My facial expressions alone were enough to give my friend the giggles as I cautiously surveyed, chewed and swallowed the raw fish chunks of my salmon poke bowl, one at a time, back on Jan. 16. It would be a season of firsts. We were both tenting for the first time (we had set up shop in K-Ville just five days before). That was my first poke bowl. And that poke bowl had just become the first of many stops along one of the greatest journeys of my college career.
Now, that adventure is over, but not without imparting several lessons that go beyond just the merits of trying new foods. First, great things happen when you chase your ideas. Honestly, I’m not sure where I even got the idea to sporadically sample more than 65 lunch and dinner entrées off the everyday menus of 10 of the Brodhead Center’s 13 vendors (and battle food poisoning twice along the way), but all that matters is the idea came, and I pursued it until it became a reality.
If you’ve seen “Up,” you know that the greatest adventures in life aren’t always the ones we set out for. But I would take that a step further by saying the greatest things in life aren’t always the things we’ve already experienced. Whether it’s reaching out to a new acquaintance, joining a new student organization, taking a class you’ve never heard of before or, yes, just sampling a new dish — you’ll never know what’s out there for you until you give it a try. And I highly suggest you do, because there’s no greater feeling than discovering something better than anything else you’ve ever experienced before. I’d like to give special thanks to Cole Cooper and Chris Lea for each contributing a dish to the WU 42 and to everyone else whose curiosity and concern consistently motivated me to try one more dish…
The WU 42
Garden Pesto (Il Forno)
Newport Turkey (Au Bon Pain)
Egg Curry (Tandoor)
#42. Cabbage and Peas (Tandoor), 6.8
This dish is one of the remarkable few in West Union that tastes abruptly bitter at first but seems to get better and better as you go, eventually blossoming into a satisfyingly rejuvenating aftertaste that will make you remember it very fondly. The cabbage and peas also restores a refreshing element of crunchiness to an otherwise softly textured assortment of menu options presented at Tandoor.
#41. Salmon Poke Bowl (Ginger & Soy), 6.9
Shout-out to the dish that started it all. The many ingredients in this one combine to produce almost a neutral flavor that is uniquely satisfying. If you're not an uncooked meat kind of person, this one's definitely not for you, but for everyone else, you'll appreciate how fresh, chewy, and perfectly bite-sized the fish chunks are. Not the biggest portions, so you’ll want to supplement the salmon poke bowl with something else if you’re looking to have a big meal.
#40. Hamapeno (Gyotaku), 7.0
If you really like spicy foods, then this one is for you, as this dish tends to be so spicy that it can overpower the collection of all other tastes represented. Nevertheless, it is incredibly fresh and you can comfortably know exactly what you are getting and what you would consistently get if you re-ordered. Like the poke bowl, the hamapeno is not the most filling dish available but certainly filling enough to leave you better off than when you started.
#39. Pulled Pork BBQ (The Skillet), 7.0
There’s very little fat you have to pull off, just the right amount of salt, and the pulled pork BBQ is firm enough to retain its flavor but stringy enough that you can easily separate bigger pieces into manageable chunks. Overall, this one makes for a great eating experience that you'll come back for at least a couple of times; planning on a half hour sit-down meal? Then this one's for you, for it'll still be just the right temperature 20 minutes into your conversation.
#38. Prime Rib (JB’s Roasts & Chops), 7.1
The meat is cooked to the desired level with good precision and is clearly freshly prepared. The cut provides a filling experience that won't leave you very hungry afterward. Still, the flavor — while rich and juicy toward the beginning of your eating experience — mysteriously tapers off about halfway in, so it's harder to justify why you ordered the Prime Rib at the end of your meal than when you first dug into it. That being said, this is a highly nutritious and satisfying option that is certainly worth trying for the initial experience.
#37. Roasted Turkey (Farmstead), 7.1
Although it doesn't really jump off the page with flavor or juiciness, the Farmstead turkey is fresh, well-textured and tastes good enough to serve as an excellent go-to source of protein (that will actually fill you up) whenever you're passing through. It even makes you a little sleepy, like all good turkey should.
