Little prepares the intrepid diner, newly landed in Edmonton, for the travails of the University of Alberta cafeteria. Located at points throughout the sprawling campus–we ate at CAB Café, in the basement of the Central Academic Building–they are industrial feeding machines, capable of efficiency but not delicacy. The results suck, combining national outlets like Burger King (probably your best bet, though good luck with your heart in a few years should you come to rely on it) with no-name fast-fooderies like Hot & Fresh Pizza 73.
At the latter, the server looked genuinely stunned at our request: a simple slice of Hawaiian. The petroleum-product cheese and grease made it initially tricky to unglue the pizza from our cardboard, V-shaped plate. Then a bite made us question the advisability of the project entirely. That unmistakable, arsenic tang of false tomato, the candy-store pineapple, beef jerky pepperoni and overall slovenliness–it all pleases not. Hot & Fresh? We doubt it.
A breaded veal cutlet with “potato” (french fries, actually) and “vegetable” (an unholy coagulation of green beans) from the Mediterranean Spice counter, generously slathered in “gravy,” made us consider actually resigning from our positions as food reviewers with Maclean’s rather than continue the horror. The meat, heavily salted, was likely not meat at all but some kind of substitute. The beans appeared to have been regurgitated by Oliver, of Charles Dickens fame, then preserved for our present delectation. The fries were waterlogged with gravy. We chose not to sample the mushrooms. A pasta concoction, meanwhile, from the salad bar, was like faux Hollandaise, solidified.
Only Wok’s Cooking, the caf’s Chinese stop, surprised–but only in comparison with the CAB Café’s other slop. A dark, thick, MSG-laden sauce, good for both noodles or for tarring a road, put the ummmmmm into umami (though we knew we would pay later in the form of the sweats and hot flashes). The noodles were gluey, but not inedible. The broccoli was real and wholesome, as were the onions, carrots and bean sprouts.
For dessert, a blueberry-poppy seed loaf, encrusted on top with icing and raw oatmeal, might have been better had the oatmeal not pierced the flesh of our gums. With luck, the antioxidizing action of the blueberries (pray for us they are real) may ultimately help us survive this meal.