It’s been more than six months since Aramark returned to the Portland State campus, and finally they’ve gotten comfortable in their freshly remodeled food court in the Smith Student Union. During all the fanfare that marked their arrival, Aramark promised improvements in food consistency, affordability and even more efficiently planned space for the students, faculty and staff who eat there regularly. But have they delivered?
It’s been more than six months since Aramark returned to the Portland State campus, and finally they’ve gotten comfortable in their freshly remodeled food court in the Smith Student Union. During all the fanfare that marked their arrival, Aramark promised improvements in food consistency, affordability and even more efficiently planned space for the students, faculty and staff who eat there regularly.
But have they delivered?
After tasting countless bagels, cups of coffee and lunch entrees from the food court, it is time to weigh in on prices, service and general tastiness. While Aramark’s food does rate a bit better and than its predecessor, Sodexho, that’s not saying much. Here are the highlights:
Finally, there’s a salad bar, and with a lower price this term than last, it’s beginning to approach affordability. Don’t think you can get this healthier option during off-peak hours though. The salad bar gets packed around 2 p.m., after which you can head to nearby Safeway for lower prices and a larger selection.
The chicken burrito from Zoca in Smith has stringy, salty meat that was squeezed to remove the juices it was bathing in before landing on top of bland rice. Topped with your choice of fresh pico de gallo salsa, lettuce or onions and finished off with one of three peculiar sauces, including: Pepper Ranch, a pale green Guacamole Ranch and a third watery, white liquid that is actually “sour cream that we thin out,” according to the cook. Tired and flat tasting, together the ingredients tasted like they’d been sitting on a steam table all day–probably because they had.
If you’re craving a burrito, take the time to walk over to Chipotle, where your lunch will be bigger and well-seasoned. It also hasn’t had an epic soak in hot juices. Sure, it’s a bit more money (less than a dollar), but you’ll probably eat a lot more and you’ll get some exercise to boot.
A cheeseburger and fries from Grillworks got better treatment. A cooked-to-order patty came on a perfectly toasted bun with plenty of green leaf lettuce and two generous tomato slices gave me hope that I was in for a treat. However, the meat itself-the core of any great burger-was overcooked. And it hadn’t received even a tiny sprinkling of salt. Tough and completely lacking in juices, its picture-perfect looks were deceiving. At prices like these ($5.88 with fries), I’d rather give my cash to Burgerville.
Sbarro’s cheese pizza is cut into six wide pieces, and while you can fill your belly for $2.99, you probably won’t want to do it too often. The sauce is super mild and is topped with a heavy blanket of cheese. The most assertive element was the light sprinkling of dried oregano on top. A pale crust was crisp on the bottom and puffy at the edges, but needed the distinctive chewiness that high-gluten flour gives.
For three bucks and change, if it’s pizza you want, take a walk over to Hot Lips. It is better for the aforementioned reasons.
Bagels are one of the sure bets, and at $1.99 with cream cheese, they are definitely worth stopping for. Thankfully, the lines of people waiting to order and pay at the counter have disappeared, but ordering a bagel isn’t always an easy transaction. Service can be patchy and inattentive, and sometimes even strange. No, I don’t want to hear about your boyfriend or your family’s bagel preferences, especially before being asked what I’d like to order. And please don’t call me “Sweetness.”
I just want a sesame bagel toasted with veggie cream cheese, thanks.
That aside, service, generally, is good–even thoughtful. The fellow who made my cheeseburger wrapped it carefully in foil to keep it warm when I wasn’t there to pick it up directly. Cashiers, while maybe not the quickest, never seem to loose their cool.
Getting a coffee from the vendor in the hallway can take up all of your coffee break, due to the long lines that can clog the busiest walkway on campus.
While things do seem to be flowing more efficiently as far as traffic goes, why are the two registers near the dining room not used–or even fully assembled? And, having the wall of bars down behind them during lunch service adds to a permanently under-construction feel that isn’t very appealing.
Bottom-line: Aramark is better than Sodexho, but without great prices or great food, you’d probably be better served to go elsewhere.