Words by Michael Pasco
When you come back from summer break, don’t be surprised when The VCU Student Commons looks different. The dining area in The Commons will be renovated, with Burger King replacing the Nao and Zen, and Taco Bell replacing Zoca.
“The plan is to take the dividing wall [in Park Place] down … Each one of the venues will have a walk-up cash register and beverage counter,” said Dan McDonald, assistant director for the department of business services at VCU.
While the Burger King and Taco Bell will be express dining locations with modified menus akin to Laurel and Grace Place’s IHOP, Chik-fil-A will be receiving an upgrade by fall 2013.
“The plan is to make it a full service Chik fil A,” said McDonald. “Whatever a full service Chick-fil-A has, that is what we will have.”
He also said student input was used to help make the decisions for the new restaurants.
“We held a survey in fall of 2012. We asked students and faculty to rate their top seven locations, and we wanted to know what they wanted to have in the Student Commons,” said Cole. “We asked for their preferred seven, whether it is what we have now or something new,” said McDonald.
Taco Bell was the highest voted dining location students wanted on campus.
Park Place, the upper level seating area on the first floor of the Commons, will be receiving new seating, furniture lighting, and ceiling improvements. Dining Services invested $3 million on improving this location. The changes will be made over the summer in preparation for the fall semester.
The Commons Convenience will also be receiving an upgrade, along the lines of ARAMARK’s Provisions on Demand concept. PODs provide the campus with a corner store market with groceries, grab-and-go meals and other products found in convenience stores.
“Jamba Juice is going to be continued on and enhanced in the Commons Convenience,” said McDonald.
Shafer Dining Court will receive two changes for the upcoming semester. It will be receiving a bakery and dessert section, and have an upgraded and more visible nutrition kiosk. It will be a tower with TV monitors that students can use to access nutritional information about what is available on the Market 810 menu.
“You can also get all the nutrition information on the dining section of the VCU Mobile app, along with menus, hours and events,” said Kristan Cole, Marketing, Trademarks and Licensing Manager for VCU.
The Commons is not the only place getting a makeover. In Market 810 To-Go, the walls will be pushed back physically to allow more space for food options and people. There will be more sandwich options and a deli bar.
VCU is also looking to give Cary St. Market and Deli a renovation in the upcoming year. “We are adding a nice salad and sandwich bar,” said McDonald. “It will receive some fairly significant upgrades.”
The MCV campus will undergo a few renovations as well. VCU said they want to make changes on Hunton Hall. “It will either receive Croutons, which has proven to be very successful on Monroe Park campus, or a branded sandwich concept,” said McDonald.
Words and photos by Shannon Minor
When I arrived at Bacchus, located in the Fan, the vibe felt slightly uncomfortable. Greeted by stares, the waiters and hostesses behind the bar looked at my friend and I as if to question, why are you even here?
Once I said I had a reservation though, the mood quickly shifted and ourwaiter was prompt to seat us with a friendly attitude.
Serving Italian based food; Bacchus is named after the Roman God of Wine. The restaurant feels very mellow, with dimmed lights and candles around the bar and on the walls. The tables are colorful and the dark wooden booths created a comfortable, cozy atmosphere.
Our waitress started off our Restaurant Week experience with two bread rolls and olive oil for a dipping. Our Hostess told us the full Restaurant Week menu featured a combination of popular dishes that could also be made quickly.
She also said that the chef wanted to make sure the food brought people back for more. The menu consisted of 11 different appetizers, six entrees and three desserts to choose from.
With the vast amount of appetizers to choose from, the decision was a little difficult to make. I went with the baked polenta and marinara with mozzarella or gorgonzola. Our waiter was helpful and encouraged me to try gorgonzola cheese. He insisted it was the better of the two cheeses.
The dish had an overall interesting texture, much like cornbread. The marinara sauce was delicious with chunks of tomatoes. Our waiter was certainly right with the choice of gorgonzola cheese, as it added a balance and subtle, cool flavor to the warmness of the sauce.
As the night went on, the restaurant started to fill up with a mix of old and young adults. The music fit the mood and not too loud, contributing to the pleasant atmosphere and allowing tableside conversation.
