The Food Court Blues

What’s funny is, back in college, I would often suggest the mall food court to my group of friends as a place to eat dinner.

“There are so many choices!” I would say. “Think of the possibilities!”

My friends would grunt and roll their eyes. “We’re not eating in a food court, Adam,” they’d say, pulling up their noses.

Sometimes I would trick them–when asked to choose a movie–by choosing a movie that only played near a mall. With a food court.

“Problem Child II is only playing at the Phipps Mall,” I would tell them, “so it’s either eat in the food court or don’t see the movie.”

“Ok, ok,” they’d sigh communally, “we’ll eat in the food court.”

I think the thrill of Food Court dining is analogous to the thrill my father experienced at the 1964 World’s Fair. The endless array of tents, rides, and cultural tableaus. “My goodness,” I picture my father saying, his Brooklyn accent substituted for a British one, “Look at this joyous scene from Mexico! What an enriching experience!”

Compare that to my experience today, studying the menu at Taco Bell.

Ok, ok. Food Courts have gone downhill. WAY down hill.

I remember a time when Taco Bell and Burger King were sub-food-court-fare. Now they feature prominently in the sad array available at the Lenox Mall.

I wasn’t even going to the food court today. I am SO over food courts.

But at the Corner Bakery, the manager stood outside shooing customers away. “Buckhead’s having water issues,” he said, “they want us to boil our water, but we just decided to close up. Don’t want to risk contamination.”

Apparently, the food court had no qualms about the water. And since I was starving, and since it had been a while since I’d food courted, I said: “What the hey” and went to my favorite Food Court establislhment, back in the day.

I don’t remember the name, but it’s surely the most popular stall in the food court not only in Atlanta, but also in the Town Center Mall in Boca. It’s the Japanese place where three men in red hats furiously grill chicken and vegetables.

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Let’s call it the poor man’s Benihana’s. Although, in many ways, Benihana’s is the poor man’s Benihana’s. But I digress.

I stood in line pondering the risk involved if the water was indeed contaminated. Chicken isn’t cooked in water right? And rice isn’t—well it is, but it’s boiled water, right? And I can get a bottled water. I should be ok.

I ordered what used to be my usual: the Chicken Teryaki.

The routine is rather amusing. The woman sticks toothpicks in your plate depending on what you order. The system is so complex, Dan Brown is following up his “Da Vinci Code” with an expose on toothpick communication at the Japanese Food Court place. I think one toothpick means white rice, two means fried rice, no toothpicks means no rice? Or maybe they mean nothing and they’re just messing with me? Or maybe I know and I’m just messing with you? I do know this: Kevin Spacey IS Keyser Soze.

Here’s what the end result looks like:

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Does my site lose credibility when I post pictures of food court food? I think this is the food of the common man and it deserves to be studied. And with my highly active lifestyle (8 hours a day at the gym), I have limited access to new and exciting material.

In any case, this chicken tasted better in my memory than it did today. Not that it was bad. It’s probably the best thing you can get in the food court. There are chickeny charred bits that give the whole thing a flavor umph, but not much. And beneath it all is a chemically undertaste–much like the one in Rosemary’s chocolate “mouse” from “Rosemary’s Baby”–that I seriously wonder if the devil might impregnate me tonight.

Come to think of it, there were six toothpicks on my plate.

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