The University of Lethbridge boasts some of the most stunning views in academic Canada, and its cafeteria, at the south end of the Arthur Erickson-designed University Hall, is no exception. Here a bank of windows looks out upon the city’s coulies – rippling, khaki-coloured gulches that clamber up out of Oldman River. Hence the eatery’s name, Coulee Junction, or CJs. Eat here, by all means: it’s bright, scenic and friendly.
But wait, did I forget to mention the food? Bring your own.
That or stick with the Fresh Inspirations Salad Bar and the selection of ready-made sandwiches and salads from CJ¹s refrigerated Simply To Go corner. Our salad, with a refreshing cucumber-dill dressing atop real boiled eggs, carrots and brocoli, was rudimentary but functional. Ditto the croissant ham and swiss, an old standby with a surprisingly good sweet mustard, a fresh roll, spinach and nice tomato.
Stay clear, however, of the rice stir-fries, which a cook will render into goop before your very eyes; if consistency is not a priority, the tasteless shrimp, in this case, and oddly aromatic celery, ought to be enough to command evasive maneuvres. So too the sweet-and-sour sauce, which is either a balance of flavours so perfect that it becomes invisible or – more likely in our view – a red-coloured placebo.
An order of oven-fried cod parmesan, available that day from the International Entrées counter, reignites an old conviction that fish and cheese combinations should remain as taboo as sibling sex (a side of rice, meanwhile, tasted like grandfather¹s closet, and the carrots were ghastly).
The River Rock Grill’s cheese burger was flavourful but greasy. The chicken souvlaki, served in a spinach wrap, was too luridly green and brashly orange for our taste – it’s for good reason David Lynch never became a chef – and the fresh onions tended to over-awe the ensemble; still, it served its purpose.
Finally, a brownie cake – at least, this was our interpretation of the effort – was of a mood-altering sweetness, and would likely be deemed illegal in the state of Alabama. In Alberta, however, the firecracker snap of the desert’s multicoloured sprinkles made us feel as though we were 18 again; then we immediately crashed and consulted the Internet for Keith Richards-approved remedy.