For my main course, I chose the seared salmon withartichoke and lemon sauce. Our waiter served the meal quickly, but I was surprised by how small the serving was. Nonetheless, the seasoning on the salmon was mouthwatering and the fish was cooked perfectly with crispness on top. The artichoke and lemon sauce heightened the flavor and made it even more appetizing and strong.
The mixed vegetables that accompanied the meal were squash, onions, carrots, asparagus, zucchini and mashed potatoes. The vegetables paired together with the salmon made the overall dish well balanced and savory.
Choosing a dessert was also a difficult decision. As a sucker for chocolate and peanut butter, I went with the chocolate peanut butter pie. Our hostess Valentine said that the peanut butter is mixed with cream cheese, which explained its amazing, creamy texture.
The crust tasted like chocolate graham crackers combined with melted chocolate candy bars. Both the chocolate and peanut butter were not too rich or sweet, allowing my friend and I to easily share without being overwhelmed by the flavors.
It is questionable whether I would return to Bacchus anytime soon. The food was delectable; however, the portions were small.The servers were very personable, attentive and happy to answer any questions I had. I also appreciated their input and suggestions about the food. Overall, the experience was enjoyable but nothing I would go running back for more.
Bacchus is open from 5 p.m. and has no set closing time, seven days a week. The restaurant is about a 10-minute walk from campus.
Don’t worry anymore about searching all over the web to find out what you can eat for a swipe, because we will be your one-stop shop for everything you need to know about each VCU Dining Location. We have all the locations and times set up for you. Just click the following links to learn more about what each location has to offer.
810 Cathedral Place
Monday-Thursday: 7:00 a.m – Midnight
Friday: 7:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday: 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Einstein Bros. Bagels
Monday-Thursday: 7:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Friday: 7:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Not open on weekends
VCU Student Commons
Pizza Hut Express
Monday-Friday: 7:30 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.
Sunday: 5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Nao and Zen
Monday-Thursday: 7:30 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Friday: 7:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Saturday: 11 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Monday-Thursday: 7:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Friday: 7:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
355 W. Cary St.
Cary St. Market and Deli
Monday-Friday: 10:30 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Monday-Thursday: 11:00 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 11:00 a.m. – Midnight
Sunday: 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Laurel and Grace Place
Sunday-Wednesday: 7 a.m. – 1 a.m.
Thursday-Saturday: 7 a.m. – 3 a.m.
Croutons, Salads, and Wraps
Monday-Sunday: 10:30 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Words by Sam Isaacs
Eating out is awesome. Getting served something (hopefully) delicious while enjoying the company of friends or family can be a refreshing and fulfilling experience.
With that being said, one of my biggest gripes with the restaurant scene in Richmond is people giving establishments way more credit than they deserve. Yes, some of the places here make really incredible dishes, but the food is only a part of what makes a restaurant great.
When eating out, particularly at more upscale places, one of the reasons why the prices are so high is that you as the customer are also paying for the name and the experience. With that being said, do not accept and make excuses for mediocre service, or a dirty restaurant.
The service and atmosphere are just as important as the overall food when dining out and should be taken just as seriously. I’m not saying walk into a place and treat everyone horribly, but as a paying customer you are owed great service and a good atmosphere.
Too many times in this city have I been served food by someone who looks like they could care less whether I live or die when I walk out the door or other times, eaten at a place with a filthy dining room and borderline inhumane bathroom. There is one phrase that I hear all the time that makes my skin crawl, “Well it’s good for Richmond.”
What does that even mean? Why can’t something just be universally good? Getting mediocre treatment from a wait staff and eating off filthy plates on a dirty table in a disgusting restaurant does not make the place “chic,” “urban” or “cozy.”
As a college student, every penny to my name is precious and if I am going to give my time and money to a business then I expect to be treated like a guest and be comfortable while doing so. There is no reason why you should accept anything less.
On the contrary, if you do run into a great server, always tip well and personally let them know that you enjoyed their service. As one of the most thankless jobs out there, a few extra dollars and kind words go a long way.