#36. Teriyaki Chicken (Ginger & Soy), 7.1
This chicken is a reliably fresh, nutritious and filling option that tastes good enough for you to reflect back on your dining experience and be happy you ordered it. Like its ginger chicken counterpart, the grainy rice perfectly complements the meaty protein core of this dish, and the teriyaki sauce flavors the rice in pleasantly surprising fashion. This one's also a quick eat, so you can easily get on your way after about 10 to 15 minutes.
#35. Chicken Pesto Sandwich (Il Forno), 7.1
The chicken is fresh and well-seasoned by the complementary ingredients which come together to make this one an all-around great lunchtime snack. The chicken is a bit chewy and may not be the most flavorful option in Il Forno's lineup, but if you're looking for a quick, nutritious and satisfying snack in a tight window, the chicken pesto sandwich gets my vote.
#34. Pulled Pork (Farmstead), 7.1
This one is nice and chewy, and it is well-seasoned with a gravy-like paste that more than makes up for a slightly softer texture than what you might normally expect from your pulled pork. It is clearly freshly cooked and fills you up well enough, but it does cool rather quickly, so try your best to limit the talking between bites if you’re going to go the sit-down meal route.
#33. Meatball Ciabatta (Il Forno), 7.1
The cheese flavors the bread and meatballs very well, and the sandwich is quite filling. On top of that, the meatballs are just the right consistency — not so soft that they fall apart in the bowl yet not so firm that they're completely devoid of moisture. The bread hardens quickly so be sure not to let it get cold, but there are otherwise no real weak areas with this one.
#32. Orange Tofu (Ginger & Soy), 7.2
It's almost like Ginger & Soy set out to answer the question of "What happens when you cross meat with candy?" when they brought their orange tofu to market, because that's exactly what it feels like as you're munching on this one. The tofu is caked in a delectably sweet sauce and further seasoned by complementary carrot slices that combine to produce one of the sweetest feel-good meals in all the Brodhead Center. Combined with your choice of rice and vegetables, it should fill you up reasonably well as either a sit-down or on-the-go option.
#31. Turkey Club (Au Bon Pain), 7.2
If you're not a salad person then this one’s not for you, but the turkey is super fresh and the ingredients overall work well together. It also does a fairly good job of filling you up. The flavor is nothing to write home about, but a turkey sandwich is a turkey sandwich, and this particular selection is a great source of healthy fuel when you're pressed for time and need something to hold you for a couple hours.
#30. Bulgogi (Ginger & Soy), 7.2
The beef, while occasionally fatty, is overall very savory and does an exceptional job of filling you up by the time you're finished. Like the orange tofu, the carrots also do a remarkable job of flavoring the beef. The bulgogi is an interesting dish in that once you've finished eating, you'll start to seriously ponder whether the dish erred more on the spicier or sweeter side. You won't have long to figure it out though, as what starts off as a faintly detectable tingle in the back of your mouth quickly dissolves into a neutral palate just moments later. As one of the best sources of protein in Ginger & Soy's selection, you should definitely give this one a shot for the experience.
#29. Marinated Chicken (JB’s Roasts & Chops), 7.2
The marinated chicken is delicious. While it errs toward the drier side, the chicken is nonetheless served hot, is just the right texture for easy chewing and you can tell it has been freshly prepared. The marinated seasoning is not reflected in the overall taste nearly as much as you might expect, but that barely diminishes the experience of this dish, which is sure to become a fast favorite for chicken-lovers frequenting the Brodhead Center.
#28. Steak Ciabatta (Il Forno), 7.3
What little steak is present is well-cooked and tastes excellent, but it is the other ingredients in this dish which contribute most of its memorable flavor. This one will fill you up reasonably well but you'll want to supplement with something else, especially on an empty stomach. Great for on-the-go takeout as it is very portable and won't fall apart on you easily if you're careful.
