It’s safe to say that the Amherst culinary experience is lacking something. Valentine Dining Hall excels at providing dishes that either boast a uniform rubbery texture a la lighter side chicken or an equally unappetizing, mushy fluff epitomized by the overcooked udon noodles of the Noodle Bar. The fruit is seldom ripe, the guacamole comes straight from the bag and the sheet cakes all taste suspiciously similar. I may be a bit harsh on Amherst dining, but it is safe to say that any Val meal and the term “flavorful” do not land next to each very often.
So, when I heard that the Science Center would include an addition to campus dining, I was hoping it would be a new and improved iteration option for meals. In some ways, the Science Center Cafe is a new (and better!) facet of food on campus, but in others, it dwells in the same old mediocrity. The final verdict remains up in the air, but for now, let me take you through the items I tasted to give you a sense of how the food options on campus have been expanded by this new addition.
Smoothies: The two varieties I sampled were profoundly vegetal (and not in a complimentary way). I sampled the Greenway and the Mammoth, and both were, in the very true words of a fellow student, “actively neutral.” The Greenway, which is composed of baby kale, cucumber, celery and pineapple, smells delicious and has a refreshingly smooth texture, but its redeeming qualities end there. The flavor falls short, as it tastes like someone desperately wanted it to check off the boxes of being healthy. The Mammoth, made up of beets, carrots, apple, ginger, celery, lemon juice and agave, is even less impressive than the Greenway. It may be called “The Mammoth”, but it should really be called “The Beet,” because it tastes like beet, smells like beet and, somehow, has texture of what I know deep down is liquified beet (very granular, for those who are curious). Beets are not something I generally want to be the predominant item in my beverages, but if that’s your cup of tea (or glass of smoothie), this drink is for you. One particularly articulate comment about the smoothies I heard was, “I would drink these to feel healthy, nothing else.” While I agree, even this faint praise verges on generous. At $5.95 a smoothie, they are not worth the money, the calories or even the time.
The Frittata: A shining star in a sea of mediocrity, the frittata is a dish I would actually pay real money for. My expectations were low, and this, light, fluffy, blissful frittata absolutely surpassed them. The sausage had flavor, the egg was well-cooked and the frittata was actually hot! The side salad with tahini dressing was fine, albeit with a tad too much carrot, but it did not detract from the main event. To top off the whole dish, the plating was surprisingly well put-together, and to my delight, it fully lacked the industrial, compostable plastic grab-n-go aesthetic. For $5.95, this is something I will order again and want to eat.
Same Old, Same Old: The rest of the things I tried: the sushi, the hummus and the chai iced tea were the same as elsewhere on campus. The sushi remains, “not bad, but how do they call it sushi without raw fish?” The hummus box pays homage to grab-n-go, with the same packaging and texture, but the veggies in the hummus box did diverge from the norm, as the bell peppers were fresh and had a nice crunch to them. The iced chai was what we know and love, with enough sugar in it to get you through that problem set, while remaining refreshing, drinkable and delicious.
All in all, the Science Center Cafe has hits and (mostly) misses, but at least it provides us with a new place to get food from in the midst of our busy schedules.