Students walking into the Suwannee Room at Florida State University were in for some changes when the 105-year-old dining hall reopened this month after a six-month renovation.
While beloved dining ambassador Eva Killings is still there to greet students, the once-cramped space now features a bright, open layout where chefs can show off their skills at eight different stations.
“We wanted students to have an experience when they walked into the Suwannee Room,” says Travis Johnson, executive culinary director of Seminole Dining for Sodexo. “When you’re greeted, you’re smelling the food, you’re hearing the food, you’re seeing the food, you’re seeing the chefs prepare it and it enhances that overall experience for our guests.”
The improved 425-seat dining hall gives students and the larger Tallahassee community a place where they can enjoy a meal that engages all of their senses. Here’s a closer look.
Photos courtesy of Florida State University
A true destination
As with Florida State’s other campus eatery, 1851, The Suwannee Room features menu items and ingredients unique to its location. At the salad bar, for example, students can top their salads with Suwannee’s signature salad dressing found nowhere else on campus, and at the grill, they can grab a burger made with Suwannee’s special blend.
Also unique to the new dining hall is the chef’s table station, which features curated dishes that change daily. Since opening, the station has served dishes such as smoked and grilled pork belly over a mango and pineapple slaw, seared bay scallops and gulf shrimp and grits. “When we talk about those plates, we’re talking about smaller portions, but an experience,” says Johnson. “It’s all about the plate presentation and that experience that the student is going to get when they walk up and say ‘Wow! What is on the chef’s table today?’”
Students with allergies or dietary restrictions have their own space to enjoy a meal. After meeting with a dietitian, students obtain card access to My Zone, an enclosed room where they can pick up meals free from peanuts, tree nuts and gluten. Johnson says the meals include everything from cookies to full entrees.“[Students] get to go in and know that not only are they going to have a great meal, but a safe meal,” he says.
Focus on fresh and local
Locally sourced ingredients are a main driver of the meals served at Suwannee, and one that students have appreciated.
“Students are really excited seeing these fresh items being used in their meals at our dining hall. It’s been a really great response so far,” says Heather Young, marketing director for Seminole Dining. The dining hall’s honey-fried chicken meal on Fridays has gotten even better with the addition of locally sourced honey from a farm that is part of the school’s Adopt a Farm program, Young says.
When designing the menu at each station, the team thought about how to incorporate extra touches that would wow students, Johnson says. Customization is center stage at the deli, where students can grab a premade sandwich on the go or opt for one that’s pressed or toasted. Over at the dessert station, they can choose from a number of pastries, but the big hit has been the hot brownie bar: hot wells of warm lava cake that students can scoop out and dress up with ice cream and other toppings.