#27. Deluxe Sashimi Bowl (Gyotaku), 7.3
Like most of its counterparts, there are a lot of disparate flavors interacting in this one, which can be a bit discombobulating at first. But after some time, you’ll realize that you can mix all of the ingredients together (everything from the rice to the veggies to the fish and eel begin in separate clusters) and it becomes a little less overwhelming and begins to taste very good. Definitely not for the faint of heart, such as those who don’t like spicy foods, but if you are adventurous and you can handle the raw fish then this one is definitely for you.
#26. Ham & Two Cheese (Au Bon Pain), 7.3
The ham & two cheese is the "full package" that performs reasonably well in just about every area. All of the cheeses represented work really well together in combination and the ham and ciabatta bread do a nice job of filling you up by the time you’ve finished this one. With just enough flavor to provide a satisfying taste throughout and a positive — yet fleeting — aftertaste, this is a healthy, fresh and filling option that'll help recharge you for your busy afternoon ahead.
#25. Avocado Toast (Sprout), 7.3
This dish is well-flavored by the tomato bits and the avocados which rest gently on top. The toast below has just the right amount of crunch: it doesn't steal the show, but it doesn't fall apart beneath the weight of the other ingredients either. Moreover, the aftertaste is oddly pleasurable — perhaps even more so than the dish itself. It's a bit messy and can fall apart on you if you're not careful, so not the best option if you've got to walk-and-munch. Plan to supplement the avocado toast with something else if you’re really hungry.
#24. Meatballs & Spaghetti (Il Forno), 7.3
The meatballs — while a bit drier than you would expect — are nonetheless substantive and have an interesting quality of making you feel a lot better after eating just one. The meat sauce is overall very good despite being a little watery, yet you hardly even notice because it is so well complemented by the freshness of the pasta and meatballs themselves.
#23. Eggplant Mozzarella (Café), 7.4
This Café staple is very fresh, and the tomatoes complement the spinach, eggplant and mozzarella surprisingly well. The eggplant skin is hard to chew, but the pasty substance inside fills you up very well and leaves you with a very comfortable feeling afterward. Moreover, the bread is well seasoned and is neither too crunchy nor too soggy in the presence of all of the other ingredients. This one’s not for you if you don't like eggplant — for that is clearly the main body of this panini — but if you're a fan of eggplant or are simply looking to try a new vegetable, this is bound to be a fun experience for you regardless of whether or not you decide to reorder it again later.
#22. Chana Masala (Tandoor), 7.4
Also known as savory Indian chickpeas, the chana masala is a versatile dining option for anyone who can handle the spicy. It works great as its own main course alongside Tandoor's signature naan bread but arguably even better as a complement to other Tandoor dishes, and there's just something about this dish that makes it so worthy of regularly reordering. It just never seems to lose its charm. Great for on-the-go but just make sure you've got something to wash it down. Also, don't let the peas roll away!
#21. Ginger Chicken (Ginger & Soy), 7.4
This dish is reminiscent of your traditional sweet and sour chicken. Tougher to chew than many of its poultry counterparts around the Brodhead Center yet oddly even more satisfying, the ginger chicken provides a fresh and flavorful dining experience from start to finish. The sauce’s initially sweet then spicy tinge will slowly awaken your taste buds and leave you feeling especially good a whole half hour after you've finished your meal. To top it all off, while the portion size served alone isn't enough to fill you up, the white or brown rice it comes with serves as the perfect complement. This one's a great choice for when you've got some time to sit down but also for when you need a reliable on-the-go option, making it an all-around great selection for any chicken lover who can handle the spicy.
#20. Chicken Margherita (Au Bon Pain), 7.4
The chicken and mozzarella cheese complement one another very well. The tomatoes, while appetizing, neither help nor hinder the overall taste. Nevertheless, the cheese flavors the sandwich well enough. The chicken margherita provides a solid healthy option whether you're preparing for a sit-down interview or grabbing a quick bite to go. Served out of the oven, this one also won't get cold that quickly, making it an all-around great choice for just about any situation.
