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Courtly love 

Every holiday shopper deserves special lunch treats.

The proliferation of big box stores and the ever-increasing popularity of online shopping hasn’t affected the winter sport of mall crawling. Everything’s under one roof, sale signs are everywhere and, of course, Santa lives there. And when throngs of shoppers need sustenance to push on and gather their last bits of holiday loot, they rely on that bastion of fine dining---the food court.

Mic Mac Mall, fighting against time and Dartmouth Crossing, still draws crazy crowds: It’s 8:30pm on a Saturday night and I can’t find parking anywhere. I make it inside and head to the food court on the top level. Littered with the detritus of hungry hordes, it’s cramped and dark. The neon signs of the vendors only add to the seedy feel. I skip the fast-food franchises. I push past Manchu Wok (blandest Canadian-Chinese food I’ve ever known) and Sukiyaki, where overzealous, underskilled grill guys destroy the idea of freshly prepared food by relentless overcooking.

I want something different, so I head to Villa Madina. Mediterranean food is the specialty of this kiosk that shares its name with a holy city. Its chafing dishes are full of appetizing food. I try the chicken shawarma---seasoned chicken sliced off large, upright spits. It’s tender, tasty and the sides of rice and salad are remarkably fresh for this time of night.

Back in the day, there were two floors of shops in Scotia Square---remember Woolco? It serves more workers than shoppers now. In fact, I’m leaving the more diverse and independent malls---Maritime Mall, Park Lane and Spring Garden Place---out of this review because The Coast plans to cover them next year in a lunch work special.

Still, I must touch on Scotia Square, if only to mention my sentimental favourite. PG’s is a place that I can almost never resist. This little corner spot has served up plates of Mediterranean comfort foods for at least 20 years. The things to order are the sirloin tips: steak bits cooked in a spicy tomato sauce with green peppers and onions, served with amazing oven potatoes. My first plate of this cost me somewhere around $4.00; fifteen years later, they charge only $5.39.

Moving uptown, I hit Halifax Shopping Centre. The second floor of the mall proper remains the place to chow down. It’s bright and stylish, thanks to light colours and a skylight. While the dining experience is more ambient than Mic Mac Mall, its offerings are much the same (read: more of the same chains). I head to the Healthyway Café, a sandwich-and-salad place and have a very good vegetarian wrap---the perfect shopping fuel.

I finish in Bedford. MarketSide in Sunnyside Mall, done in an open-market style, has the most modern food court in the city. Although you won’t find a burger place, you won’t be short on choice. Presto Pastaworks offers plenty more than pasta, although I’ve never found anything to my liking on numerous visits---just not seasoned enough, usually. Gleneagle Bakery is here, providing no shortage of noshes and nibblies for a sugar rush. On the Wedge Pizza offers excellent, thinner-crust pizzas, especially the veggie one.

Overall, in this food court fantasia, Pete Luckett and his collection of small departments under the Pete’s Frootique banner wins my holiday appetite. His deli counter does a spectacular breakfast panini, although my favourite is the clubhouse. Thick bread, carved chicken breast, choice of cheese---this is one club I want to be part of.

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