CAMPUS FOOD: OUR REVIEWERS DINE OUT
UNIVERSITY STUDENT ISSUE
Located in the centre of McMaster’s north residence quad, the Commons is not the easiest place to find, but following the crowd will get you there. After dodging a man in a bunny suit driving a circus-clown bike (ah, engineering rituals), we enter—and find ourselves in the middle of a traffic jam. The problem: a huge lineup at Chef Tony’s popular pasta and stir-fry station.
I decide to check out the rest of the cafeteria’s selection. Immediately after Chef Tony’s, there are four other stations serving sandwiches, Asian food (“Pacific Rim”), grill items (burgers and fries) and “Healthy Choice.” In the centre of the area is a salad bar, which offers fresh food, but unfortunately at a premium price. What is it with university cafeterias and overpriced produce?
Being on a budget, I set out to cover the government’s food groups at the lowest possible cost. (My preferred food groups, which I will forgo today, consist of grease, sugar, caffeine, and chicken fingers.) That means the sub counter for me. I order up a 12-inch
LEGEND: ★ ★★★★ Culinary 4.0 ★ ★★★ Cafeteria cum laude ★ ★ ★ Better than fast food ★ ★ Makes you dream of fast food ★ Makes you dream of being on the Franklin expedition
turkey sub with cheddar and veggies for $5.50. It is well stacked, and though the bread is not Subway quality, you get more sub in one here than two there. I walk back to Tony’s, where the lineup is now out the door. I get salad, a fair-sized chunk of salmon and rice for $10. Pricey, but salmon ain’t cheap.
I stop at Pacific Rim and pick up more rice, noodles and chicken balls: $6. And before leaving, I grab a garlic bread.
The verdict: the chicken balls could use a little more chicken and the garlic bread tasted like it had soaked overnight in a barrel of garlic butter. The beverage selection is also limited; forget about getting not-from-concentrate or without-artificial-flavour. But the noodles, salmon, and rice were great, and the sub was excellent. Overall very good, especially compared to other schools.
Mudies is tucked away almost cove-like in the community centre of the University of Waterloo’s Village 1 residence. But it is instantly recognizable as an eatery catering to a wide variety of tastes and diets. Whether you’re a vegetarian or observe Halal; are allergic to gluten or trying to eat healthy; or are a chickenfingers-only type, there is an honest effort at Mudies to send you away full.
Alongside the usual assortment of dishes cleverly prefaced with the word “veggie,” Mudies serves hot vegetarian specials every
day. We opted for the veggie calzone. It was chock full of peppers, mushrooms and onions. However, it still managed to be excessively doughy, and the pizza sauce was nothing too exciting. More garlic or even more standard pizza spices could have helped— still, it was a solid step up from freezer-aisle pizza pops.
Next to the veggie station were dishes that could be more honestly called healthy. You can order yogourt with your choice of crumbled graham, granola and fresh fruit. We settled on a pita with extra beef and all the (reasonably fresh) toppings that could be crammed in. The cooks are friendly and don’t know the meaning of the word “stingy.” I also ordered a strawberry milkshake: though lacking in thickness, it actually tasted a bit like strawberries.
This being Waterloo, home to the biggest Oktoberfest outside of Germany, we figured we’d see if the city’s reputation for sausage spills into its university cafeterias. Yup. The spicy sausage was juicy and cooked right, crisp but not shrivelled. You could even see the variety of spices after biting into it. Unfortunately, the sausage was served on a bun that was so dry it cut my throat. This is all the more disappointing given that Mudies advertises its in-house bakery!
For the refined palate there was also a lemon chicken dish, not to mention a tuna casserole topped with whole rippled chips. While most desserts at Mudies are covered and kept to the side, they had cheesecake
uncovered and on display. Too bad. What might at some point have been a perfectly good piece of cheesecake had developed a thick, chewy skin, leaving us wondering exactly what we were consuming. An unfortunate end to a mostly satisfying experience. —Carson Jerema
Guelph has a reputation for food: the Creelman Market Place, for example, has long been seen as a model of what on-campus meals should be: fresh, healthy, hearty. But I wondered: if Guelph’s best is so good, how bad is Guelph’s worst? Waiting for a bus to the university, I informally poll students. Where, I ask, is the worst food? They all answer: “Prairie Café.”
Prairie is attached to the concrete fortress that is South Residence, where over 1,800 students live, most of them frosh. The food service area has no natural light, the ceiling is low and there’s not much room to move around. Not promising.
