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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Deliciously unsatisfying

Upstairs Café fails at making the grab-and-go lifestyle healthy or affordable

Published: February 12, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

Delicious food and the grab-and-go lifestyle don’t seem like they would go together—how can people fully appreciate their food when they barely have time to chew it?—but the newest addition to on-campus dining, the Upstairs Café, attempts to make even grab-and-go options tasty. While, for the most part, the Café succeeds in offering scrumptious meals, ultimately it fails in making them both healthy and satisfying.

I’m skeptical whenever a dining facility opens on-campus. A new facility does not necessarily mean new or different food options. The meals usually taste the same, and are composed of the same ingredients, indistinguishable from what I’ve eaten a thousand times before. The Upstairs Café, though, was a pleasant surprise.

On the CampusDish Web site the Café purports to serve “upscale specialty sandwiches” and the actual products live up to that statement in taste. The ingredients seem fresher, the bread softer, the lettuce crisper in comparison to the sandwiches Usdan provides. Maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part, or the fact that rather than taking my time to savor the Café’s sandwiches, I was wolfing them down, but the quality of the ingredients seem to be higher than normal campus fare.

The “New Englander Bagatini” is especially worth trying. The sweetness of the cranberry bread and sliced apples combines with the sour lemon pepper aioli to form a complex, delicious flavor. While the turkey was a tad dry, overall the sandwich was pretty incredible. If you order it be careful as the sauce makes it a bit messy. So, if you’re looking for a quick bite to eat before an interview and you’re wearing your best clothes, I wouldn’t recommend attempting to inhale this sandwich. You’ll need more than five minutes and plenty of napkins.

Unfortunately, among the other sandwiches that I sampled, none lived up to the Bagatini. The “Piedmonter Baguette” wasn’t memorable—it was neither especially tasty nor cringe-worthy, just boring.

On the other hand, the “Cubano Ciabatta” presented the biggest disappointment and reveals why I won’t be a frequent customer. At $5.69, I expected to get a sandwich that would at least satisfy me, that would leave me full and with enough energy to write that essay or go to work, but the Ciabatta simply was not enough. While the dijonaise sauce was fantastic, on two tiny pieces of bread, the sandwich barely made a dent in my hunger. This wouldn’t be a problem if the Café offered healthy sides, but I did not see an apple among the chocolate chip cookies, the chocolate dipped coconut macaroons or the potato chips. While I’m sure all those items make for delicious snacks, I’m also sure they are bad for me. Why do grab-and-go snacks have to be unhealthy?

The Café does offer a selection of salads as entrees, which I did not sample and I’m sure are of equal quality to the sandwiches, but that still leaves the point that there are no healthy snack options. In fact, the only fruit is the fresh fruit cup, which the Café’s menu labels as a “breakfast item” and would cost $2.59 in comparison to the $1.09 for the macaroon.

I’m on a meal plan, and so if I wanted a fruit cup, I would not be able to get a drink along with a sandwich, let alone a healthy drink (freshly squeezed orange juice is just over $3).

So, while the Upstairs Café is indeed delicious, it’s also expensive and offers only unhealthy snack options, which means, for the most part, I will be fulfilling my grab-and-go needs somewhere else.