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Published: Friday, 8/13/2004

Updated UT cafes score high marks on taste test

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

It was the smell that got her.

Standing in line outside the cafeteria in a University of Toledo residence hall yesterday, Beth Michels caught a whiff of something floating around the corner. It wasn't a grilled cheese or even chicken fajitas - something she might have expected.

It was - one sniff another sniff - Mongolian barbecue?

"I smelled it when I walked in," the senior from Cincinnati said. "I was excited."

Ms. Michels appreciates the finer things in life, and yesterday she was among a group who had the first chance to sample the finest new dining offerings at the university.

Those options included the fresh stir fry she smelled, with each student's selection of seasonings, mushrooms, peppers, and other vegetables sizzling with chicken or shrimp under the watchful eye of a chef working a flat-top grill.

The other new offering at The Crossings is called "Pizza Me Up," a self-serve station at which students can put their own toppings on a pizza crust or bagel and then watch it travel slowly through a conveyer oven.

And that's just this one dining hall. UT has completed close to $5 million in renovations and upgrades to its dining facilities over the last two years.

This fall, the International House will begin rotating a

series of international foods through its kitchen, and the student union will open with a number of new commercial offerings that include a Starbucks and a food court featuring Subway, Magic Wok, Pizza Hut Express, Back Yard Burger, and KFC Express.

The prospect of all these changes has made students like Kenny Schank, a senior from Tiffin, hungry for more than knowledge.

"I can't wait till school starts," he said while waiting in line to try the Mongolian barbecue.

A few minutes later, sitting in front of a clean plate, he judged the meal "really good."

Mr. Schank was on campus early as a resident adviser. Most students won't arrive at UT until next week, when the full range of dining options will be available.

The challenge for food service officials has been to come up with flavorful options to entice a generation of students that would be just as happy walking to Wendy's for a bacon cheeseburger.

Don McNeil, director of dining services for AVI Foodsystems Inc., the food service provider for UT, said students continue to shovel down comfort foods, but additions like the Mongolian barbecue help provide variety and healthy options.

"We wanted to enhance [the menu] and come up with something totally different here," he said.

"This gives them a lot more options than they've ever had," added Todd Maxson, AVI's executive chef for campus. "It's more of a restaurant mind-set than a cafeteria mind-set."

Students who had a chance yesterday to participate in a special taste testing of the two new offerings seemed to agree.

"It's a nice change," said Lillian Sparks, a junior from Port Clinton. "This is really good for me."

Michelle Schupp, a junior from Point Place, said, "It's something different from everything else on campus."

Guy Beeman, president of student government, sampled both the pizza - it could have used better sauce, he said - and the stir fry, which he gave a big thumbs up. He said all of the changes are a step in the right direction for UT's dining services.

"We're not there yet, but we're getting there," he said.

Contact Ryan E. Smith at:

ryansmith@theblade.com

or 419-724-6074.



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