There is a “home cooked” counter, a shortorder grill, and Pita Pit. The fruit and vegetable selection is basic, and an equivalentsized space is dedicated to (overpriced) bulk candy. I order fish and chips, and the lunch special, “Lentil Chickpea Casserole.” The fish and chips slide around on the plate and I lose most of the fries. The server gives me a full plate of the casserole. It is huge; I can’t image eating all of it in one sitting. The prices are a bit steep at $6.17 for the fish and chips alone. However, residents pay only $4-94, and that’s a steal.
After paying, we enter the dining hall. What a difference. It is by far the best-looking dining hall of any institution I’ve visited. There are large windows and skylights everywhere. The seating feels upscale, with lots of booths. The materials absorb sound and the lighting is soft. This is definitely the place for relaxing and socializing. We end up staying for an hour and a half.
And the food? It’s not perfect. How much batter can one fish have? The fish was good, once you got to it, but encased in a batter twice its size. The fries were horrible; I can make better fries, and I barely know how to boil water. But the casserole was excellent: it was simply one of the best dishes I’ve had at a cafe-
teria. Guelph’s worst food can go head to head with many other universities’ best.—/.C.
Pembina Hall has been long reviled by those living in residence at the University of Manitoba, so we entered cautiously. But thanks to a number of menu enhancements introduced last fall, we were pleasantly surprised.
Dinner was all you can eat for $11.99. The sandwich and wrap bar offered fresh tomatoes, peppers and pineapple, among the many other toppings for your wrap or sandwich. There was a choice of lean meats, and the salad bar offered a dozen or so ingredients ranging from your standard carrots and cucumbers to the slightly more exotic chickpeas and kidney beans. Both the romaine and iceberg lettuce were green and crunchy.
The stir-fry was pan-fried to order, in a Thai and oyster sauce. The slices of chicken breast were adequately tender, though the sauce was over-reduced, leaving the bed of rice especially dry and nearly inedible.
Pembina Hall has become better and healthier; unfortunately for those (like myself) looking to fulfill more debased appetites, the old Pembina Hall is alive and well. The pizza had been under the heat lamp for hours, leaving the cheese hardened and congealed. The macaroni and cheese was runny and flavourless, and only slightly surpassed the quality of the frozen variety.
The roast beef was a bit overdone, though cut to order. Choice of sides included vegetables (slightly undercooked), potato wedges (hashbrown-esque), rice (but no soya sauce) and tofu (decent consistency) soaked in a sweet and sour sauce that lessened the blow of actually eating tofu. Dessert was mixed. Lemon meringue pie had an odd texture and an odder aftertaste; the Jell-0 was runny. But the brownie —perfect consistency chocolate mousse atop a chewy chocolate crust—was delightfully rich. —C.J.
Saskatchewan Marquis Hall Cafeteria
To pronounce the “Marquis” in Marquis Hall in anything like the French way (marquis, silent “s,” connoting nobility) is to mark oneself out as an outsider on campus. Markwiss, they say here, and it’s a good thing too, since no one should mistake the food in the Garry Room, which serves the nearby residences of Saskatchewan and Qu’Appelle halls, with anything of noble or superior taste. “It’s prison food,” one student complains, and we found no reason to dispute that judgment, even if the 1964-vintage building offers plenty of natural light and delicious views of the greystone Gothic campus.
But onward and food-ward. A serving of the kitchen’s garlic pork balls—deep-fried, with trans-fat aftertaste and that unmistakable bouquet of factory floor—was awful. A plate of pasta primavera, swimming in a packaged, paste-like roux with bits of tasteless carrot and deflowered broccoli (who knew green stuff could taste so unwholesome?), proved almost inedible. A rice side dish managed the Zen feat of white grains looking just like regular gohan but tasting like sawdust.
In the lasagna bolognese, at last, we found a tasty, generously portioned balm, with flavourful tomato and beef sauce and a passable melted-cheese roof. The jambalaya chicken was also not too offensive, with a nice little Creole heat. A side of corn, however, recalled the multiplex’s sickening I-can’tbelieve-it’s-not-real-butter aroma. We were immediately diagnosed with diabetes after a bite of the Nanaimo bar, featuring a cracker base apparently made of real hardened artery. With the 10-meal-a-week plan going for some $2,600 a semester, food quality at the Garry Room is a disaster.
