Shop 'til you drop for the holidays.
Or shop until you are hungry, anyway.
Today being Black Friday, it's time to discuss eating at the mall.
It's an easy assignment indeed, because the malls in the area are only too happy to feed you. They sport kiosks that offer snacky things like cookies or coffee or ice cream or pretzels as you stroll.
And then remember that every mall has a food court where you can put down the packages (make sure somebody in the party watches them), visit the stands surrounding the tables and order, often internationally. (Many of the stands are chains or franchises and therefore sport very familiar names.) You schlep the stuff back to your table. Then you eat in a hurry, and it's back to the fray. Food courts keep mall hours; when the shops are open, they are, too.
But the hours may be different at the sitdown restaurants; they generally stay open longer, and many have their own entrances leading directly to the outside.
The sitdown restaurants are where you go when you have a little more time -- or your feet hurt a little more. You pick a table, sit and get waited on. You might even be able to enjoy a glass of wine. Sure, that distracts from shopping time. But if it doesn't worry you, it doesn't worry the mall management. Do they care that you might get so comfy, you forget to go out and do your duty? No, no, no. Most managers are just happy to get you into those warm encircling walls, to tell the truth.
And, by the way, they are not even especially troubled if you relax for a while on Black Friday itself or even over this weekend. While Black Friday is big traffic-wise, says McKinley Mall General Manager Jeff Ohle, money-wise the big day is the Saturday before Christmas.
There now. Have we assuaged your guilt?
So here comes a resume of the gastronomical opportunities available to you at five malls in the area. It comes complete with advice: All sorts of discounts are available in these places, particularly at kiosks and food courts. Sometimes kids eat free if an adult orders an entree; sometimes senior citizens get special recognition.
It never hurts to ask.
> Boulevard Mall
730 Alberta Drive, Amherst
The big draw here is the working carousel and adjacent playground, with cotton candy and other sweets carefully arranged on the periphery. (A little parental diplomacy may be required.)
Food court outlets include: Sbarro, Subway, China Max, McDonald's, Taco Bell, Charley's Grilled Subs, Pete's Greek Isles Expess, Baskin Roberts/Dunkin' Donuts and Cajun Quarter. Many of these station a person outside the stand during business hours to offer samples, so if you aren't terribly hungry, it fills the void.
Options range from Southwest-inspired Chili's to an enormous buffet.
Johnny Rocket's is right in the mall itself and offers a cute '50s fountain ambience with juke boxes in every booth. It serves burgers and salads, shakes and malts.
For other sitdowns, you have to walk a couple of steps outside (there is usually no direct entrance from the mall, but the distance is short). They include:
T.G.I. Friday's, a sprightly chain offering a full bar and an assortment of trendy items such as Sliders (mini-meatballs) with chimichurri sauce, other sandwiches, seafood and steak.
Bonefish Grill, a hectic, upscale and very popular chain -- even for nonshoppers. Full bar, with lots of fresh fish to offer, some fancy like Pistachio Parmesan-crusted Rainbow Trout, some plain grilled. Also salads, sandwiches and steak.
Grand Buffet, which has 200 seats, pleasant help and an enormous layout of food offering discounts and deals up the wazoo. It's basically Asian-inspired, but you can also find crablegs and frog legs, seafood and roasted peanuts. All you can eat. And you have never seen so many different colors of Jell-O in your life.
Our favorite foods: Butterfinger Shake at Johnny Rocket's or, at quite another level, the Coconut Shrimp at Bonefish Grill.
> Walden Galleria
2000 Walden Ave., Cheektowaga.
The options include Arby's, Cajun Cafe, Charley's Grilled Subs, Easy Wok, Hershey Ice Cream, Mr. Smoothie, Oyishu Japan, Sbarro, Taco Bell and Ted's.
Beyond the food court, there's lots of upscale stuff here.
"We give our customers what they ask for," says marketing director Russ Fulton.
Jack Astor's, a determinedly cheerful Canadian-based chain that offers a huge and varied menu with everything from sandwiches to Thai food.
Johnny Rocket's, see above.
Bravo, an upscale, handsome Italian restaurant chain that's huge in size and in menu with a big assortment of dishes.
Cheesecake Factory (Bravo's neighbor) is also upscale and also glitzy, with a varied menu. (And plenty of cheesecake varieties, too, if that is your wont.)
On the way: The Melting Pot, a fondue restaurant due to open very soon, and Hyde Park Steak House, an upscale steak house due to open in April. Also on the agenda: Bar Louis (which will specialize in martinis) and Finn McCool, an Irish Pub.
Our favorite foods: The hot dogs at Ted's (hey listen, we're Western New Yorkers, aren't we?) and Steak Fiorentina at Bravo. The Bruschetta at Bravo isn't too bad, either.
> Eastern Hills
4545 Transit Road, Williamsville
It has a particularly cozy aspect to it, with its dark paneling and working fireplace. Among the tenants: Subway, Auntie Anne's, China Panda, Cedar's Pita Pockets, Tijuana Taco, LaRosa's NY Pizzeria and Mississippi Mudds.
There are a few seats at Mrs. Field's and at the Bijou Cafe (in the very center of the mall). Other options:
Brick Oven Bistro is a real restaurant and offers sandwiches, wraps, pizza and pasta bowls. This place is very proud of its antipasto bar, which comes free with many entrees. There's a good-size children's menu, too.
Dave and Buster's has anything you want to eat, any game you want to play and any sport you want to watch. There's an enormous amount of activity going on in this huge restaurant/playroom.
Our favorite foods: Spicy Shrimp and Avocado Quesadillas at Dave and Buster's.
> McKinley Mall
3701 McKinley Parkway, Blasdell
This is a work in progress, with recent renovations producing pleasant results. It is exceptionally attractive with its skylight, garden theme and booths. Among the tenants either open or expected to open within weeks: Sbarro, Arby's, Wok and Roll, Casa de Taco, Cedar Pockets, Dairy Queen and Queen City Char Grill. Also, in a week or so, Emma's (presently in the mall itself) moves into the Food Court, with Planet Smoothie taking its mall spot.
Comfort Zone, offers coffee, sandwiches, pastries and salads.
Coming in the spring is Cozumel, a very popular bar/restaurant in the city that is expanding to McKinley. It will occupy the site of the late Garfield's.
Our favorite foods: The hearty sandwiches at Emma's.
> Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls
1900 Military Road, Niagara Falls
The mall has a huge assortment of retail temptations, but the ugliest food court in the area. It is dark; it is dingy; it has uncomfortable seats. The tenants: Ben and Jerry's, LaRosa Pizza, Panda Express, Pita Gourmet, Subway, Teriyaki Delight and Wimpy's.
Options (in the outside strip and cannot be entered from the mall itself) include Applebee's, Honey's (pizza) and John's Flaming Hearth.
Our favorite foods: Pita Gourmet's vegetarian platter, featuring hummus, baba ghannouj, tabbouleh salad, grape leaves and falafel and pita bread.
Also, John's Flaming Hearth's baby back ribs and, a genuine masterpiece, pumpkin ice cream pie.