Remember the old North Building cafeteria? If you don’t, it’s likely because either you became a UTM student sometime after September 2012 or it’s so painful a memory with its tired Coyote Jack’s and the barely-extant Tim Hortons that you made an effort to forget it. Well, I remember it. And let me warn you: the North Side Bistro is nothing like it (maybe with the exception of its large glass windows). Although I had already sampled some free wood oven pizza (a cheap yet fresh meal option) and a cinnamon roll (satisfying, although a smear of icing sugar wouldn’t hurt) the week before classes started, I had my first official meal at the Bistro this past week.
The Bistro is buzzing as I enter wide-eyed and ready to eat. It’s not the students, excited though they are, but the staff and faculty who seem to be the most eager to place their orders. I spot Patrick Gunning of the chemistry department, one of the many faces of the Boundless campaign. I overhear dean of student affairs Mark Overton sharing his opinion on the soups while one professor at the cash register jokingly (but also with a little disappointment) says, “It looks like students discovered this place.” Another professor nods a head in agreement.
I order the “Trio of ‘Beats’ ” salad, consisting of brown rice, kale, spinach, salad greens, red onions, roasted beets (although I can’t identify the three different types of beets), salmon, and roasted pumpkin seeds. I grab a small serving of their parsnip, leek, and apple soup with a roll and, because I haven’t already ordered enough, a banana loaf and a chocolate truffle tea. Yes. Chocolate. Truffle. It’s Sloane brand tea, too—I ogle the looseleaf samples at the counter for at least two minutes.
I select a table beside the windows in remembrance of the old North Building caf, and also so I can gorge on my trayful of goodies in as much privacy as possible. From my side view of the space, I’m thrilled to see how engaged staff, students, and faculty alike are with their lunches. I’ve never seen such a spread of the university population gathered in a single space all equally thrilled about their midday meal. I feel proud. There are other people at this university excited about eating and it’s all because of the new Bistro.
Once I’ve wiped a single tear of joy from my cheek (I didn’t cry whatsoever, but it adds to the image I’m creating, so go with it) I lay my napkin over my lap and eat. The salmon has a light spice and is beautifully seasoned, even if it was awkwardly stored in a little plastic bag added to my salad.
Every other item in the salad stands out too—the roasted pumpkin seeds with their crunch, the kale with its crispness, and the red onions with their zing. It’s such a product of our time, though I have to ask: when did brown rice, kale, and even the biodegradable fork I’m eating with become “cool”? I enjoy the sweet parsnip taste of the soup with the bites of leek. However, the apple has no presence whatsoever. Nonetheless, it’ll be a lovely dish once the winter months come—not so much in the glow of early fall sunlight. I remove a layer to compensate for the heat. The accompanying bread is fine, if slightly overpriced given its size. I’m absolutely full by the time I make it to my last spoonful.
I decide to take my tea and banana loaf home with me for an afternoon snack. They certainly do the job. While the tea doesn’t have as strong a chocolate flavour as similar teas that I’ve had, it’s such a refreshing choice compared to the other teas available on campus. I tasted all of UTM’s banana-flavoured baked goods for The Medium last year, and I’m proud to welcome the Bistro’s loaf to the family. It’s got a lovely crisp exterior with a contrasting chewy centre and a thankfully natural banana flavour. After my last piece of loaf I’m so full I nearly keel over in my living room. (And of course I chose to go out for lunch the same day I have a potluck. Hello, indigestion!)
Despite it putting my digestive system to work, I will happily return to the Bistro. It has without question been my most positive food experience on campus to date. The staff are enthusiastic and welcoming. The food is current and fresh. The setting is clean and light. Although a salad can cost as much as $9.49, I’d argue that in general the menu is competitively priced. I certainly don’t think one should turn their nose up at a slice of wood fire oven pizza for $4.99 or a large homemade soup for $5.29. All of the teas and baked goods are equally fairly priced. I hope to try the calzone on my next lunch out. I intend to also sample each of the different teas available. I wasn’t joking when I said I was proud of the Bistro. I take no credit whatsoever for its design or implementation. I am proud, though, to know that university food is headed in this direction: thoughtful food that is thoughtfully enjoyed. Let’s hope UTM’s food future comes as successfully into fruition.