THE JUNK FOOD JOURNAL/See You in Food Court/Epicurious' Prince of Pork Rinds, Jeff Jarvis, visits the mall

Once was, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, a bloated America spent the day eating leftovers (which, don't you think, taste way better anyway; what could be more comforting than a cold turkey sandwich on white bread smothered in Miracle Whip with warmed-up dressing and gravy all served in the kitchen on the regular plates?).

But no more. Now on the day after, we engage in mass insanity: We throng the mall on the busiest shopping day of the year. And while we're there, we eat in the food court.

I am a fan of food courts. They represent an important advance in fast food, a place where you can gobble a burger while your mate consumes pizza and your kid gets his hot-dog-on-a-stick while your crazy Uncle Fester actually enjoys the Chinese candy they call chicken and everybody's happy. The food court brought to food what the remote control brought to television: freedom.

In the beginning, food courts were mom-n-pop ops: Vito's Pizza, Barney's Deli, or cutely named boutiques (Quiche Me Quick). The food was never great, but in chain-choked malls, food courts were havens for locally owned businesses. They were as close as malls could ever get to small-town, downtown quaint.

But in the last decade, a revolution came to the food court as the big boys of bag food ­ McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Sbarro, Taco Bell, and Nathan's ­ discovered the wisdom of the aggregated edible experience. I suppose that on behalf of moms and pops everywhere, I should regret the shift. But I don't ­ for the food in food courts is finally edible. And competition has only spawned variety. Now you can even get sushi in a food court. (I wouldn't. But you could.) Thanks to food courts, I have learned a hundred new uses for potatoes (who could have thought of stuffing them with broccoli?). And through food courts, the obnoxiously vain coffee craze that has overtaken America has also invaded malls; now Sears shoppers too can understand the sublime difference between caffe latte and plain old coffee and cream.

The best part of the food court is the entertainment ­ the movable soap opera of screaming moms, moping dads, miserable kids, flirting teens. And there is no day better for that show than the day after Thanksgiving.

Jeff Jarvis (the TV critic for  TV Guide) begins the Junk Food Journal for Epicurious.

Check out the best junk food sites on the Web at Burgers, Fries and a Link.


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