A room with a view
Its lunchtime, and your only thought is to ease your hunger pangs quickly and efficiently. Expecting something more Levenworth than Le Cirque, you stride into the dining room, and are stopped short by the view. The nearly floor-to-ceiling windows reveal bridges spanning the Iowa River and flags fluttering atop Old Capitol and the Johnson County Courthouse.
You head toward the food but are again distracted by the brushed metal islands on industrial casters, the glinting glass display cases, and the menu. Choices include tomato-basil fettuccini, spicy Indonesian noodles, and grilled honey-stung pork.
No, you havent stumbled into Iowa Citys trendiest new restaurant.
On second thought, maybe you have.
Youre at the newly refurbished Hillcrest Market Place.
The renovations to Hillcrest, which hadnt changed much since it opened in 1960, had their genesis in conversations that began nearly six years ago, according to Maggie Van Oel, director of Residence Services. Administrators and staff studied food trends across the country, sampled dozens of recipes, and worked with consultants to come up with the current configuration of cooking, serving, and clean-up facilities.
In addition, the decision was made to consolidate Quad and Hillcrest.
"We considered a number of issues in deciding which facility to renovate," Van Oel says. "The views in Hillcrest are just so great, it would have been a shame not to take advantage of them."
Diners have certainly been enjoying the vistas since Hillcrest Market Place opened on the first day of classes. Staff members admit these early days have been a challenge.
"Its like were trying to fix a car while its going down the highway," says Greg Black, referring to the limited trial operation period before students flooded back. Black is director of food service, and serves as both the manager of IMU Food Service and an assistant director for Residence Services.
"This new way of working is very different from what most of the staff was used toits a huge change," Black says. "Everyone has adjusted well, and is working hard. Im really impressed by their positive attitudes."
Since those first days, the breakfast and lunch rush have eased somewhat as students adjust their schedules, and staff become more familiar with the new ways of working. But dinner continues to be very crowdeddespite changes to the Burge dining room menu that more closely mirror the offerings at Hillcrest, approximately 300 to 400 students from east-side residence halls are swelling the dinner crowd nightly.
The Hillcrest Market Place is open to faculty, staff, and the general
public. Prices are $3.75 for breakfast, $5.50 for lunch, and $6.50 for
dinner. Black recommends coming early. Watching the sun come up over the
Old Capitol at breakfast is a special treat, he says. Private dining rooms
may be reserved for University groups by calling (33)5-3968. Menus are
available on-line at www.uiowa.edu/~resserve/
Changes in food service arent limited to residence halls. The State Room has refocused its efforts, according to Black, and is expanding its offerings of special events including the Szathmáry Culinary Arts Dinner series, Valentines Day and Mardi Gras meals, and additional pre-Hancher dinners. New this fall is a post-football prime rib buffet. Menus, dates, and hours of operation are on-line at www.imuis.uiowa.edu/food/stateroom/index.html.
With all this haute cuisine, its easy to worry that those cafeteria classics might be a thing of the past. But fear not. If tater tot casserole has always been high on your list of culinary delights, you can still get a plate of that, too. At the Hillcrest Market Places Home Cooking station, youll find mashed potatoes every day, and a rotating menu of comfort foods like macaroni and cheese, country fried steak, and the venerable tater tot casserole.
There are some days when elegant dining can only take you so far.
by Linzee Kull McCray