Crossroads (AKA C-Town, Crossy-Cross, The Gorge and, for some reason, Flippy’s Food Arena) is an all-you-can-eat dining facility across from the Guerry Center on Cardiac Hill. I’m now realizing that the above nicknames were suggested to me as a joke so I would mention them in the article. Very funny. Ask me about our fake abstinence program we created at UTC back in the day called Abstinence Now! sometime.
I haven’t been on campus for a meal since about 2006, so the college dining experience, obviously, has changed a bit in 12 years. Compared to the University Center food court, with chains such as Steak n’ Shake, Panda Express, Chick-fil-A, Moe’s Southwestern Grill and Which Wich, Crossroads is a much more utilitarian experience. You pay between $6.75 and $8.25 (depending on the time of day), then you sit and fill yourself with food from all the nine stations. Crossroads is open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the week, and, technically, anybody can dine there. You just have to get there.
Which, by the way, I need to thank WUTC-FM for letting me steal a parking spot for an hour under the guise of being a visitor to the station. You poor students and the parking situation on campus. Sheesh. Has somebody complained about this yet? You should!
Cafeteria dining offers the diner an enormous amount of power. In this case, the $7.75 price tag was not so much that I felt the need to eat as much food as possible without throwing up. At a Chinese buffet, the $13 price tag induces a personal consumption challenge, which is not healthy and terribly sad when you’re dining alone. Everybody around you can sense the self-loathing rising from your booth as you eat the 30th crab rangoon.
Alina offered me a tour of the stations. She is a self-proclaimed veteran of the Crossroads dining lifestyle. Large signs signify what area you’re in—omelets, pasta, desserts, salad, the Comfort Kitchen, drinks, pizza, grilled foods—which makes for easy navigation unless you’re unable to read. They even have a soft-serve ice cream station with those sugar cones we loved as kids. I noticed several of the foods are made to order at each station, so you might have to wait a few minutes to get a burger, omelet or mac and cheese.
The choice to eat healthy is your own. I saw a guy stack five slices of pizza on a plate and nobody batted an eye. Alina said some students game the system by purchasing lunch, staying in the cafeteria for hours studying and then eating dinner as part of the same visit. There were several people camped out at the center, and honestly, I don’t blame them a bit. College is expensive. The ones who learn how to beat the system will be our leaders one day.
The Culinary Institute of America has a student commons dining area called The Egg. In it, students can enjoy four-star dining, brews (yes, beer), a lounge area, karaoke, movie nights and a fireplace study.
Crossroads is not The Egg. But you can’t help but notice a certain community feel expressed by the employees and students. For example, an employee named Randy saw me taking a photo of the drink station and demanded his photo be taken as well. Alina said students and staff become friends over time and develop caring relationships. She said Crossroads has a familial atmosphere, especially around the annual holiday dinners.
Alina visited Comfort Kitchen, which offered fried fish, a Brussels sprouts and carrot mixture, and kung pao cauliflower. I decided to be gluttonous and visited the grill station first. Several students were in line waiting on cheeseburgers to come off the grill. I assembled a hamburger, threw some fries on a plate and sat down with Alina for lunch. Later, I visited the pizza station for a slice, the dessert station for cookies and the drink station. I also got a few pieces of fruit for the road. Why not?
Apparently, the cooks will often experiment with weird ingredients like Fruity Pebbles or peanut butter as a way to keep students interested. This day, the station offered a “bistro beet burger,” which sounded just awful.
The food was exactly what you expect it to be. My burger tasted like a backyard grilled version; the fries are a basic shoestring variety that salt helps flavor. Alina’s kung pao cauliflower was tasty, but the Brussels sprouts were rather slimy. In 2017, there is no need to boil sprouts. She didn’t eat them and I don’t blame her. The fish was flaky and “more like chicken, but not bad,” she said. I later tried a slice of pizza that was surprisingly good. It reminded me of the Red Baron/Tony’s frozen pizzas (a nostalgic flavor for me) but with a much better crust. We also tried a puffy macaron, which was sweet and delicious. My apple tasted suspiciously like an apple when I ate it later for a midafternoon snack. Curious, no?
Would we go back?
I’m not sure I would visit Campus Crossroads again unless it were a matter of convenience. I would much rather pay a little more for Chick-fil-A, Steak ‘n Shake or Moe’s. Having said that, Crossroads is a great way to eat on a budget. For only $7.75 at lunch, you can eat until you’re exploding. For college students, Crossroads is a no-brainer. Good luck finding a place to park if you’re not a student, though.
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.