What makes something a food court, and what makes it a food hall? One is the most discredited concept in 20th-century dining, while the other is the hottest new idea of the 21st: an open floor plan; fresh food prepared in front of your eyes; a post-industrial space, or at least one with high ceilings, exposed wiring, and hanging air ducts. Good-looking people hunched on long benches over small plates or perched on stools around dozens of tiny countertops. The accidental flash of a bad Instagram. The places brim with noise—perhaps even a kind of working sound, an occasional butcher’s chop, something left over from a more utilitarian period, or at least the roar of an espresso machine.
Reduce this concept to the basics—a dozen quick-service restaurants sharing a space, a landlord, and maybe a seating area—and you have a food court. A food hall, in contrast, is a drafty and austere moniker for an age of raw interior design. No pleather or plastic here. What separates the former from the latter is “authenticity,” according to Matthew Fainchtein, a senior director for real estate giant Cushman & Wakefield in Los Angeles and a guy who makes food halls, not courts.
Sam Rocha told me recently that I am not a geographer. You are a geometer, he said. Meter precedes writing.
Among the many things he has told me, this is the most recent, I think. He has actually been telling me things for a long time, from before the time we met (online, as it happened). This is because, as I’ve said before, I devoured everything on Vox Nova back in the day. Sam wrote on Vox Nova. He wrote about schooling and why he didn’t like it. He wrote about liberalism and why it was dumb. He wrote about love, and you knew what he was talking about because he played guitar, sang, and had a trio. He wrote about his first tenure-track job at the University of North Dakota, and I remember thinking as I read that post in Hong Kong that I wouldn’t want to go somewhere like North Dakota, but good for this guy, I guess.
In vexed times, gently informative escapism is a winner for publishers and a refuge for readers. Strøksnes nails the appeal in a single paragraph. “The landscape is not in front of me. It’s all around me. There is a strong sense of here in the physical ocean current near the Skrova lighthouse. It feels very far away from the information current of everyday life in which we usually float.”