#19. Chicken Curry Halal (Tandoor), 7.4
This dish is a uniquely polarizing one, with many different tastes combining to give a rather eclectic experience. There's the chicken, which while freshly cooked and just the right texture, doesn't steal the spotlight with respect to taste or flavor. Then there's the complementary rice, which tastes almost "sweet" at first before evolving into one of the strongest (but not unpleasant) "unsweet" aftertastes of any dish in the Brodhead Center. Lastly, it's best to supplement this one with another meat option at Tandoor or another dish entirely if you’re looking to have a solid meal. Solid choice that is well worth a go.
#18. Bone in Pork Chop (JB’s Roasts & Chops), 7.5
The bone in pork chop provides a filling, nutritious, and overall satisfying steak option off the JB's made-to-order menu. This particular cut is tougher to chew than most of its peers, but you'll hardly remember that fifteen minutes after finishing. Instead, you'll remember enjoying one of the best-flavored cuts at JB’s and you'll already be looking forward to your next one.
#17. Spinach (Tandoor), 7.5
The spinach is spicy, satisfying and highly energizing. Just a couple of bites in, you’ll wonder if you can go on, but you'll be enjoying it so much that you just have to continue. Too strongly flavored to serve as your main course alone, this dish is a fantastic complement to just about anything else at Tandoor, making all of their offerings appear to be not-so-spicy by comparison. Consume with plenty of water and you will feel great afterwards.
#16. Spicy Il Forno (Il Forno), 7.5
This one lives up to its name as the spiciest dish in Il Forno's collection. Aside from being one of the waterier of Il Forno's dishes, which may or may not detract from its overall taste, this dish does a surprisingly good job of allowing all of its ingredients to shine. Despite the spice, seemingly nothing drowns anything else out, providing a more well-rounded eating experience. Definitely not for the “faint of palate,” but the Spicy Il Forno can be a really fun experience if you're trying it for the first time. If you don't have lots of experience with spicy foods, start with a small-sized bowl and slowly build up your tolerance from there.
#15. French Beef Panini (Café), 7.6
The French beef panini is fresh, has excellent texture, and coalesces surprisingly well with the bread, mozzarella cheese and tomatoes. The tomatoes, which are super fresh, do not drown out the beef's natural flavor; in fact, they enhance it. This dish, while just as small as its other counterparts at Café, is surprisingly filling due to the sheer volume of nutritious ingredients they manage to pack in. If you need a fast and furious meal to power you through the rest of your day, this one's a solid pick, and you might even be so impressed that you'll be back to enjoy it again.
#14. Black Angus Roast Beef and Cheddar (Au Bon Pain), 7.6
The beef and cheddar cheese work well together, although the Dijon and mayo combination is what contributes the greatest flavor to this one. Oddly filling after just one half of the sandwich, you’ll probably feel spoiled that there's another one waiting for you. The black angus roast beef and cheddar is perfect for loading up on protein following a midday workout or for replenishing carbs after an otherwise busy morning.
#13. Beef Halal (Tandoor), 7.6
The beef halal is one of THE spiciest dishes in West Union, and you'll figure that out immediately. Unlike other spicy options which tend to produce a more cumulative effect over time, the beef halal achieves its maximum impact right away before your taste buds slowly begin to adapt. The net effect is positive, however, as the taste itself is reinvigorating and the lingering aftertaste leaves you feeling far more energized than you did before dinner. The beef is a little tough, but otherwise wholesome and satisfying — you’ll leave with a full belly.
#12. Flank Steak (JB’s Roasts & Chops), 7.7
The flank steak is arguably the best cut off the menu at JB's. While cooked with similar precision to the prime rib, it is juicier and boasts significantly richer flavor that lasts throughout your entire dining experience. There is also minimal fat and next to no charring at all, making a 12-oz order pretty darn close to 12 full ounces of steak. The best part about this dish is that every cut caters to a spectrum of tastes, so there’s something high-quality here for everyone whether you normally go for well-done, rare or somewhere in between.
