The Marshall Center’s Tampa Room was a mob scene on the first day of classes. This comes as little surprise when one inspects the new facilities.
Pizza Hut has wisely been replaced by Bene, a gourmet pizza operation. The old sub shop gives way to Montague’s Deli, sporting a design-your-own-sandwich menu, and Chick-fil-a — which does a whopping one-third of the room’s business — is still churning out chicken and waffle fries.
Also, USF and Aramark have made sushi and USF a natural match. Everyone I found in the cafeteria was eating sushi and praising its quality and availability. However, the Fresh Food Co., a collective of eateries with separate cooking stations and menus, is the new crown jewel of food service at USF.
The salad bar is giant, with several stations, including one for simple sandwiches. A fresh wrap station offers items such as steak, Caesar and corned beef wraps. Soups are excellent, such as a heavily spiced Curried Shrimp soup with carrots, celery and tomato. The chicken noodle soup could have given any restaurant in town a run for its money, with soft noodles and firm vegetables.
The Diner section is what one would expect from a cafeteria: sandwiches, meat loaf, pot pies, burgers and fries, cooked vegetables, and a carving station for meats.
The chicken cordon bleu sandwich was a treat with grilled chicken, ham, cabbage and carrot slaw with light vinaigrette on a baguette.
The Mediterranean area, which is about as big as the salad bar, offers pizza, calzones, baked pasta and sautÃ©ed pasta — basically, Italian food.
I enjoyed a very good ricotta tortellini with Alfredo sauce, grilled chicken, crunchy grated carrot, and snow peas. The pizza is passable, but the dough doesn’t taste quite right and the sauce should be more flavorful or more abundant.
One of the most intriguing areas is Accents, a station where ethnic foods are featured daily. I tried the Spicy Asian Pork Soup with a potsticker. The black bean and garlic sauce broth was enhanced by mushroom, carrots, rice noodles, scallions, baby corn, ample pork, and topped with crispy fried noodles. For the first time on campus, I felt like a chef had thought out the dish prior to preparation.
The only thing that doesn’t change daily is the great price. Just under $7 after tax, and over a dollar cheaper for those on the meal plan.
There are some minor issues to overcome. The menus offered online rarely match with what is actually being served that day. Since servings at the various specialty stations are made to order, it can mean a wait for your food. Preparation of larger batches could reduce wait time. On the other hand, the chefs are usually willing to personalize your order by withholding certain items or adding others.
For those not into crowds, a visit at two or three in the afternoon might be the best idea, as the crowded condition persists until well after one.
Overall, I must agree that the new changes to food service all around campus are vast improvements. But I must save my most effusive praise for the Fresh Food Company, a campus eatery where I actually look forward to dining. Why spend $10 in the Tampa Room, when you can have it all at Argos?
Andrew Huse writes a food column the first Thursday each month and can be reached at email@example.com.