8 college menu favorites with a cult following
Chicken tenders are menu must-haves in almost every college dining program. In fact, Yale’s Chicken Tender Thursdays are so popular, there’s a college Facebook page dedicated to the crunchy, hand-breaded favorites and students can get Twitter alerts when the university’s dining halls start serving them every other Thursday.
But since FoodService Director last reported on cult favorites, tastes have evolved and so has college dining. While comfort foods are still tops on campus, global flavors and new formats are gaining ground.
To keep up to date on college faves, we rounded up a new batch of menu items that students can’t live without on campus—and alumni crave well after they’ve graduated.
Leonardo Sandwich, Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon prides itself on a legacy of entrepreneurship. For its dining program, the university partners with 14 local, independent restaurants near the Pittsburgh, Pa., campus—one of which is The Exchange, a sandwich mecca for 20 years. And its sandwich that holds a special place in the hearts of students and alumni is the Leonardo.
“The line is usually 20 deep, but everyone waits,” says Joe Beaman, Carnegie Mellon’s director of dining services. “Everything is made to order and the kitchen really cares about consistency.”
The Leonardo is a combo of hot Cajun turkey, lettuce, tomato, bacon and provolone layered on whole wheat bread baked by Breadworks, a Pittsburgh bakery. Customers can choose their condiment and have the option of adding sauteed onions and roasted peppers. And instead of wasting the ends from a loaf of sliced bread, The Exchange puts them in the middle, turning it into a modified club sandwich.
Peanut Butter Pie, James Madison University
The Peanut Butter Pie has been a mainstay for more than 20 years at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., beloved by students, parents and alumni. There are a lot of fan favorites at JMU Dining, but this is at the top of the list, says Jenna Maroney Gray, director of student engagement.
The pie features a crumbly graham cracker crust filled with creamy peanut butter and Oreos. “It’s only on the menu on Wednesdays at JMU’s D-Hall, and they’re so confident you’ll like it, they dare you not to lick your plate,” says Maroney Gray. In fact, the dining team has shared the recipe on social media so fans can make it at home.
Korean-Inspired BBQ Tacos, Ohio State
The food truck at The Ohio State University is a destination for students from all over the large Columbus, Ohio, campus. What they line up for are the Korean-style tacos filled with Korean barbecue-style slow-cooked beef, house pickled cucumbers and spicy Sriracha sauce. “We introduced this item a few years ago as part of our initiative to continue to enhance food diversity,” says Zia Ahmed, senior director of dining services at Ohio State. “This is a great way to celebrate global flavors by infusing them with familiar local cuisine.”
Chicken Broccoli Bake, University of Michigan
At University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the Chicken Broccoli Bake is a comfort-food signature. The recipe features shredded roast chicken mixed with a creamy mornay sauce and broccoli florets and sprinkled with bread crumbs. It’s baked until golden brown and served over rice. “It’s a favorite because it’s like a casserole from home,” says Frank Turchan, campus executive chef. “We have alumni reaching out for the recipe.”
Sky Garden Action Station, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
“The Sky Garden is the station we must keep open, no matter what,” says Chef Soohwa Yu at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The station, located in Pennsylvania Avenue Resident (PAR) Dining Hall, showcases multiple proteins, including julienne-cut beef, shrimp, diced chicken, eggs and tofu. Students then choose from among a selection of vegetables and sauces to create their own unique stir-fries.
“After the students watch the action and the flavors have melded beautifully, we ask them to choose a starch, such as udon noodles, rice noodles or rice,” says Unit Manager Jeremy Roach. But perhaps the biggest attraction is the chef interaction, he adds.
Chick-N-Bap, Lehigh University
Chick-N-Bap is a Korean street food concept created by a graduate of one of New York’s state universities at his alma mater. It is now expanding to other campuses, and has quickly gained a cult following at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.
Founder Sung Kim infuses the curated and customizable bowls and wraps with flavors and combinations remembered from his Korean childhood, adding a New York City street-cart vibe. The marinades, toppings and sauces are made fresh and in-house several times a week at Hawk's Next in Lehigh’s Lamberton Hall. Students sometimes come in a couple of times a day to grab a bowl or wrap, reports Kim.
Chicken and Rice, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University
Every year in March, the Sodexo team at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., hosts Propellers Chicken and Rice festival. Students on campus manage fan pages on social media, and the event always generates long lines. The recipe is simple and has remained the same for over three decades: marinated chicken breast served on a bed of rice with tzatziki, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and a choice of several hot sauces. Chicken and Rice is served on Tuesdays most of the school year, but on festival day, games and T-shirts add to the excitement.
Nug Night, University of Mary Washington
Chicken tenders and nuggets continue to be a student favorite, even as more on-trend dishes rise in popularity. At University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va., Friday night is Nug Night, when the crispy chicken nuggets are served up with mac and cheese and broccoli for dinner. “We've been serving this every Friday night for well over 10 years,” said a member of the foodservice team. “When we moved into our new building in 2015 (now named the Cedric Rucker University Center), the first week we opened that fall, in light of our new beginning in our new building, we thought we'd change up the Friday night offering. When students arrived for dinner, we almost had a riot on our hands.”