Finally, the food court concept has experienced a remake. With the bustle of Bloomingdales above, the transformed basement of Westfield San Francisco Centre, the big daddy of malls west of the Mississippi, attracted more people on Saturday than the first corn dog stand at an Iowa State Fair. That´s the good news. The great news is that the food court has morphed into a culinary cafeteria with the various stations set up by corporations offering their concoctions in a variety of forms. Yet, this food court has much more than a Sbarros here and a Noodle Pot there.
Matching trays- with handles for oversized consumers making their way through football stadium crowds — was a fresh notion. And assigning a busser to clear tables, wipe up crumbs, ketchup and spills, also ranked high in the nice improvement column.
Although not a food court buff, the perception that the food was fresh, well made, and tasted pretty good was apparent from the masses.
Culinary kudos for fast food must be awarded to go to the marketing mavens at Westfield who hunted and sought concepts with new twists. Two stand out amongst the small operators and one large jewel shines above the rest. Melt Café and Gelato Bar is by far the winner of the presentation award.
Melt Café and Gelato Bar is by far the winner of the presentation award.The concept proves the point that people eat with their eyes before their taste buds enter the picture. Melt takes the simple concept of frozen whatever, mounds higher than Mt. Tam and presents it in a sparkling case without any of the sticky, sloppy drips that are associated with anything that well, melts. The colors are great, the staff is friendly, and they are cutting into the food budgets of San Francisco diners. At $4.50 a pop- a double scoop- the visuals win out on this deal. The crowd attraction factor was a phenom.
Reel back to Soho, October, 2005. The streets were as soupy as San Francisco Bay in summer. Dreary best describes the walk from the Upper East Side to Canal. Marred by the constant view of Starbucks which had replaced real meeting places -those unpasteurized kind where distilled products had topped dairy before the homogenization of the city- we came across a concept giving new life to the sweet smell of success.
Beard Papa. A cream puff of a place. Actually, that´s all they sell. Cream puffs. And it made our trek through town that day worthwhile. Finally, a new concept tucked away in a small storefront on Broadway. With a line out the door. No frappuccino in sight.
Well, its newest buddy is Bloomies. Beard Papa, that concept with a contemporary French fast food flare opened at Westfield this week and the hell with the Sonoma Diet, Cream Puffs reign.
When was the last time you struggled in the kitchen with the profiteroles? Renowned Minneapolis star chef, author, and culinarian, Andrew Zimmern did it nightly when he graced the kitchens of Un Deux Trois. And Beard Papa´s puffs don´t come close to Simmern´s. They do take a food court second.
The concept is simple. Puffs freshly made, on the spot. Cooled. Filed with whipped cream in a few flavors. Topped with a bit of chocolate if you wish. Take home available.
Good Bye Krispy CrÃ¨me. Dunkin Doughnuts in its infancy? Maybe. But basically just a great new concept with a slight bit of theater.
Should we all run to the food court? Not to eat. However, we need to educate ourselves on what is around us. We need to watch and learn.
The small group operator is now struggling while being surrounded by quick food franchises at one end of the ladder and the corporate sprawl of spiral pasta and spinach salad at the top. Each new concept launch, and even more frightening, success, carves away at the budget Americans have allotted for food consumption.
Every owner needs to be aware of this. We all need to come up with better marketing, a touch more theater, and continue to educate the public on why the homogenization of America should not involve the palate.
Oh, and that jewel of the food court- Bristol Farms- shined above all the rest. We´ll go there tomorrow. It would be too much to consume today.