Ever wondered which university college has the best food? Or what you could expect dining at one? We’ve gone to Renison University College, Conrad Grebel University College, St. Jerome’s University, and United College to see how well their cafeteria food stacks up. After trying some main dishes and dessert, here are our honest thoughts.
Conrad Grebel University College:
Tucked away on the opposite side of Ring Road is Conrad Grebel University College, a small residence community affiliated with the Mennonite Church Canada and home to many of UW’s arts programs such as music and theology. I signed a four-month co-op contract with them last term and didn’t realize it would come with the chance to try out so many different dishes.
Did you know there’s a team of Michelin-star bakers behind Grebel’s kitchen? There’s not. But the cookies they casually dish out on a regular basis are so good, I started getting angry at the thought of my four-month role coming to an end. They switch up the flavours (but never the quality) regularly, and if not cookies, they’ll have their famous “death muffins” — chocolate cream cheese cupcakes sometimes slathered with chocolate icing. With each bite, you can see where the name comes from.
Other honourable mentions include the twist and knot cinnamon rolls with caramel sauce, introduced in 1983 by Grebel kitchen staff, Janet Martin, as well as their Rice Krispies rolls and whoopie pies. You cannot tell me any other residence on campus has a dessert so delicious, it stuck around for 40 years.
After four months of indulgence, I can personally attest to their macaroni and cheese and tacos as being delicious lunchtime meals. Using a blend of high-quality cheeses, topped with crispy breadcrumbs, the macaroni is creamy and hearty. It was often served on Fridays and was the perfect way to kick off the weekend. Meanwhile, the taco station is decked with several choices in a build-your-own taco style. Ground beef, fried fish, guacamole, cheese, sour cream, salsa, salads, you name it. In my experience, the meats were always just perfectly cooked and the tacos are generally a good bang for your buck, too. Fresh ingredients, cohesive flavours, and honestly filling — what more can you ask for?
There is a large focus on food and gatherings within the Mennonite community, something that became evident very quickly to me with Grebel’s daily coffee and lunch gatherings, a weekly community supper, and simply how good the food is. A piece from The Canadian Mennonite said, “Before every important congregational decision we seem to think better if we have first dined together,” and I couldn’t have agreed more. As someone coming from a South Asian and Middle Eastern background, I quickly appreciated these norms as my culture exhibits similar practices. Maybe that’s partly why I grew to feel comfortable at Grebel quite early on.
Fresh ingredients and hearty meals are one part of how Grebel sticks to their Mennonite heritage, but my personal favourite is their emphasis on zero waste. If you enjoyed some juicy, grilled chicken on Monday for lunch, drop by on Tuesday to please your palate with it again — but this time inside of a creamy soup or fried rice.
Eating at Grebel is a wholesome experience. With long-time kitchen staff employed directly by the college, there’s something comforting and inviting about seeing the same smiling faces as you grab your food. Large glass windows let plenty of sunlight into the dining room, and when the weather allows, you can even grab a seat on the patio.
So, would I say that Grebel is the best residence on campus for food? No. Because I don’t think I’m allowed to say that. But should you absolutely come on down for lunch sometime? Yeah, I think you should.
When I walked into St. Jerome’s cafeteria, it was all decorated for Christmas, with trees placed in various locations across the room. The cafeteria itself consists of one large rectangular room, filled with large round tables, and large floor-to-ceiling windows. With large space, and all the windows, the space felt very bright, open, and welcoming. The tables were filled with students eating lunch with their friends or studying for their next exams, fostering a strong sense of community and intimacy.
At their cafeteria, you can get food from several stations. They have a salad bar, a chef’s choice station, grill area, dessert area, cereal dispensers, and what looked like a deli station. I picked pasta, grilled cheese, some shredded carrots, and some shortbread cookies for dessert.
The carrots were as expected, shredded carrots. Nothing notable there.
