, but the entire food hall itself. Will it be the restaurant that defines his career? We’ll just have to see.
7 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays; 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturdays; 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays. 75 Fifth St., Atlanta. thecanteenatl.com.
Recommended dishes: smoked salmon bagel, burger stack, pastrami biscuit, salatim bowl