Yet, just a few doors down from Marquis, in the Arts Building—with a view of the stunning, castle-like Thorvaldson building—is one of the university’s many buffeterias, little gatherings of deli, salad and burrito counters dealing in the currency of ultra-fresh veggies and otherwise real food. Though not on the meal plan, the fare is inexpensive, tasty— and a much better bet—Nicholas Köhler
Calgary The Alberta Room
The Alberta Room: such a grandiloquent name may leave you—Hey, you there, going through the remand bin at Goodwill!—won-
dering whether this is a place whose dress code and price range were designed for tuxedoed oil barons. Not to worry. The University of Calgary’s main dining hall, in a tent-like building called, imaginatively enough, The Dining Centre, doesn’t ask you to be anything you’re not. It’s just about good, honest grub. Only occasionally does the food sink to those culinary doldrums so much associated with university dining—a perhaps necessary echo of the Stalinist concrete ennui that surrounds the diner through the windows, i.e. the U of C campus.
Well organized, with a constellation of food stations across the floor—grill, pasta trattoria, fruit and salad bar—diners have a lot to choose from.
To start off, a gourmet Swiss mushroom
burger with fries. The latter aren’t exactly Belgian frites, but the burger is a delightful surprise—juicy, with all kinds of fresh tomato and run-at-the-corner-of-your-mouth dill pickle. A veal-stuffed tortellini amatriciana is less successful, with a consistency of dense cake and nothing more than pinhead deposits of veal buried within. Though bland, it’s not altogether unsatisfying once we add a zing of freshly grated Parmesan. The accompanying spinach salad, with cherry tomatoes and cucumber, is delicious.
The bowl of fish chowder doesn’t exactly exceed expectations. A viscous skin, pallid colour and the vague sense that something has died beneath the surface adds to the effect. An apple lentil curry also missed the mark: at first one’s mouth embraced those earthy curried tones; a second spoonful was less curry, all earth. Side orders of parsley boiled potatoes and veggies still tasted of the cardboard they were packed in prior to freezing.
And so what if the server doesn’t know what a kaiser is? The made-to-order deli sandwich—ham and cheese on a toasted bun—was delicious, full of crunchy-fresh bell peppers. The fruit stick was less so. On the day we visited, this dessert and others
fell into the “fish chowder” category: eat it just to say you have—and, for those of us who have lived in Quebec, to recall the engineering feats pioneered by industrial pastry chefs in that province, circa 1962,—N.K.
Village Greens and Carboro South
It’s somewhat fitting that en route to Village Greens, the all-vegetarian cafeteria at the University of Victoria, one must navigate herds of plump bunnies. While the resident rabbits mow down on the campus’s lush lawn outside, the rabbit food being served inside the student residence building is a pleasing introduction to the fare on offer at the school.
The featured item this day is a spicy red Thai stir-fry, and it doesn’t disappoint. A nice variety of fresh vegetables are cooked up and presented on a bed of noodles. The sauce is full of flavour, even if the ramen-style noodles are uninspired. One can chose a protein of either tofu, soy beef or prawns. (A word of warning to carnivores: the one-inch cubes of brown tofu can be intimidating.) At $3.50 (plus $2 for protein) this is one of the best values available.
Upstairs, the Cadboro South Dining Hall is the main food option for most UVic students. Those with a taste for the exotic will be disappointed: pasta is the chef’s favourite ingredient (with alfredo sauce, tomato sauce, or for added zing, linguine with prawns). The only Asian dish on offer, prepackaged sushi wrapped in plastic, should be avoided. But there are some cafeteria staples that come out ahead. The majestically named Baron of Beef sandwich from the grill should satisfy any hungry meat eater, especially when dipped in the accompanying jus. The featured item is chicken Parmesan; the side of veggies was well-prepared, and the breaded chicken got it right with a blend of crispiness and tenderness. Tons of cheese and sauce made this a standout.
The dining hall does offer pre-made sandwiches wrapped in plastic that are both dry and, at $3-50, overpriced. For an extra dollar, go to the Caps deli for a delicious, freshly made sandwich that would make Dagwood Bumstead drool.
Despite some rough spots, UVic’s residence eateries hit the spot with great prices and enough choices to keep even the most finicky rabbit happy.-Jason Kirby M
For more reviews from campuses across the country, plus photos and discussion forums, visit www. madeans.ca/oncampus