The pasta consisted of macaroni noodles with two different sauce options: alfredo sauce or tomato sauce. This was the option at the chef’s choice station, and I grabbed it because I figured, it’s hard to screw up pasta, right? Wrong. These noodles were a little too soft, most likely overcooked, and sitting in a warming tray probably didn’t help. The alfredo sauce was actually pretty good as it was flavourful, but a little too thin — so much so it disappeared after only a few seconds in your mouth, and then you were left with sad, overcooked noodle flavour. It also got cold surprisingly quickly. Kevin, an Imprint photographer who came with me, ordered the pasta with tomato sauce and the root vegetables they were serving. He noted that the tomato sauce was also thin, and that the root vegetables lacked seasoning.
The grilled cheese was only half a sandwich, and it was far from warm. I think it had marble cheese inside, which would have been good had you been able to taste it. The overwhelming flavour was butter, and it was very greasy to the touch, which made it a less enjoyable experience. Not the best grilled cheese I’ve ever had.
Overall, the main course was a little disappointing. It lacked the flavour and the freshness that you would expect when ordering hot food.
But St. Jerome’s did have a redemption round — the dessert. The shortbread cookies were the best part of the meal. They were coated in powdered sugar (which made them a little messy), had an overall good texture, and were exactly what you would have expected from shortbread — buttery, crisp to bite into, and with just the right amount of sweetness. I was impressed, for a cafeteria dessert it was actually pretty good.
Would I get food at St. Jerome’s again? Probably not. But if I absolutely had to I would hope the other options are a little better than the pasta and I would not skip the dessert.
Renison’s cafeteria was filled with students in small and big groups. Some students were working on assignments while others were talking to their friends. The atmosphere of the cafeteria was very wholesome and full of laughter. The cafeteria also had decorations like snowflakes hanging from the ceiling, which encouraged the warm ambience.
As for the food, there were limited options for lunch. I was surprised to see that other than the salad bar there were just three options. The lunch menu had some pasta, lasagna, and rice. (There were also fries but I wouldn’t count them as an entrée, more so as a side.)
The pasta did have some tomato sauce and diced up carrots. However, it lacked sauce so severely I would just say it was plain penne noodles. The lasagna was hardly edible — it felt like I was chewing for days and no one finds that appetizing. The presentation of the lasagna was also a little disappointing because at first I couldn’t tell if it was actually lasagna. The fries, however, were crisp and were probably the most appetizing thing there.
When it came to the dessert I chose to get a chocolate ball with coconut shavings. I don’t know the particular name of the dessert but it was too sweet.
The atmosphere of the cafeteria was congenial but I would probably not eat at Renison again.
United’s cafeteria was a pretty interesting one to me. It was a bit confusing to navigate, mostly because there was a pool table near the entrance where students were enjoying their food while playing. The cafeteria had an empty feeling to it when compared to main campus residences.
The lunch menu changes based on the day of the week. On the day that I went, the lunch menu offered moussaka (non-veg), lamb souvlaki, Greek-style tofu, vegetable moussaka, roasted root vegetables, and Greek spinach and rice (spanakorizo). I chose to have the souvlaki, roasted root vegetables, and non-vegetarian moussaka. The lunch menu also had a salad bar, soup station, and daily grill which that day included grilled cheese, hamburgers, and veggie burgers.
The moussaka was decent but it was severely lacking in spices. The presentation was also a little disappointing, I couldn’t tell what I was eating at first glance. Their lamb kabob souvlaki was probably one of the worst I have had in my life, being awfully dry and impossibly tough to chew and that honestly made me feel sick. I think it took me a good five minutes to even cut into a piece. I would definitely recommend staying away from it. However, the roasted root vegetables did help make a comeback as they were very soft and well-seasoned.
The dessert would probably be the only thing I would come back for. I had the lemon cream cake and it was delicious. It was very soft and just melted in my mouth. I would probably not eat at United again — mostly because of the lamb souvlaki — but everything else was decent.