Ghosts might be things from the past, but Le Fantome feels like the future. Of casual dining, that is. The food hall, which features a wide variety of cuisines from seven local vendors, opened in August in Riverdale, Maryland, just down the road from the University of Maryland, a nice walk from the College Park Metro stop off the Green Line. From any direction, it’s well worth a visit.
Walking into Le Fantome (that’s fan-tohm, if like me your French is le merde), the space immediately charms. It’s open and airy and light, all white tiles, Edison light bulbs and art nouveau-inspired brass fixtures. A handsome and generous bar anchors the back half of the hall, the rest filled with bentwood chairs around tables and leather banquettes. In a word, Parisian.
You can order directly from three vendors in the hall: fried chicken from Sonny & Sons, rolls and bowls from Horu Sushi, and bowls and baos from Mok Bar. Or, you can grab a seat and order from an additional four onsite but out-of-sight purveyors: Bombay Kitchen, Greek Aroma Mediterranean Grill, Mission Burger and for dessert, Mr. Bake.
Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, with an extra evening hour on Friday and Saturday, you can order everything from your morning latté and croissant — from a full-service barista — to your nightcap and snack at Le Fantome. The hall also hosts holiday events and other gatherings.
“I think we’re a community center,” shares chef Ahktar Nawab, co-CEO of the hall’s operator Hospitality HQ (Nawab is also a partner and chef advisor of D.C.’s Bar Chinois). “We want to be a gathering place in College Park and beyond, a place for people to go, meet up with friends, just feel comfortable in. We also want to be a culinary destination.”
With the breadth and quality of vendors on offer, Le Fantome is in a good spot to do just that.
But getting good food isn’t limited to the hall itself. All vendors are available for takeout and on your favorite food delivery app. Le Fantome boasts a special to-go lounge with state-of-the-art, temperature-controlled lockers so your hot items stay hot and your cold items stay cold.
Speaking of heat, there’s not one but multiple kitchens at Le Fantome, each outfitted to fit the needs of the vendors, allowing them to take both new and next steps for their growing brands. Helping develop the next wave of great chefs and restaurateurs is an important part of Le Fantome’s mission.
For Mr. Bake, aka Kareem Queeman, an award-winning chef and rising star with several TV appearances to his name, that means scaling up his operations with an industrial mixer, precision ovens and lots of racks to hold his decadent cupcakes.
For Queeman, whose love of baking took him from middle school home economics class to culinary school, baking is about so much more than a sugary treat.
“I want to create memories,” he says. “I want to be a part of other people’s celebrations.”
Le Fantome gives him an opportunity to share his creations with the area’s diverse population. If you believe in an afterlife, his banana pudding is good enough to think you’re already there. In addition to the classic combo with Nilla Wafers, Mr. Bake is exploring further flavors, including a red velvet version for the holidays.
Representing and creating a space for fellow queer bakers and bakers of color is also an important ingredient in his plan.
“I’m really excited about being in a space and being a queer business owner,” Queeman says. “I knew I wanted to be my own boss since I was a kid. I’m able to hire other queer human beings. I love that because there was a time when I couldn’t be comfortable walking into a kitchen being my full self. And I’m a Black man. Then, for the last five years, I’ve changed how I want to show up in the world. Now I can pour that same courage into my staff who are also navigating what it means to show up fully and authentically. They can be themselves in this kitchen.”
A small rainbow flag sits in a small plastic up in the center of the space, in full view of the large windows onto the street.
Down the hallway from Queeman, another vendor is also sharing the best of themselves: Bombay Kitchen. The restaurant serves the most delicious tikka masala I’ve ever had, along with a cooling, creamy mango lassi and popular street style items like naan pizza.
The outlet is part of a growing franchise that specializes in bringing authentic Indian flavors and experiences to the U.S. Small vendors make some of the best food in India, explains Pankaj Kumar, the company’s head of franchises.
“In every part of India, you’re in the habit of going out on the street and trying the product of small vendors. They are supporting their families, so they cook from the heart. That passion has to season the food, the taste.”
The same can be said of the team at Bombay Kitchen.
Both Mr. Bake and the chefs at Bombay Kitchen are grateful for the community of fellow foodies. Both describe a high level of support and collaboration between kitchens, in everything from sharing storage to recipe development and taste tests. That’s good news for the kind of intrepid diners Le Fantome attracts: people with curious palettes and global tastes.
Le Fantome combines the best parts of going out — a cool, welcoming space and good food — with the newest options for ordering and expanding the culinary scene. It’s been a few weeks since I visited, but all its possibilities call me, haunt me and make me hungry for more.
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