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Scott vs. Scott

Story: Scott Koenig, Images: Maggie Wehri

After months spent browsing some of the best — and worst — food in the campus area, it’s time to look to the university’s interior. Ohio State’s dining facilities are strikingly polarizing; to some students, eating at a dining hall is abject torture to both tongue and intestines, while to others, it’s an extravagant indulgence in a virtually endless supply of calories. This dichotomy warrants an investigation. Healthy food begets healthy minds, which in turn beget thriving academic communities. If Ohio State is to continue its ascent through the ranks of the world’s elite learning institutions, providing proper nutrition is a major key.

Constructed in the fall of 2015, Traditions at Scott is the flagship of Ohio State’s student ining services. Located on 160 W. Woodruff Avenue, the latest addition to the Traditions’ trio of facilities features two floors of cooking stations, with an array of meals on offer ranging from Mongolian to Brazilian to American comfort food. It’s intended to be an inclusive environment with options for everyone, as vegetarian, gluten-free and nut-free dishes are clearly labelled at each station. It’s a bustling atmosphere from morning to evening, where people from all corners of the Buckeye kingdom come to sate their appetites. Indeed, as much as any of the food, it was the warm sense of community invoked by the Traditions name that I was eager to taste. So I did just that.

What follows is an hour-by-hour log of a full day spent inside Traditions at Scott. The goal was simple: eat three meals and decide with finality if Ohio State’s dining services are something to call home about — whether out of excitement or health concerns. Follow along for an intimate look at our flashy new dining hall and all its culinary flair, and take your next trip armed with knowledge.

 

11:10 am:

Here I am. The day has arrived that I subject myself to the dietary expertise of Ohio State’s finest part-time chefs. My first impression upon entrance: a bewildering smorgasbord. One is spoiled for choice in Traditions at Scott, but not spoiled for a sense of direction. The place gives me no clue where to start, so I follow my stomach. After a cursory glance across the expanse of tables, chairs and apathetic work-study employees, I submit to convention and wander to the “Breakfast All Day” station.

IMG_1716I load up on scrambled eggs, tater tots, french toast sticks, sweet potatoes and orange juice before looking for a place to sit and start chowing. With few exceptions, every available seat is at a table for four or more. The designers clearly had in mind a “get together with friends” atmosphere, which clashes with the “hunch and munch alone” atmosphere I’ll be building for the next few hours.

I start to eat and notice the scrambled eggs taste like repurposed chewing gum, so I have to douse them in buffalo sauce to make them tolerable. The tots and french toast sticks are typical frozen fare, neither astounding nor disappointing, specifically formulated for parents who have no time to cook and for children who haven’t yet reached the age at which they can reflect on the trough slop their parents feed them. A glass of their orange juice contains 100% of the recommended daily value of vitamin C as well as 100% of the recommended weekly value of sugar. After three sips I switch to a cup of tea. The sweet potatoes, however, are a safe haven. They’re soft and delicious as only sweet potatoes can be. If all else fails, I’ve found my comfort food for the next seven hours.

My first go at breakfast was underwhelming so I decide to wipe the slate clean and try it again. I mosey over to the made-to-order omelette station and have the pleasure of seeing cook Jacob W. showcase his wizardry with the spatula. After just a minute or two of waiting he hands me a beauty with spinach, bacon, tomatoes and mushrooms. I top it with mozzarella and smoked tabasco and I dig in. The vegetables are fresh and the eggs have a great flavor and texture; everything converges well into one of the best omelettes I’ve ever had. If you see Jacob W. making omelettes, get in line. A bowl of trusty Frosted Flakes with 2% milk caps a rather sinuous start to the day.

 

IMG_169512:50 pm:

Now an hour removed from the end of my last meal, it’s time to walk about the place and find a snack. I settle on vanilla yogurt mixed with granola and fruit — a hearty and delicious way to get one’s daily dose of protein, vitamin C and indigestion. If there wasn’t already something strange happening in my stomach, there is now.

 

1:29 pm:

Post-meal lethargy is the question and coffee is the answer. Today’s house brew is a light roast — Nicaraguan Matagalpa. My favorite thing about it is that it’s caffeinated. There are muddy puddles of Nicaraguan rainwater that surely taste better than this blend but it’s the only option.

 

2:22 pm:

It’s time for lunch. My plate is loaded with popcorn chicken, dirty rice with pork, sautéed mixed vegetables and a breadstick. I thought about trying some items from the vegetarian section but the available food looked like burnt Play-Doh garnished with leaves from an artificial decorative fern. Vegetarian students have my sympathy. For the carnivorous remainder, however, the popcorn chicken is delectable, and by “delectable” I mean “I’m trying hard not to think about which part of the chicken I’m currently eating.” The dirty rice had some interesting spices thrown in, but the pork tasted like tofu that had been left out for a few hours and then soaked in french onion soup. The highlights of the meal were the sautéed vegetables and the garlic-laden breadsticks, which rivaled Fisher Ink President, Devin Casey, in their softness.

IMG_1821I go back out into the mix to get another breadstick and a bowl of broccoli bisque before calling it a meal. Unfortunately, I nearly double over from the toxic levels of salt and cheese in my soup. And the broccoli itself more resembles coagulated green food coloring than a flower-headed vegetable. But I digress. The dessert station features Rice Krispie Treat-like pastries that are instead made from Lucky Charms and I snag one. It’s awe-inspiring; gooey marshmallow filling holds together bits of Lucky Charms cereal to form a magisterially sweet and crispy square. It makes an unassailable case that food should be considered art.

 

3:28 pm:

Post-meal sluggishness is back with a vengeance and I can’t bring myself to fight it with more of their brackish caffeinated rainwater. My stomach is sending me messages but I’m not responding. I’ve got one more meal to eat here and in the name of journalistic integrity I press onward.

 

5:22 pm:

Some of the employees have taken note that I’ve been here for over six hours. I can’t blame them for being curious but if they keep up the persecutory staring I will leave a one-star Yelp review.

 

6:25 pm:

At long last, I’m ready for dinner. Tonight’s pickings are a cheeseburger, sweet potato fries, a grilled cheese sandwich and a spinach salad with green peppers, a bean medley and balsamic vinaigrette dressing. This is my final foray into Traditions cuisine before I excuse myself from it forever. The burger is uninspiring but I’m given the impression that it’s made of real meat, which comes as a torrent of relief after today’s events. The grilled cheese, arguably one of the most difficult meals to mess up, was thankfully not messed up. The pillars of consistency in Traditions at Scott are Lucky Charms treats and anything related to sweet potatoes. The fries were scrumptious and I load up on two more of the treats before I pack up for the day.

 

Closing thoughts:

I left Traditions at Scott with a rejuvenated sense of school spirit.  Despite the queasiness and a peculiar sloshing in my abdomen, I’m excited for the future of Ohio State’s student dining services. If nothing else, Traditions gives you options. It’s an individualistic, free-market style of dining that empowers each member of the Buckeye community to make healthy choices — healthy choices which can potentiate the mind and stoke the flames of innovation and academic success. This place makes it a chore to avoid the ingredients of America’s obesity epidemic — fried batter, processed meat, high fructose corn syrup, etc. — but hey, we’re a football school anyway. Eat up.

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