The beginning of this semseter shook up the campus food landscape at the University of Calgary. Chartwells’ 10-year reign as the campus food provider ended in April and American food giant Aramark has replaced them, launching a set of vendors throughout the campus. The options are limitless, ranging from Mexican food and sushi to tea and frozen yogurt.
The first few weeks of operations were a learning experience for these new vendors, but the dust has settled a month into the fall semester.
The Gauntlet checked out three new campus eateries to decide which of them are worth your time and money.
When I heard that corporate food giant Aramark opened a David’s Tea-style vendor in EEEL, I was skeptical. It reminded me of when a suburban dad tries talking to teens — he gets the terminology and slang right, but everything still feels a little off. I could imagine dozens of suit-clad Aramark executives sitting around a board saying “the kids like those fancy new-fangled tea shops, right?”
But to my pleasant surprise, Teaja is exactly what you would expect from a boutique tea retailer, just with the convenience of being on campus. Sporting a stylish white and bamboo facade, Teaja is steeped in the spirit of fancy tea without leaning too far into the faux-oriental aesthetic of some corporate retailers.
The serene atmosphere of the EEEL foyer also adds to this feeling. A calm spot for a cup of tea makes sense in the quiet, wide-open space. The baristas are friendly and efficient and work without the wide-eyed panic that has come to characterize employees at the campus Tim Hortons and Starbucks locations, probably because of EEEL’s relatively remote location.
Teaja’s menu is comprised of dozens of organic teas, ranging from your classic earl grey to something called the ‘House of Bourban.’ They also provide lattes, smoothies, iced teas and iced tea sodas, with most drinks costing less than four dollars. I ordered an iced tea soda called “Booya!”, a maté tea combined nicely with blackberry syrup to produce a light, refreshing beverage on one of the last hot days of the summer. There’s a small fridge featuring prepackaged sandwiches and salads, and assorted pastries will also become available in the coming weeks.
With a reasonable price point, friendly service and a tranquil atmosphere, Teaja is a great addition to the beverage market on campus. If you love tea, give Teaja a try — it’s a better option and a shorter line than any of the chain stores at the university.
Sweet and Savory (MacHall)
Whether you’re after a hearty lunch, a quick snack or dessert with friends, the newly opened Sweet and Savory is true to its name, offering a variety of options to fill your hungry stomach.
The new vendor replaces the subpar Happy Hut with better quality Indian food. “Savory” options include reasonably-priced, made-from-scratch vegetarian and chicken curries, as well as samosas and made-to-order salads. The “sweet” options consist of assorted bubble teas, and of course, self-serve frozen yogurt.
Not only has Sweet and Savory brought “froyo” to MacHall, but it’s offering some of the cheaper frozen yogurt in Calgary at 67 cents per ounce. With a rotating group of eight flavours and toppings like fresh fruit, hard candy and popping boba, there’s no shortage of options.
Cheesecake and dulce de leche are two indulgent flavours that I tried, while combinations like green tea with strawberry are refreshing and unique. For purists, chocolate and vanilla are yogurt mainstays.
As a vendor that’s only been running for a month on campus, not all of Sweet and Savory’s offerings are ready yet — they plan to introduce Taiwanese foam tea and shaved ice desserts in the near future — and they haven’t quite worked out all of their kinks.
One problem is that it’s been difficult to buy froyo during the peak hours of business, mostly due to the inconvienent location of the self-serve yogurt at the side of the restaurant. But in recent weeks, it’s become easier to grab a quick cup of froyo in between classes.
Though froyo is the biggest draw to Sweet & Savory, the vendor’s Indian food is just as solid. There’s a different dish on special each day that’s even cheaper than their already reasonable prices.
With friendly, enthusiastic owners, affordable eats and a highly customizable menu, Sweet and Savory has promise of becoming a MacHall mainstay.
Joining the list of new vendors on campus is Bento Sushi, located on the main floor of the Education building. Offering sushi, bento boxes, donburi rice bowls and a plethora of interesting side dishes, Bento is a definite step up from the mediocre cafe that used to be in Education — and it may even be the best Japanese food on campus.
Bento’s top competition in that regard is Umi Sushi, located in the MacHall food court. Despite offering fairly similar menus, the two vendors have different focuses. Convenience is key for Umi, which boasts a more central location and much lower prices.
But when it comes to quality, Bento comes out on top. Their ramen and donburi rice bowls cost nearly $10, but the serving size is fairly substantial and the meals feel much closer to restaurant quality than Umi’s fare.
The biggest knock against Bento is the fact that you’ll be tasked with a trek out to Education, which isn’t ideal if you want to grab a quick bite between classes. But if you’re in that neck of the woods already, it’s a great option if you want something different from the usual campus menu.
Like most Janapese take-out options, Bento’s sushi is only passable, but the best choices are the California or avocado rolls.
Their bento boxes and rice bowls more than make up for it, though. They’re also great for those looking for healthier campus options, as they offer brown rice as an alternative to the regular white, a welcome helping of veggies with each meal and protein that isn’t coated in sauce or other suspect toppings.
As long as you avoid the less healthy tempura and spicy mayo, Bento can even serve as a great choice for a post-workout meal.
Also working in Bento’s favour is their excellent service. Their staff are friendly and enthusiastic to make suggestions to help you find an item you’ll love if you’re unfamiliar the menu. Your meal is also whipped up fairly quickly, so you can be in and out with your grub in hand.
They certainly aren’t rivalling any of the top-tier Japanese restaurants downtown, or even those nearby in Kensington, but if you’re on campus and looking to forego the absurd Subway and Tim’s lines for a more interesting blend of flavours, Bento is your best bet.