So get out there, explore all of places Richmond has to offer and make sure never sell your dining experience short.
Words by Michael Pasco
As originally published in The Commonwealth Times
Returning students will have noticed by now that some VCU Dining locations have changed since last year. Most notably, Starbucks replaced the Quiznos location at Barnes and Noble.
As a business, Quiznos did not have a good year. The brand faced bankruptcy and a deal was made with Avenue Capital Group in order to lower the debt.
“(Our own) Quiznos sales have declined 28 percent in the past year,” said Dan McDonald, assistant director of VCU business services.
The spot in Barnes and Noble has been replaced by Monroe Park Campus’ third Starbucks, a cafe often associated with the bookstore.
“Starbucks is arguably the most popular brand that we have on campus,” McDonald said. “Students love them. They have expanded their offerings, and they are more than just coffee.”
Unlike the Starbucks at Cabell Library, the new location in Barnes and Noble only takes Rambucks, not dining dollars.
“I don’t think students miss the Quiznos as much as the availability of meal swipes,” said McDonald. The differing policy frustrates some students.
“It shouldn’t be in VCU’s Barnes and Noble if you can’t use VCU’s meal plan,” said sophomore Jalen Gregory.
This change coincided with the opening of Laurel and Grace Place, home to Raising Cane’s, IHOP Express and Croutons, Salads and Wraps. All of these vendors have offerings on the dining plan for students with meal plans and their hours have shifted to be more accommodating.
Cane’s and Croutons are now open until 1 a.m. through the week. IHOP will also be closing at 1 a. m. Sunday through Wednesday, but will retain its previous hours of 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. for Thursday through Saturday.
“You can still get better quality food at a later hour … [but] it doesn’t overwork the IHOP (employees),” said sophomore Marc Noronha. “You get more variety, and you don’t have to deal with lines out the door anymore.”
IHOP broadened its meal exchange menu by giving customers the option to swipe for fully customized omelets, grilled cheese or grilled chicken sandwiches.
Other VCU Dining locations such as Bleeker Street, located in Snead Hall, and Croutons, have also altered their chip selection. Miss Vickie’s chips, once a staple at the locations, have been replaced by Lay’s, SunChips and Doritos.
“It’s not that they’re no longer available. We only switched because students asked us to switch due to variety,” said ARAMARK District Manager Michael Martin. “We could probably do a combination of both. It’s never been one or the other.”
Chick-fil-A has been in headlines lately regarding their stance on gay rights. VCU officials have stated that it will be monitoring the situation of VCU’s Chik-fil-A.
“VCU Dining Services is committed to VCU’s equal opportunity policy and firmly upholds the university’s non-discrimination policy. VCU’s business partners and vendors must comply with this policy as well,” VCU Dining Services said in a statement.
Shafer Food Court has also seen its share of changes, though more cosmetic than the other dining locations.
The deli, introduced during spring semester of 2012, will now be where the dessert section was.
“We can grill it, panini it, and turbochef [heat] it now,” said Martin. The dessert section is now located next to the pizza station.
Additionally, a new “Eat Well” station in Market 810 will allow students to pick up a full meal cooked to go with 500 calories or less, according to marketing and public relations manager of VCU business services Kristan Cole.
Words by Aleena Inthaly
Photos by Kyle Daileda
Mama J's is only a 20-minute walk from the Monroe campus.
One of the great perks to living in the south is being able to enjoy simple Southern comfort food. On a narrow city street located in Jackson Ward, sits a quaint restaurant serving up all the classics. Mama J’s Kitchen is more than just another Richmond food joint, in fact it is a visit to Grandma’s house.
Now I am not sure if all Grandmas can cook as well as Mama J, but her kitchen is definitely the place to be! The moment I walked into Mama J’s Kitchen, I felt like I had just walked into someone’s home. The aroma that diffused from the kitchen reminded me of an old school backyard barbeque; it was delightful and comforting.
According to their website, Mama J learned most of her wonderful recipes from her own mother.
The decor consisted of colorful home objects such as bright plates and flowers. The bar in the front of the restaurant was constructed to look like a classic mahogany bar with high stools and a dessert case full of scrumptious looking cakes.