#11. Salmon (JB’s Roasts & Chops), 7.7
This salmon is fresh and delicious, is cooked just the right amount, there is next to no charring and the finished fish remains juicy enough to still contribute the full extent of its natural flavor. It will also fill you up and leave you feeling very satisfied after finishing. This is the epitome of how salmon is supposed to be served at a reasonable cost.
#10. Tonkotsu Ramen (Ginger & Soy), 7.8
The broth is the best part and makes everything else in the stew taste even better. The unique flavors presented by all of the ingredients seem to coalesce especially well. Tending to be noodle-heavy and a bit lighter on the meat, the Tonkotsu Ramen is the perfect choice for a snow day, a sick day, or if you're just trying to relax. No matter the situation, you'll feel GREAT after having this one.
#9. Italian Sub Sandwich (Il Forno), 7.8
If you like spicy foods and you can go for Italian, this dish is a must-sample for you. Above all else, the yellow peppers do a great job of adding a whole new dimension of flavor to an already star-studded cast of other ingredients. Well-suited for sit-down meals but not as preferable on-the-go, as the ingredients don't stay on the buns very well and are bound to go everywhere unless you're super careful and not moving around as you eat it.
#8. Italiano Panini (Café), 7.8
The Italiano panini is hands-down delicious. The ingredients work so well together I'm not sure it would taste nearly as good if you took just one thing away. The Dijon adds a spicy tinge to every bite that's not too strong yet just as effective. What's more — this Dijon leaves a pleasant, spicy aftertaste that is almost reinvigorating, and this dish will fill you up really well. Another option best suited for dining in as the ingredients like to slide around between the buns — perhaps a little too much for comfort.
#7. Buffalo Chicken Sandwich (Il Forno), 7.9
The buffalo chicken sandwich is a culinary masterpiece. With just the right blend of meats and veggies, cheese and ranch — this dish is one of the most fun that the Brodhead Center has to offer. You’ll feel better and better the more you eat it and the aftertaste is highly pleasurable, yet fleeting, so that it won’t hang around long enough to become irritating. Between the ranch, onions, cheese and buffalo sauce, however, the chicken never loses its taste. Great for on-the-go or sitting down, especially if you need to be somewhere in a hurry or if you'd just like to just take your time. Five stars all the way.
#6. Spicy Miso (Ginger & Soy), 7.9
There's really nothing like this one when it's cold outside, when you're feeling under the weather, or if you're just in the mood for something spicy, soothing and refreshing. Like its sister dish the Tonkotsu Ramen, it's one of the most versatile options in your selection in that you can govern exactly how you'd like it to taste (beyond the signature broth and accompanying ramen) with your choice of all kinds of different protein and vegetable complements. The other great part about this versatility is you can decide exactly how much or how little you’re hungry for on any given occasion. I can always count on the Spicy Miso to fill me up, taste great and just make me feel better overall, and so can you.
#5. Country Grilled Cheese (Au Bon Pain), 7.9
Arguably the crown jewel of ABP, the country grilled cheese is absolutely delectable. Each successive bite is more savory than the last, and the myriad cheeses combine with the tomatoes to infuse a uniquely satisfying flavor that isn't quite like anything else you'll find in the Brodhead Center. Everything from the toasted bread to the cheeses, bacon, and tomatoes are incredibly high-quality and freshly prepared. On top of all of that, despite the absence of a significant source of protein, it actually fills you up quite well and still leaves you wanting more. This one’s probably most enjoyable as a sit-down eating experience, but you can eat it on the move if you really have to, making it a versatile option suitable in several situations your busy day might throw at you. Don't miss your opportunity to try one of these before graduation.
#4. Chicken Alfredo (Il Forno), 7.9
From the unexpectedly flavorful duo of spinach and mushrooms to the cheesy sauce which binds it all together, the chicken alfredo is an instant classic and one of the best-tasting dishes you’ll find in the Brodhead Center. Each ingredient is more freshly prepared than the last, particularly the grilled chicken bites, which when paired with any of Il Forno's signature pastas will fill you up like few other dishes have to offer.
