The University of Michigan has long been characterized by its robust offering of dining options, treating those lucky, dining-plan-endowed students to a wide range of meals and eating experiences. Campus Culture writers took to exploring the various corners of the campus’s dining options to discover what draws students to these particular spaces, three times a day, seven days a week.
During our last installment of Campus Culture reviews: Dining Hall edition, Arts writers explored the copious displays at South Quad Residence Hall dining, the endearing nostalgia of Mosher-Jordan Residence Hall and frat row’s safe haven: Twigs at Oxford Residence Hall.
For our second installment, Arts writers dive into reviewing three more dining spaces: North Campus’s infamous Bursley Residence Hall, State Street’s North Quad Residence Hall and Central Campus’s charming, sustainably friendly oasis: East Quad Residence Hall.
In-person dining is back, and we could not be more excited to write about it.
— Grace Tucker, Campus Culture Senior Arts Editor
Bursley Residence Hall: The place you love to hate
Oh, Bursley, you hold such a special place in my heart. Where else would I go to eat a spicy black bean burger on a Sunday? Where else would I go to consume as many carbs as humanly possible? Yet … this year, your dining hall is far from perfection.
The Bursley Dining Hall, nestled in the heart of North Campus, feels busy at best and overwhelming at worst. The cafeteria is hosting its usual pre-pandemic swarm, making the ambiance even more abysmal than the foods’ tastefulness. Not to say the food is chef’s kiss, rather, Chef Boyardee.
Finding my meal was a journey in and of itself. Wading through intermingled lines that lead into different food stations while trying to get to the salad bar felt like merging into oncoming traffic. I have to ask: Why were there only four measly areas to get food, as compared to the up-to-10 that usually populates other dining halls? Why has it become so difficult to get a full meal on one plate?
Don’t even get me started on the plates. THE PLATES. There are no plastic trays, no compostable food containers — just paper plates that you would get at your aunt’s barbeque in the park. Appetizer-sized — not even enough space for an entrée. And because you can’t get enough food the first time, people have to go back into the lines to get more, making the already-tedious lines worse.
A plus in the sea of minuses: I did enjoy the food preparation. Seeing the salad bar felt great. Everything was well-stocked and well-manicured. The dressings didn’t seem too askew, and the feta was crumbled with gourmet perfection. So, kudos to the food prep people — you did what needed to be done!
Still, from the corner of my eye, I saw something so devastating that it deserves its own review:
A row of trash cans lined the window, filled with the miscellaneous heapings of food and utensils. Having to see the number of plates consumed at Bursley shook me, even knowing they were compostable. I never noticed how much waste goes into a fully-opened dining hall until it was consolidated into a row of garbage before me.
Bursley, I love you to the moon and back. My time spent within your walls was well-enjoyed, along with the food. Nevertheless, if I were a resident now, I would not feel the same way.
— Matthew Eggers, Daily Arts Writer
North Quad: Take-out 2.0
One of the greatest features of North Quad dining is that after the routine Mcard swipe, you only need a five-second tour of the place to get familiar with what’s on the menu.
That statement may have been too kind. Compared to the other dining halls, North Quad can feel small and limited in variety. For those with dietary restrictions, there’s nothing worse than swiping in to discover the bane of your existence: the inevitable salad bar. However, if you find yourself in a tight spot on a weekday, with just five seconds to grab-and-go, there are enough options there for its coziness to turn into comfort, especially in knowing that you’ll make it to class on time.
But, I already knew all of this from my freshman year visits. Seeking a new experience, I went for a late Saturday brunch. It was 1:20 in the afternoon, yet most students were still opting for the breakfast options — and, as I quickly found out, for good reason. I followed suit by helping myself to the breakfast classics.
While the scrambled eggs, sausages and French toast sticks were satisfying in that reliable, dining hall sort-of-way, the lunch entrees missed the mark. Pizziti offered a strange combination of picadillo, beans and baby carrots that I never quite figured out (especially the carrots — mine were raw, which was fine, except they were hilariously disguised as cooked with sprinkles of pepper), and the pizza just barely satisfied my Joe’s Pizza craving. With the scarcity of good lunch options this day, the next time I find myself there, I might play it safe with the sandwich bar or stick to the “breakfast” part of brunch.
