Giving reviews: Thanksgiving meals at each 5C dining hall

By Jaimie Ding and Laney Pope

One of the perks of having access to six dining halls is that it is physically possible to have six separate Thanksgiving meals in the span of a week.

This November, we pushed our body to the limit as we ate each of the Thanksgiving meals offered at 5C dining halls in an attempt to provide a comprehensive review of each one.

Round 1: Collins Dining Hall

Collins started the week off strong with an excellent execution of all our Thanksgiving favorites. The turkey was unbelievably tender and moist, though the texture was a bit too uniform, seeming almost processed without the usual strands found in most meats. The separate carving station that also had turkey was a nice touch, as I was able to enjoy having my turkey and its crispy seasoned skin sliced right in front of me. The mushroom gravy fell short of my expectations — too heavy for my taste — as I prefer a traditional turkey gravy. The green beans were also not well-executed, as they were overcooked and lost that signature crunchy texture I enjoy so much.

The standout dish at Collins had to be the egg noodles with orange glazed duck breast, cherry tomato, and green peas. The noodles had an excellent al dente texture typical of a well-made pasta dish, and the buttery herbal flavors really shined through. The apple cranberry blue cheese salad was also delicious.

Due to a lucky turn of events, I was able to taste all three of the pies (my friends let me take bites of theirs): apple, pumpkin, and pecan. The pies were accompanied by a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream, and, as we all know, pie is always better with ice cream.

The apple pie was more of a crisp, but it was still delicious. The crusts on the other two pies were buttery and flaky, resembling a handmade crust often found at bakeries.

Collins, with its stereotype as an average dining hall, made a strong showing with their Thanksgiving dinner this year.

Rating: 4 out of 5 turkeys.

Full plates of food at the McConnell Dining Hall Thanksgiving dinner. (Jaimie Ding • The Student Life)

Round 2: McConnell Dining Hall

When I arrived at Pitzer at 4:54 p.m., six whole minutes before the dining hall was open, there was already a huge crowd of people waiting for the doors to open. Thankfully, my partner-in-crime Grace was there with me, so we could divide and conquer the lines. McConnell definitely beat the other dining halls in terms of variety. There were many different sides, which is great for dietary restrictions, but I thought the execution was not as good as it could have been.

The main turkey was extremely dry, and the sourdough vegan stuffing was quite bland in taste and strange in texture. I’m also generally not a huge fan of candied yams; yams are already sweet, they do not need a lot more sugar. However, I did appreciate the creativity of the fig chutney. There was another turkey in the other line, the “creole roasted” turkey, with a seasoning that made it the best turkey out of all the dining halls.

McConnell’s standout items were definitely its salads and vegetable options. There was a brussel sprout salad with roasted almonds and bacon, a great potato salad, and my personal favorite, the broccoli salad. Each was unique in its flavor and brought a different texture to the table. I also enjoyed the roasted romanesco, the collard greens — sour and garlicky — and the cute little roasted carrots. I’d also like to give a shout-out to the focaccia that night; that was the fluffiest, softest, most delicious focaccia I’ve ever had at McConnell.

The desserts showcased McConnell’s creativity. They had pies with different flavors: peanut butter, “Maria’s harvest,” sweet potato, pecan, and pumpkin. Their pumpkin pie had a strong spice flavor that was better than Collins’ pie, but it fell short of perfection with an underdone crust. The “harvest” pie was also basically just a shallow pumpkin pie with a layer of cream on top.

Overall, McConnell had the most number of options out of all the dining halls, though it didn’t quite live up to the hype.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 turkeys.

Round 3: Malott Dining Hall

With my stomach still recovering from the previous night’s dinner, my excitement level for Malott’s Thanksgiving lunch was not as high as it was for previous meals. However, it turned out to be my favorite of them all, thanks to some key dishes: turkey, beans, mashed potatoes, cornbread, and stuffing.

The turkey had a great texture and flavor, the second best (the first being Pitzer’s creole turkey). The beans were fresh and crunchy, the mashed potatoes were not too thick and had some texture, the cornbread had a nice crunch on the outside, and the stuffing flavor was amazing. Though I’m not usually a fan of cheesy-potato type foods, the butternut squash gratin was pretty terrific.

Malott’s pitfall was its brussel sprouts, which came as no surprise to me. For some reason, their brussel sprouts are always too hard for me to chew. The candied yams were also unevenly cooked — leaving some pieces perfectly soft and other pieces crunchy — but the spice flavoring and sugar level (not excessively sweet) were perfect.

In the salad department, the “root” salad wasn’t great, but I was a huge fan of the watercress salad and the “action” salad with goat cheese, spinach, bacon, and cranberries — reminiscent of Collin’s salad.

For dessert, Malott’s pumpkin pie was simply a disappointment. The crust was pale, dry, and uneven; the filling was not flavorful at all, and there was a strange frosting on it instead of normal whipped cream. However, they made up for it with their infamous chocolate bread pudding, well-executed as always.

Even though Malott failed some areas, the overall quality of the meal exceeded my expectations, especially since Malott hasn’t been great this year.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 turkeys.

