Colleges upgrade dining options

Meals: You can forget cafeteria mystery meat. Today's students enjoy a wide variety, from gourmet to fast-food fare.

November 10, 1999|By Linda Siemon | Linda Siemon,Special to the Sun

Aside from occasional shipments of chocolate-chip cookies, college students who live on campus have said goodbye to Mom's home cooking to endure the likes of cafeteria food.

But parents no longer have to lose sleep worrying about whether their children are trying to stomach navy beans and mystery meat. Today's college students can munch gourmet pizza, chicken parmigiana, fast-food burgers and even lobster.

In the past few years, local colleges and universities have been paying closer attention to the culinary interests of their students. Loyola College in Baltimore has a new dining hall with homemade pasta and stir-fries. The University of Maryland, College Park offers an array of international cuisine. Towson University and Coppin State University provide students with popular fast-food choices, such as Boardwalk Fries and Chik-Fil-A.

In the spring, Loyola College in Baltimore launched its new dining option, Primo's, which features 18 food stations and a small grocery store. With hardwood floors, wood columns and dramatic lighting, the front entrance resembles that of a restaurant rather than a typical food court. Inside, a rainbow of multicolor tiles creates a cheerful and inviting ambience.

Now, students can opt for brick-oven pizza, a pasta bar with pasta made from scratch, a deli and a wok area, where food is prepared in front of students. Entrees include such choices as London broil plus a side dish for $5 or grilled mahi-mahi with a side dish for $8.95.

"I think the food quality is above average," says junior Nicole Silva. "It's definitely better than the old cafeteria."

Students also can buy such items as microwaveable ramen noodles, rotisserie chickens, fresh produce, yogurt and even sushi. Fully prepared meals are available for carryout.

Freshman Sarah Rush requested dorm space in Wynnewood Towers, the Loyola residence hall where Primo's is located. "I wanted to live in this building because the dining hall is right below," she says. "During [Hurricane] Floyd, I never had to leave the building."

Convenience isn't cheap, though. Silva said food prices have gone up, including the grocery items available at Primo's. "Most people just pay them because it's convenient," she says. "You do pay a lot more than you would in a normal food store."

John Coker, general manager of dining services at Loyola, acknowledges that prices have risen. "We're producing restaurant-quality food on a college campus," he says. "The whole concept is to provide virtually anything the students want, where they want it and when they want it."

Planning was an important part of choosing menus for Primo's, Coker says. For instance, Sodexho Marriott Services, the contractor that operates Loyola's dining facilities, tested about 25 different recipes for crab cakes before deciding on the one that found a home on Primo's menu.

Joe Rockenbach, a sophomore at Loyola, said he is impressed with the new food choices. "I've been to other colleges, and this place just blows them out of the water. Not just with the food, but with the architecture and the service," he says. "I feel spoiled."

Also serving upscale food, the University of Maryland, College Park recently opened a table-service restaurant called Adele's, where students can order such entrees as steaks, crab cakes or shrimp.

To meet the needs of its many international students, College Park also offers diversity in its menu. One concept is called "Around the World," featuring cuisine from a different country each week. Another option is the Blue Plate Special, which centers on a different theme each night such as Caribbean, South of the Border or Asian.

Another alternative to cafeteria food, though less sophisticated than gourmet food stations, offers students the familiar: big-name fast-food outlets.

Towson University, for example, features Chik-Fil-A, Taco Bell, Boardwalk Fries and Krispy Kreme in its food court. Chartwells College and University Dining Services, a division of the Compass Group, a food-service contractor, operates food services at Towson, which also features two buffet-style facilities.

"They [students] are growing up in a name-recognition environment," says Joe Oster, associate vice president for auxiliary services at Towson University. "Everybody is finding that people, especially students, want to see brand names they recognize."

At Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, which is operated by Sodexho Marriott Services, students can choose from Pizza Hut, Boardwalk Fries, Taco Bell and, starting this year, Domino's Pizza. Coppin State University also has joined the brand-name wars with Boardwalk Fries and Subway.

"It's a natural progression of what students are looking for," Oster says.

Primo's Crab Cakes

Serves 4

1 pound jumbo lump crab meat

2 slices white bread

1 whole egg

1 teaspoon dry mustard

dash of Worcestershire sauce

2 ounces mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

3 tablespoons clarified butter

lemon, optional

cocktail, tartar or citrus-butter sauce, optional

Lightly pick over crab meat, being careful not to break up lumps. Slice the crusts off bread and cut bread into 1/4-inch pieces. Carefully mix crab and bread together, again avoiding breaking up lumps. Mix egg, dry mustard, Worcestershire sauce, mayonnaise and Old Bay together thoroughly and fold gently into crab-and-bread mixture. Form mixture into four equal-size patties.

Preheat a skillet over medium-high heat with butter. Cook crab cakes for approximately 3-5 minutes, turning only once until golden brown. Garnish with lemon and cocktail, tartar or citrus-butter sauce, if desired.

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