Five days, five campus lunches
A tour of Food Services options
Jessica Chisholm - September 21, 2012
It’s been a busy few years for food at Dalhousie — from the My 3 Cousins food truck, to new outlets for big names like Subway and Tim Hortons, to new offerings in the Student Union Building like Chickenburger and the Loaded Ladle, it’s arguably never been easier to find something to eat on campus.
But what to choose?
For the past week, I’ve been exploring and expanding my palate on campus with the help of Dalhousie Food Services, which manages the university’s four dining halls and 15 retail outlets across Dal’s Halifax campuses. Here’s what I found in my five days of lunches.
Day One – Grillworks, food court, Life Sciences Centre (Mon-Thurs 8-4:30, Fri 8-3)
At the Grillworks, located between Extreme Pita and Pizza Pizza in the LSC food court, I chose to try the special of the day — a western and fries for $3.49. The service was polite and efficient, and the food more than compensated for not packing a lunch: the Grill offers good-sized portions on a student budget. It doesn’t have the largest variety on campus — though nearby stations flesh out the offerings a fair bit — but the Grill itself does its basics well. Its most popular offering? “The Big Breakfast." This item is self-explanatory: two eggs (your style), home fries, toast, and bacon or sausage all in generous portions for around five dollars. Also, while the Grill is in one of the more dungeon-y buildings on campus (the new lighting does help), the atmosphere for the eating area in the food court is bright, welcoming and full of windows. Sure, students are often eating while working, or dining quick before moving onto the rest of their day’s activities, but at the same time the space can offer a relaxed mood for a well deserved break in the day.
Day Two – My 3 Cousins, food truck, in front of Studley gym (Mon-Thurs 10-8, Fri 10-6)
The My 3 Cousins food truck, generally parked in front of the Studley gym, was up next on my food adventures. This new venue has already become popular in the Dal community for its interesting mix of food options including many Greek spinoffs: a variety of shawarma filled with meat, fresh lettuce, turnip and fries. It’s evident that its most popular menu item is the Greek fries, which I also chose to try. This twist on Canadian poutine is somewhat healthier than the standard gravy-covered classic: the fries are not greasy, there is yogurt and garlic sauce instead of gravy, and feta cheese steps in for mozzarella curds. As it’s a food truck, there is no indoor seating (obviously), but the location does its best with picnic tables. This is a unique, fun and affordable option for food on the go.
Day Three – The Bistro, Killam Atrium (Mon-Thurs 10-6, Fri 10-5)
By far my favourite spot on campus was the Bistro in the Killam Library. I’ve always been hesitant to try it as it is more expensive then some other spots on campus, but its fresher, healthier options and ingredients are worth it. The service was pleasant and quick and for $12 I was able to try a smattering of fresh healthy items: red pepper hummus with slices of red pepper and fresh celery sticks with rosemary flat bread as well as a baked spinach and feta cheese samosa. The samosa was stuffed to the brim, leaving me feeling particularly good about what I had eaten for lunch that day. If you are looking for gluten free and vegan options, or just a healthier spot on campus, this is the place to try. The staff keeps things simple and flavorful, so even picky eaters could probably find something to try on this menu. I just wish they were open on weekends!
Day Four – Fillings Café, main lobby, Dentistry Building (Mon-Thurs 7:3o-3:30, Fri 7:30-2:30)
I took the trek across University Avenue to check out one of the offerings on Dal’s Carleton campus. This location was unique among the five that I went to, in that it’s more about picking up something quick and speedy: there are no items made in front of you here, but they do offer healthy meals and snacks for students, faculty and staff on the go. Fruit and yogurt are offered, as well as homemade soup (but be warned, this option is only available until 1 p.m.) as well as prepackaged sandwiches and sushi. I tried a ham and cheese sandwich as well as a yogurt and a friend opted for the sushi. Both meals were still fresh even if they were pre-packaged and the service was once again very friendly. Though it’s hardly the highest-variety location, sometimes it’s just nice to have a simple meal or snack, especially when you’re in a hurry, and as a student, Fillings certainly caters to a busy lifestyle.
Day Five – Howe Hall dining hall (Mon-Fri 7:30-6:45, Weekends 8-6:30; offerings vary depending on time of day)
I have to admit, at first I shied away from eating at Howe Hall. Having lived in residence for two years myself, I thought I knew all the ins and outs of how cafeteria food would be: predictable, unappetizing and not a lot of options. However, I confess this was not the case when I was confronted with the options Howe Hall had to offer, from vegan and non-gluten options (and if, at first glance, you don’t spot something to your interest on that front, you are more then welcome to ask the staff to help you out) to pastas, a DIY sandwich station and Panini press as well as homemade soup and salad. Everyone entering the dining hall has different needs and most of the residents are first-year students, away from home for the first time, coming to finish a long morning or day of classes. So, hopefully like them, I found my trip to the dining hall rewarding: pasta with alfredo sauce, along with a premixed salad with vinaigrette dressing, hardboiled eggs, tomatoes and cucumbers. I also tried the Greek pasta: a mix of balsamic vinaigrette with black olives, tomatoes and cucumbers as well as a bit of potato salad. The service at Howe was friendly and helpful, and the servers and staff seemed genuinely interested in the needs of the students, taking time out to say hello and asking me how my day was. (And it’s not just for residence students either – students, faculty and staff can have an all-you-can eat meal for under $10. Just check the menu before you go.)
Food Services’ commitment to quality
To learn more about what goes into deciding all of these offerings, I connected with Angela Emmerson, dietitian with Dalhousie Food Services.
“We always look to the Dalhousie community first to determine what food is provided on campus,” she says, adding that the team pays close attention to customer surveys and feedback. They also rely on staff throughout their locations to get to know students and staff and what foods they enjoy.
Of course, no two people eat the same way. Many are eager to find more sustainable options. Food Services’ Farm to Table program, started in 2008, focuses on seasonal menus, promoting daily local menu items and bringing local farmers and suppliers into the dining hall to meet with students.
Then there are the dietary concerns: each year, 300 or so students identify concerns ranging from lactose intolerance to peanut and various other allergies. Emmerson meets with many of these students to help them identify options, and the managers at individual dining halls or retail locations are also eager to help identify options that work for you.
“It’s also really important to us to have healthy options throughout all our locations,” adds Emmerson. “This fall, we’re launching a new healthy choice program in our retail express refridgerators called ‘Get the Good Stuff': new salads, parfaits, sandwiches and snackers that are loaded with veggies, and items that are vegan or have no gluten ingredients will be specifically labelled.”
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by all of my experiences with Food Services on campus, and was excited to discover new options for those days when I forget to pack a lunch or have a long busy day of classes and work. Hopefully whatever your tastes, you can find your own special spot on campus for those days when cooking just isn’t an option, or when you’ve been neglecting your Mom’s phone calls because you know you haven’t been eating nearly enough fruits and vegetables!
For more on the various locations and food offerings from Dalhousie Food Services, visit the Campus Dish website.