#3. Chophouse Steak Burger (JB’s Roasts & Chops), 8.1
Beyond the Brodhead Center, this might be one of the best burgers on campus. The cheese is melted atop a deliciously juicy patty to perfection, and the meat is sandwiched between two brioche rolls with a texture and taste that are equally incredible. You'll leave your experience with this one feeling 10 times better than when you started, guaranteed — and it won’t be the last time you ever order this one.
#2. Maple-Glazed Ham (Farmstead), 8.2
Much like the orange tofu, I’m still trying to figure out whether this one is better described as meat or candy as I type, because neither one of those alone does it justice. And that’s exactly how you’ll feel the first time you dig into the delectable Farmstead ham laced with their signature maple glaze. Aside from the cuts which have minimal fat and are cooked to just the right texture, this is arguably one of the most euphoric dishes in the Brodhead Center in that it's just so hard not to feel better after eating it. Farmstead has somehow managed to make plain old ham taste 10 times better — and there’s almost something magical about ordering this one, at least for me. But don’t take my word for it — do yourself a favor and give it a try of your own.
#1. Chicken Tikka Masala (Tandoor), 8.4
There's no other way to say it — the chicken tikka masala shines across the board. The chicken protein core is solid and chewy at first before easily softening in your mouth to provide an effortless eating experience. It is among the freshest selections of chicken available in the Brodhead Center and it is only enhanced by the signature sauce accompanying it. Rather than being served piercingly spicy like many of its peers, the tikka masala creates a wave of gradual spiciness that radiates throughout your throat and produces a soothing effect that is equally reinvigorating. This effect eventually subsides before blossoming into a pleasurable aftertaste that sticks around for as long as you'd like until you decide to wash it down. All of the above combine to produce one of the best-tasting dishes and best overall dining experiences in the Brodhead Center — an experience that appeals to a whole spectrum of palates ranging from less adventurous to highly risk-taking. Will a more superior challenger please step up? Because until then, the chicken tikka masala is number one.
Endnotes and Ranking Methodology
Didn’t see your favorite dish in the WU 42? That’s okay! We all have different tastes and preferences and I can’t begin to tell you how difficult it was to sample and rank all of the unique lunch and dinner entrées the Brodhead Center has to offer. For your information, here are just some of the parameters and other considerations I employed to make the process more efficient:
1. Dishes were ranked on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best) by calculating a weighted average of four criteria: overall taste, freshness, impact/flavor and feel-good factor, in that order of importance. Feel-good factor refers to how you feel overall after consuming the dish. No dish sampled received any score lower than 5 in any category, nor were any 10s awarded.
2. Devil’s Krafthouse, The Commons, and Chef’s Kitchen were not sampled — each for a different reason. Krafthouse was not included for its contrasting selection of more “bar-and-grille” style options with most of the other Brodhead Center vendors, The Commons for its more expensive selections, suggesting an inherently higher quality of menu options, and Chef’s Kitchen for its apparent lack of a regular everyday menu. All of the remaining 10 vendors were sampled in some capacity.
3. With only a couple of exceptions, each dish was tried only once during the sampling process. This means that certain dishes which were served better or worse than usual likely received a competitive boost or hindrance, respectively.
4. Notable non-inclusions (for various reasons) were all salads and wraps, the Il Forno specialty pizzas, the Café crepes, and everything on the Au Bon Pain menu that was not a sandwich.
5. Hotly-served options were given preference over those served cold or raw throughout sampling.
6. Every dish was sampled with all of its components (i.e., Never did I order something like, “___ with no mushrooms, please.”)
7. Although a handful of new everyday options were introduced at various vendors over the course of the roughly three-month-long sampling period, none of these more recent additions were sampled for consideration. Conversely, at least a handful of options sampled were originally included on the everyday menus at the time of sampling before being subsequently taken off, although these select few dishes were still included.
8. Your rankings and your methodology are bound to look completely differently than mine, and that’s okay — so take these for what they’re worth and just have fun with it.
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