It was a busy Saturday evening, so the restaurant was packed. The wait for a five-seated table took about fifteen minutes and with only two waiters working, I was very impressed. The staff was very friendly and showed a great dose of southern hospitality. Once my company and I were seated, the waitress took our drink orders. The menus are placed under the table for convenience purposes and though it was not very extensive, the menu showed great promise to well-made soul food.
We were served iced tea and lemonade while scanning the menu which had about twelve distinct items that consisted of fried or baked chicken, fried catfish, trout, crab cakes, and another list of staple southern side dishes such as mashed potatoes, seafood salad, macaroni and cheese and more.
The pricing for each entree ranged between $5-$16 and the side dishes individually cost about $2-$3 each which meant a full meal could be from $10-$22 depending on what you order. For the portion that’s given and the quality of the food, it’s definitely worth it.
All of Mama J's dishes are affordable enough for students.
I ordered one piece of fried catfish with a side of macaroni and cheese and potato salad. My friends ordered a variety of fried and baked chicken and also country-fried steak with various sides. The wait for food was a little longer than I expected but with Saturday night football on the TV and good conversation with my company, it didn’t feel as long.
The catfish was cooked to perfection but what really surprised me was the breading. Usually, when I order a fried fish, it is very likely that the breading will be heavy and caked in grease. However, at Mama J’s, the breading was very light and crispy almost as if it was part of the fish’s skin. The macaroni and cheese was also very tasty though the water from the noodles did leave an odd puddle of water at the bottom of the side dish.
Overall, it was a pleasant culinary experience and I happened to eat my meal in complete silence. There were no words to describe how at home I felt; it was the ultimate soul food. I ordered the potatoes because I usually evaluate the overall experience on how well a restaurant cooks their vegetables specifically potatoes because it is very easy to undercook them. If a restaurant can perfectly cook their potatoes, it means they are on the top of the list and Mama J’s definitely made the top of my list.
Each side is a generous portion like this pasta salad with shrimp.
I recommend this restaurant to any family or foodie who is in search of good home cooking in the middle of the River City. It really is a hole in the wall sort of atmosphere and at the end of every meal; there is an extensive dessert case of amazing pound cakes that will put a smile on anyone’s face.
Mama J’s Kitchen is located at 415 North 1st Street, Richmond, VA 23219. Visit Mama J’s at http://www.mamajskitchen.com/mamaj.html
Words by Sam Isaacs
Don't Look Back is just a 20 minute walk from VCU's Monroe Park campus
Don’t Look Back, the heartwarming story of a beloved, closed down taco truck getting a shot at throwing its hand into the Richmond restaurant scene. It is a story that raises one’s interests. The question is however; does Don’t Look Back live up to the high expectations? Or is it just another case of a Richmond hype restaurant with all buzz and no delivery? To put it simply, this place sets a new standard for what I consider fantastic tacos.
The Community Garden is the first one of its kind on VCU's MCV campus.
Words by Michael Pasco
Photos by Aleena Inthaly
On Tuesday April 24, you couldn’t walk on the MCV campus without hearing people mention the Strawberry Cook-off. Green Unity, an organization focused on bringing people in the VCU and Richmond community together through the use of healthy food and healthy habits, cut the ribbon to a plot of fields for students to use and grow their own organic food.
Words and Photos by Amanda Campbell
There are certain things that make an Italian restaurant full and taste like the best in Richmond. Stuzzi is just the place to get authentic Italian pizza and small dishes that will make feel like you just visited Naples. The phrase “authentic Italian” may seem a little clichéd (I mean Olive Garden calls themselves that and they are the farthest thing from “authentic Italian”) but I have visited Italy and the flavors in the dishes served at Stuzzi are on point.
Words by Azam Malik
Photos by Aleena Inthaly
Breakfast, lunch and that’s it. That would have to be the most honest survey of the small, comfy little diner, City Diner, which is tucked along Broad Street. Having passed it often, but never truly wondering what was inside, I ventured in this weekend with absolutely no expectations whatsoever. Read more