gelato
Paciugo has staked a claim in West Towne’s food court with its rich and flavorful gelato.

Black Friday is upon us: the day every year when stores hope to lure us all with bargains sufficient to shake us out of our post-Thanksgiving torpor to risk a trampling in search of the Christmas present that will most perfectly express our love in the form of consumer goods.

Because an epic day of Christmas shopping is impossible without sustenance, I ventured recently to the West Towne food court on a preliminary scouting expedition.

Out of a wide selection of food purveyors at West Towne, only one (The Chocolate Shoppe, sustaining the theme of extraneous “e”s) was not a large chain. I open-mindedly set out in search of something fresh, delicious, or at the very least surprising.

Assuming you’re a bargain shopper looking to fuel up without leaving the premises, what can you as a culinary captive eat without regret? After multiple meals, I was able to find two items at the food court that I considered objectively delicious.

The Potbelly Sandwich Shop sets itself apart from the other food-court options in two ways. It’s slightly set off from the court proper, allowing diners to escape the sonic din and barrage of Justin Bieber videos in favor of something approaching calm. It makes all of its sandwiches entirely to-order without microwaves or heat lamps.

I had a regular-sized Italian sandwich for $4.30. It came on extremely fresh-tasting bread with a pleasant crustiness, seasoned with oregano and vinegar and served warm. While heavy on the salt (as any dish featuring capicola and mortadella will tend to be), my sandwich did not leave me with the feeling of gastro-shame that usually follows consumption of a fast-food burger.

For dessert, a treat to which anyone braving the post-Thanksgiving crowds is entitled, there is gelato. It seems almost discordant to encounter this authentic Italian treat within spitting distance of a place serving chalupas with something called Fire Sauce, but Paciugo has indeed staked a claim in the food court.

It’s fair to say it classes up the joint. For $3.75, you can get a small-sized cup holding up to three flavors of gelato, which the scooper will pack with expertise and geometrical precision. The serving will seem small and the spoon tiny, but Paciugo’s gelato is so rich and flavorful that wee bits from a modestly sized cup feel proportionally correct. I’ve sampled their surprisingly delicious olive oil and black pepper flavor, but more familiar standbys include mango, tiramisu and salted caramel varieties.

If you get hungry mid-shop, some of the best food at West Towne comes in the form of free samples at Williams-Sonoma and Teavana, both of which offer gustatory glimpses of the world outside. But if you do find yourself trapped in the mall on Thanksgiving weekend, Potbelly and Paciugo are your best bets – unless, of course, you do some planning ahead and bring your own picnic.

Why not pack a grilled panino from elsewhere, a fresh pear and a good bar of dark chocolate? Or combine the better food-court options with a homemade sandwich or dessert? After all, a day at the mall is already detrimental to your credit card balance; it shouldn’t ruin your appetite as well.

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