Food for Thought: Making Sense of Three Recent Openings

Our East Side Observer columnist visits an UES Wonder, ventures south for Hugh, ends up at the Astor Place Wegmans.

| 10 Jun 2024 | 12:04

Food town and eating options–I’m for dining whether fine, casual, fast casual, grab and go. Forget table linen. Can be waitstaff or self-serve. Must have a seat. No standing or stool seating or backless chairs. Tasting menus and sharing are out. Doggy bags are in. With all those caveats, I decided to check out Wonder in Yorkville, The Hugh in East Midtown, and Wegmans in the East Village. All opened within the last year or so. Right now, there are at least two Wonder restaurant delivery and take-outs in Manhattan. There’s one The Hugh (which is really huge). And one Wegmans.

My Wonder experience–really just a walk-in to look/see and chat up the man-in-charge who explained the menus and how to order and pay–was at the 86th Street location between Lex and Park, closer to Lex. He knew the menus, which are paper-made brochures and can be read on premises or taken home. He knew the timing for pick-ups and delivery. There’s a small area for eat-in and waiting for pick-ups. When I passed Wonder several times, there was someone eating-in in the small area set aside for eating in and waiting for pick ups. While Wonder has delivery, there were no bikes on the street. Sure makes the neighborhood happy.

Wonder is associated in part with celebrity chef Bobby Flay, who has owned several Manhattan restaurants through the years. While they no longer exist, Flay’s Steakhouse menu is among the menus available at Wonder. That’s menus plural because Wonder isn’t a traditional restaurant or food hall but rather a so-called “ghost kitchen,” a delivery app-derived facade that allows individually branded menus to be cooked at single location. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this practice, many foodies consider it deceptive when such a set-up is not disclosed.

One great advantage of the concept is that everyone can be happy when they order from Wonder because of its wide-ranging food choices: American, Italian, Indian, Chinese, Seafood, Greek, Sandwiches, Desserts, and on and on–making the take-out or delivery mean an eat-what-you-want communal experience.

Wonder is located at 120 E. 86th the space previously occupied by Panera, which is now located on Third Ave between 86th and 87th. There are also Wonder locations on the Upper West Side, at 2030 Broadway, at 70th Street; and Chelsea, at 128 W. 23rd Street. Wonder is open seven days a week from 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Order online or by app.

While Wonder is no frills, The Hugh is meant for a dining experience away from home at one of their 15 on-premises restaurants. But first you have to get there.

Located in Citicorp center on Lex and 53rd St, it’s easily accessible by train or bus. Not so easily by foot if you’re incapable of or don’t want to walk down a gazillion stairs (I lost count) to make your way into The Hugh, which is named in honor of its architect Hugh Stafford. It’s so massive that it could be called The Huge.

The Hugh is on the lower level. A party of two, maybe three, can take an elevator to the culinary hall. The elevator’s located at 157 E. 53rd St, an office tower. The 3rd Ave entrance, where Hillside once stood, is closed off. Hopefully, the concierge on duty in the office tower will point you to the elevator. If you use the elevator option and explore the entirety of The Hugh, you will have difficulty finding your way back to the elevator. Asking around won’t help. Nobody knows. Back to those stairs.

The spacious, exquisite culinary hall has a wine bar and a craft beer taproom amid beautiful art, murals, greenery. Restaurants include Miznon, which wasn’t yet open, but I’ve had their very good Israeli food in another of their restaurants. Getting off the elevator I encountered Umieka. The Jamaican menu is a fun combo of Wraps (burrito, roti), hot boxes (there’s Escovitch fish; curry shrimp, and several stews), as well as small plates, salads, and sides. And a heady list of rum and margarita drinks and shots. The Hugh’s a New York happening— it just needs another way in.

And then there’s Wegmans–The discount supermarket is now open on Astor Place in the East Village on the site occupied by Kmart for 20 years before it closed in 2021. Kmart occupied three levels. Wegmans has a street level and a lower level and a store directory spells out locations of all products and food: charcuterie and cheese, dairy and deli, baked goods, meals 2Go, health and wellness, et cetera. says of the supermarket chain that started in Rochester, NY: “the East Coast chain is steadily gaining fans with its premium products and competitive prices.” For me, all I could think as I walked through the street level was: why a Wegmans in Manhattan?