Dining is undoubtedly an important factor in the life of a college student. A good meal can often set the tone for the day between the rush of classes, practices, rehearsals and other extracurricular activities that most college students are involved in.
Throughout my two years of dining at Gordon Commons, affectionately known as the Deece, I have experienced a wide range of both options and quality of food, beginning with lackluster take-out options during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and during the transition back to in-person dining in the 2021-2022 school year. However, none of those eras of Deece dining have measured up to the food choices provided to us in these first three weeks of this new semester. Not only has the variety of culinary options expanded, but the quality of the food served at the Deece has improved remarkably, thanks to the hard work and dedication of a team of administrators, chefs, kitchen staff and various others integral to the smooth operation of the facility.
Beginning with what I consider to be the star of the show at the Deece: The Global Kitchen. Recently, there has been a considerable change in the functioning of this pillar of student dining experience. First, instead of rotating the menu at Global every two weeks, it now rotates every week. This allows us to experience a wider variety of cuisines, including new showstoppers such as the bibimbap bowl: a perfect blend of white rice, vegetable options, a protein and the sheer unparalleled joy of a fried egg on top. While the shift from two-week to one-week rotations at Global does allow us to diversify our culinary palate, it also comes with the unfortunate drawback of only being able to enjoy your absolute favorites for a week. Last year, one could reliably count on having a stir-fry bowl at every meal for two weeks straight, but this year the experiences pass by much faster. All in all, the increased diversity in Global’s options and quality is a heightened experience from previous years.
There have been considerable improvements in the other stations at the Deece as well. Oasis, which excludes the nine major allergens found in food, in addition to gluten and sesame, has been reliably good this year, with interesting and innovative bowls with a variety of protein choices. Home has also been excellent in quality and especially inventive of late. One remarkable upgrade to the dining operation this year is the commitment by the Deece to integrate student-submitted recipes into the menus. The first of these was a Ukrainian-themed meal on Wednesday, Sept. 7, and the endless creativity of the Vassar student body promises more delicious dishes in the future. The vegan and vegetarian station, Root, has also been serving great quality food as of late, including some stellar recipes such as the tofu tikka masala on Monday, Sept. 12. As a person of South Asian descent, the prospect of such a dish may spark suspicion at first, due to the relatively non-traditional pairing of tofu and tikka masala. However, the dish was satisfying, aromatic and one of the highlights of dining in the past few days. Kosher has remained reliably good since I started school here, and that has remained unchanged in the first few weeks of this semester. I am not a frequenter of Grill, and the options seem to have stayed much the same, but it always serves as a good option when one is craving simple and classic food. The recent Late Night options have also been remarkably more diverse than last year, with Greek turkey burgers and loaded tater tots, though I still eagerly await the triumphant return of the elusive mozzarella stick. I am also not a regular at Pressed, but the options for sandwich ingredients seem much more diverse and interesting now than in the past. Finally, the salad bar, The Farmer’s Table, has integrated a variety of new salad components, including red onions, tuna, chopped boiled eggs and an assortment of new dressings. The pre-mixed salads have also had new and exciting flavors, and the station is always a safe fallback when one is looking for green and healthy options.
I would be remiss to not mention Coffee and Sweets. In one of the most radical and phenomenal moves by the dining staff this year, the coffee provider switched to Chris’ Coffee. As an avid coffee drinker, I am absolutely delighted by this switch because the quality of the coffee is much better than that of the previous provider. I now look forward to my morning cup enthusiastically. Also remarkable is the addition of iced coffee to the daily menu. As much as I love a good hot cup of coffee, in the late summer heat, there is nothing more refreshing than some strong iced coffee with a splash of almond milk and agave syrup. Not only does Chris’ Coffee boast a long history of producing organic and kosher coffee, per the dining email sent by Associate Dean Dennis Macheska, but the flavor and aroma of the coffee are a great improvement from the previous provider. Sweets has remained consistent throughout my time here, with some stellar standouts such as the spice cake with cream cheese frosting (reminiscent of chomping into a fall candle in all the best ways), the mini cheesecakes and the lemon bars. Some past menu items at Sweets that I hope to see again are the variety of fruit crumbles and apple pies, especially in these fall months.
Finally, the dining options outside of Gordon Commons (Retreat, Express, the Bridge Cafe and Street Eats) have also had some minor changes to their operations. While not much has changed in terms of the food served at these locations, there is expanded and improved access to these options, including three swipes at Retreat instead of two, and Retreat also being open on the weekends instead of Express, which makes it much easier to grab food on the go.
Beyond just the menu options available at Gordon Commons, the entire dining experience has new dimensions this year. For the first time, we have an Administrative Fellow of Campus Activities and Dining, Eric Feeney ’22, who is a Vassar alumnus himself. He works in conjunction with Macheska, the Associate Dean of the College for Campus Activities, in dining matters. This is a great indicator that the dining providers at this school are listening to student input. Additionally, the bi-weekly dining communications delivered directly to our inboxes have been a wonderful way to receive news and updates, as well as announcements about exciting dining-related events such as chocolate tastings, a biscotti sampling and a guacamole dip bar.
Overall, the dining experience provided at Vassar has seen significant improvement over the past two years. Far from the days of take-out boxes and socially-distanced meals, we have now entered a new, promising era of Deece dining, one with better quality food, more consideration for student voices and a wider variety of dining experiences.