As I cleared my table, I noticed an exciting upgrade to the hall: the waste area. Praising the corner that deals with post-meal messes may sound like an insult, but it’s the opposite. The waste area boasted a refreshing change; every item I’d grabbed since walking in, from trays to utensils, was compostable.
Two years ago, North Quad was the place frequented for its convenience. During my year online, I’d wondered what had changed; while many aspects had remained, the one change I noticed made the convenience I’d regarded North Quad with better. Since COVID-19, take-out meals have exposed us to another pandemic: single-use plastics. At North Quad, however, I know that my meal won’t have negative effects, and this, more than anything, may be my newest “greatest feature” of North Quad.
— Priscilla Kim, Daily Arts Writer
East Quad: the Residential College’s intimate oasis
Truthfully, my freshman year was a blur, from start to finish, but one thing I know for certain is that the only dining hall I ever went to, besides South Quad, was North Quad — I recall that day’s menu looking more appealing, but I think I also might have had back-to-back midterms in the Modern Languages Building and Burton Tower.
Two years later, a whole different person walked into the East Quad dining hall just in time for “linner.” Lunch/dinner, that is. It was 4:56 p.m. to be more precise, and my stomach had been making noises for a while. College will do that to you — neglect meals, pile them up, eat twice as much in one sitting so you’re filled for longer, adopt odd schedules or abolish them altogether.
As I walked in, two things caught my attention: an Afrobeat song that was playing oddly loud and a smell of bleach that brought me back to middle school lunches — when all the kids had left for the playground and the floor was already being mopped, but I had to stay behind until I ate the collard greens.
This dining hall was ¼ the size of South Quad, and not knowing what station had what food was both fun and annoying. I hadn’t missed having to do five trips from the food stations to the table and back again, sitting on uncomfortable chairs and overhearing conversations that I didn’t care for from people who forgot they weren’t alone.
Off I went, discovering what was being offered for us vegetarians. I was glad to see the vegan stand “24 Carrots,” where they were serving seitan bites with squash and a rice bowl with guac and pico de gallo. Before I actually review the food, I will say that I forgot how painfully cringeworthy some of the names of these stands were.
Of course, a meal in a dining hall is nothing without an excess of plates — I went back and got cucumbers in tzatziki sauce, a farro and tomato bowl and a mix of edamame, one broccoli floret and some crumbled feta from the salad stand. I can’t tell you what dressing I went for. Trying to figure out what they are is like a silly game of who’s-who. Based on the 10 different dressings and their complicated names, which seemed most like sesame vinaigrette? Because to me, not one looked like a vinaigrette but more like vicious and dense meta-sauce. Also, to my demise, the olive oil was nowhere to be found.
I sat down at a table on the far back, past all the stands and next to nobody — just how I like it. I assembled my plates, picked the pepper up and sprinkled a ridiculous amount on top of basically everything. Now, I know they say that you should never season your food before trying it, as it’s an offense to the chef but … let’s call it a need.
Overall, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy myself. I was underwhelmed with the seitan bites, a plant-based protein made from gluten, which felt like biting down into a shoe sole — a sensation I hadn’t felt since before I turned vegetarian and I ate school steaks. It became alright when I started mixing it with the tzatziki and the farro. It was like being in Greece, Italy and France altogether. And Spain of course; nothing screams Spain louder than the tapas-sized bowls and plates in the University’s dining halls.
Although the options were more limited than in South Quad, there was an intimacy that came with being at a smaller dining hall — I noticed the extra care put into everything, the quiet murmur of students unlike the unnecessarily high decibels of South Quad and not having to put up with the frustrating and sad chaos of lining up to get a bagel. A bagel!
I liked being back to my freshman self for 20 minutes, indulging in being cooked for and observing people. I was thankful for the music, it kept me company and reminded me that I was at THE Residential College.
— Cecilia Duran, Daily Arts Writer