Instead of offering ham like the other dining halls, Malott Dining Hall offered roast beef. (Jaimie Ding • The Student Life)

Round 4: Hoch-Shanahan Dining Hall

I was excited for Hochsgiving, because I missed it last year, and because Hoch has a reputation for some high quality meals. I still wasn’t able to try all the foods at Hochsgiving this year, but the ones I did try fell severely short of my expectations.

Most of the main elements of Thanksgiving dinner, such as turkey and stuffing, were fine. However, my mission here lies in comparing all the dining halls, and Hoch’s performance compared to the others was lacking. There was asparagus and hollandaise sauce instead of traditional vegetables, and although I am usually open to experimentation, this just didn’t work.

The flavors of Hoch’s two specialty salads — “apple carrot slaw & mint” and “wheat berry waldorf salad” — were both strange and unsatisfying. The apple salad was essentially apple slices, and the wheat berry salad was dry.

The country mashed potatoes with skin would have been great except for the huge chunks of potato that were in it. Normally, a bit of texture in mashed potatoes is a nice touch, but I felt like I kept on eating unmashed, purely diced potatoes. They did have a vegan herb mashed yukon gold potatoes, but I wasn’t able to try it.

The Hoch’s pumpkin pie was fine; it didn’t particularly stand out, but it tasted good. The pumpkin filling was great, but the crust was a little subpar. They got creative with the raisin milk jello, and it was pretty good as well.

Though the meal itself wasn’t great, I loved the bread and cheese tables, a revered establishment of Hoch’s specialty meals. I managed to grab a baguette fresh out of the oven. Lathered in garlic butter, it staved off my hunger and impatience while I waited in line behind all the Mudders that were lucky enough to enter 15 minutes before everyone else. The hot apple cider was the highlight of the night.

Given the usual quality of the Hoch, I was saddened by their Thanksgiving dinner this year. With all that being said, I was unable to try the full spread of options, so there’s a possibility that there was a stand out dish hiding in the other line of food.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 turkeys.

 

Thanksgiving dinner at the Hoch-Shanahan dining hall included their famous bread and cheese spread. (Jaimie Ding • The Student Life)

Round 4b: Frank Dining Hall

Maybe it’s because of the pun, but I had especially high expectations for Franksgiving.

This year, I got to Frank before the doors even opened, ready to box out anyone who tried to steal my booth in the corner of Frank, like I had to last year. However, the line was short, and even by 5:30 p.m., the food lines were manageable, like any other Frank dinner. (Maybe Mudd stole the show on Thursday?)

Frank’s fare was good — there were all the staples of a classic Thanksgiving dinner: turkey, stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes. The mashed potatoes were perfectly soft and creamy, and the stuffing was well spiced. The cranberry sauce was a bit runny, but overall the essentials were well executed.

While it was all thoroughly enjoyable, it lacked a certain ‘wow’ factor the other dining halls seemed to possess, and even fell short of the standard it set for itself last year (I left Franksgiving 2017 with a whole pomegranate and smuggled out slices of all of the pies I was too full to try).

Some of Franksgiving’s highlights were the hot apple cider and the caramelized onion flatbread, which was like a solidified version of french onion soup. It was a very intense combination of flavors, but I appreciated the experimentation. Also, the pear and sweet potato soup was a bit thin, but still innovative and fresh.

I also liked the steak sandwich with fried onions and blue cheese, but I’m afraid few people even tried it because it was tucked away on the patio outside, and barely visible because of the dark.

In the dessert department, the pumpkin pie was fluffy with a buttery crust, and the blueberry peach cobbler was a hot, mushy mess, but it tasted good like always.

Even though the meal was yummy and had some unique elements, I was still left craving the extravagance and ingenuity of McConnell and Collins, or even Franksgiving past.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 turkeys.

Round 5: Frary Dining Hall

Frary’s Thanksgiving dinner was a welcome surprise on Tuesday, Nov. 20 after all the other dining halls had already had theirs the previous week. What Frary lacked in breadth of offerings, they made up for in quality; every dish they had was satisfying and delicious.

There were no traditional mashed potatoes or yams, but they had a sweet potato souffle that did the job of both. It had a buttery crumble topping over a smooth sweet potato mash, and the sweet and savory flavors complemented each other perfectly. There was a sweet potato salad that filled the role of the Thanksgiving tuber. It wasn’t my favorite salad in the world, but it was satisfying.

Frary’s cranberry sauce was my favorite out of all the dining halls. I’m personally not a fan of tart or overly sweet sauces, so this one was perfect. It tasted like there was turkey gravy in it. The turkey was tender, and the cornbread stuffing was flavorful with a frittata-like onion taste.

Like the Hoch, Frary had hot apple cider, but with a considerably stronger spice flavor. I drank the cider while eating the apple pie, with a slightly unconventional thin crust that had a buttery melt-in-your-mouth texture. Overall, though there was limited options, Frary excelled in the items that they did provide. The meal left me full and happy as I prepared to go home for break.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 turkeys.

Frary’s dinner brought me to the end of my 5C Thanksgiving journey. Though I was critical of each meal, I am eternally grateful for the excellent food I eat here everyday and I am thankful to all the hard-working dining hall staff that prepare the food for us. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Jaimie Ding SC ’21, news editor and guest L&S writer for the week, reviewed Collins, McConnell, Malott, Hoch-Shanahan, and Frary. Laney Pope PO ’21, news staff writer, reviewed Frank.

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