For those of you who don't remember or haven't experienced the overwhelming emotions that come with your first time walking into a college dining hall, it is a life changing experience, indeed.
The mere quantity of food and variety of options is enough to make your heart leap out of your chest. You want to visit every station immediately, even if it means making a meal of French fries, mashed potatoes, and cereal. You want to create a giant ice cream sundae, topped with every cookie and brownie you can find. You want to try every single combination of beverages from the fountain machine.
But alas, you never really fulfill these dreams. you're either held back by fears of gaining the freshmen 15, fears that the new bff you made ten minutes ago wouldn't save you a seat if you took too long, or fears that everyone would notice your gluttonous tendencies and pass judgement.
Now imagine your ten-year-old self eating in one of these places. With a rapid-fire metabolism and zero social insecurities, there are just tables and tables of possibility. Two lucky brothers, eleven year old Joh’Nel (John John) and ten year old Julian Fields-Gomez, accompanied by their six year old cousin Kalia Daniels, were able to experience this thanks to their loving and dutiful mentors: yours truly.
We made it our personal responsibility to expose our young friends to the wonder that is Wesleyan's Usdan Marketplace in the most unadulterated way possible. Seconds? Thirds? Obviously! Dessert? That’s the course that comes after the ice cream sundae.
As their mentors, we always feel a responsibility to teach them how to live life to the fullest.
Behaving like the polite young gentlemen they are, John John and Julian spent a considerable amount of time perusing the options and selecting exactly what they wanted to eat. Both boys chose a slice of pepperoni pizza; pine-nut noodles and rice from the vegan station; as well as turkey, mashed potatoes, and green beans from kosher. They clearly understood the art of sampling every station—something that is not perfected by the average Wesleyan student until well into his or her freshmen year. Children are so wise.
Six-year-old Kalia had a slightly different experience. She is a woman who knows what she wants, and without even surveying the other options, she jumped in the mile-long pasta line. The wait could not possibly deter her. She stood patiently, making conversation with some friendly students, and as soon as her bowl of bowties was handed to her, she piled it high with mounds of butter and Parmesan cheese, and marched over to her next conquest: French fries. Who says that pasta and fried food don’t go well together? She filled a plate with French fries, and topped it with approximately two gallons of ketchup. A gourmet palette, indeed.
For beverages, John John chose the orange guava juice and Julian opted for a mix of two Gatorade flavors. Kalia artfully designed her own concoction: a mix of iced tea, pepsi, root beer, sprite, orange juice, and cranberry juice.
Over dinner, we discussed favorite foods (Chinese taking first place for John John and Kalia, with Julian preferring hot wings), favorite restaurants (the general consensus being McDonald’s, with John John appraising Five Guys for their excellent meat), and their personal opinions of Bon Appetit’s culinary performance.
“This is the best pizza I’ve ever had,” stated John John. “Well- there are only three pizzas better: Domino’s, DiGiorno’s, and Papa John’s”.
Julian agreed, stating that the pizza was his favorite part of the meal. He did not, however, enjoy his mashed potatoes, which were unfortunately cold and therefore left uneaten. Kalia deemed the pasta satisfactory, but she was a big fan of the French fries. After trying a couple ourselves, we had to agree. They were crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, and none of them were dry or burned.
After devouring our first course, we proudly marched back for seconds. Kalia made a beeline for the fries, of course, while John John and Julian got second servings of pizza and turkey. The food was eaten at a very rapid pace. Dessert was next, and the suspense was becoming intolerable.
All three of our reviewers couldn’t wait to get their hands on some ice cream. Kalia and Julian filled cones with strawberry and vanilla varieties and covered everything with chocolate syrup. John John filled a bowl with rainbow sherbert, declaring sherbert his all-time favorite dessert. The boys also tried some of Bon Appetit’s renowned pastries. Julian opted for a congo bar with walnuts, and John John chose a coconut bar. After these treats had been quickly consumed, it was time for round two. Joh’Nel chose a chocolate-peanut butter bar, while Kalia and Julian returned to the freezer for second servings of ice cream.
As everyone sat back, stuffed and satisfied, Kalia declared her desire for a third helping of French fries. We applauded her college-student-like mentality, and accompanied her back to the grill station, where she finished off Usdan’s last platter of French fries for the night.
Once everyone (including Kalia) was sufficiently full, we engaged in a nice bout of “Usdan-sitting”—everyone’s favorite hobby. We looked at the table’s surface, and saw that it was completely covered with the dozens of plates and bowls that had held our feast. Prolonging the amount of time until we were forced to clean up, we chatted about the overall experience of Usdan dining.
“The coolest thing about eating here is that everything is free and you get to eat however much food you want”, John John stated. Julian agreed that “eating whatever and how much you want for free” was definitely the best aspect of the Usdan dining hall. In fact, the boys would be interested in acquiring one of those “free food cards.” We promised to contact the WesCard staff about getting them their own.
Kalia stated that the absolute best part of eating at Usdan was definitely the ice cream. In fact, she wanted to take hers to-go. She explained this to the woman working at the front desk, who gave her a soup container for her melted dessert, as well as a box for the rest of her ketchup (and some French fries).
On the whole, complaints were very minimal. Julian’s only criticism was that it was a bit crowded, while John John remarked on the quality of the frozen desserts.
“One thing I didn’t like about eating here was that the ice cream gave me a brain freeze”, John John shared.
As far as quality and variety were concerned, John John was impressed by the pine-nut noodles being served by the vegan section. He had never seen anything like them before but really enjoyed their interesting taste. Julian was also impressed by the breadth of strange food options available, especially at the vegan section. That night, he was exposed to beets for the first time ever.
Finally, after sitting in the dining room far past closing hours, we decided it was time to call it a night. On our way out, after glancing at the late-night menu, Kalia declared that actually she needed to get some wings to-go before leaving the marketplace. It was half an hour before late-night officially opened, but the cashier allowed us to use our “free food cards” to get a yogurt parfait and a brownie instead. With such an abundance of delicious food completely free of charge, it’s no wonder our mentees would like to attend Wesleyan when they grow up. It might be too early to tell, but based on their willingness to try vegan options, enthusiasm for trying all the different stations, and die-hard love of ice cream, we’d say they would fit right in.
-Ari & Alex
Special thanks to our mentees: Kalia Daniels, Julian Fields-Gomez, and John John Field-Gomez. You guys are the best.
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