Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Luther College Cafeteria at 700 College Drive Decorah, IA 52101
23/50 - Sub-par

Today must be my lucky day.

Last night while eating dinner, I thought to myself "You know what, Mark? I haven't seen any French dips this year in the cafeteria." While last year's French dips were nothing to write home about, this year the Luther cafeteria is under new management, being one of the many victims of the shadowy, faceless organization Sodexo. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, they could cook me up a better one than the old guard could. After eating, but before I left to return to my dorm, I grabbed a comment card, on which I planned to suggest they cook everyone's favorite sandwich au jus.

Well last night was somewhat busy, and so I never got a chance to write my comment. This afternoon, somewhat dejected that I had nothing to pin on the cafeteria comment board, I headed to lunch. I stood in the entree line, got my country-fried steak, a slice of pizza, and sat down with my pal Ross. As we were eating, I looked what was in front of him and froze, confused by what I saw. Some parts of it were unmistakably a French dip: The hoagie-esqu bread, the thin slices of roast beef, the Swiss cheese. Other parts pointed away from it being a French dip: the onions scattered on the sandwich and, the most egregious slap in the face to a French dip reviewed on this blog yet, no au jus. I asked him "Is that a French dip?" "No," he said, "It's a Philly Cheesesteak." I looked at him incredulously and replied "No way, there is no way that's a Philly Cheesesteak, it looks way more like a French dip." I decided to investigate further, and so I got up from my seat and headed over to the grill line. And lo and behold, what I saw made me giddy.

Holy. Crap. It must be my birthday or something, because there is no way a gift like this just falls into your lap. What are the odds that the day after I think that the cafeteria should get French dips, they just happened to have them. Am I really this lucky? Should I go buy lottery tickets for tonight? I grabbed two baskets, as the sandwiches were rather small, and scurried back to my seat elated, ready to eat and review my latest find, hoping this sandwich would be better than the Perkins debacle. What I found was the opposite.

Bread: 7/10 pts

The bread was actually one of the best parts of this French dip. It was actually on a sort-of hoagie bun, as opposed to just regular bread. It was not too soft or crispy, and wasn't too flat or... not flat. My only gripes with this bread is that it could have been a little better quality, as it had almost no taste, and that it was rather dry, sucking up the moisture in my mouth. This could have been remedied with some au jus sauce, but as you will soon see, that just simply was not an option. Unfortunately, on account of this same problem, I was unable to rate the absorption factor of this bread, although it surely would have preformed admirably.

Roast Beef: 6/10 pts

After the first few bites of this roast beef, I thought it was actually pretty good, and was thinking about rating it a 7 or an 8. After all, it was cooked exceedingly well, not being too tough, nor raw, nor burned. It also had somewhat of a pleasant taste to it, and the fat to meat ratio was just about perfect. But I soon realized that I was focusing only on the good aspects of the meet and not considering the negatives.

For starters, the meat was colder than Luke Skywalker in the wampa's ice lair on Hoth during winter. Being a red-blooded American and not some sissy Canadian, it was an immediate turn off to say the least. There is no reason for the meat to be cold. If they are going to make these French dips and tantalize me with the prospect of a good meal, they should at the very least install hot lamps to keep them warm, and instead they should make them to order. I feel bad saying this because once again, the lady in the grill line today was really nice. Now I realize, I could have taken my French dip and popped in the microwave for 30 seconds or so and been happier. But let me ask you something... should I have to? Is that the utter disregard with which we are handling our French dips these days? Is it acceptable to have to heat your sandwich up yourself due to lack of foresight on the part of the chef? I think not.

In addition to the temperature issue, the meat was rather stringy. I would take a bite and pull back, and the meat would hold hands and form a paper doll chain and all come out onto my basket. I would have to pick it up and stuff it back into my sandwich if I wanted my next bite to have any meat at all. Another issue was the taste of the meat. Now I know I said it didn't taste that bad, pretty good in fact, but by the end of the sandwich I felt like I was gagging it down. It just had almost no appeal to it. Its as though I became immune to the taste of the first few bites and was instead eating show leather.

Cheese: 5/10 pts

The cheese on this sandwich was much like the roast beef. At first I thought it was alright, I mean how can you screw up a slice of cheese? But in the middle of my second mini sandwich I felt as though I was gagging it down. This could be to two main issues. First, the cheese was really greasy, like Mark without a shower for four days greasy, so greasy I could swear that I could see my reflection in it. Second, it had almost too strong of a taste, making me think that this cheese had neared its expiration date before being unceremoniously tossed on my sandwich. And that's exactly what happened, they just tossed it on there. When I got my sandwich, it was half hanging out the side. While this technically doesn't count as "oozing out the side," as mentioned in the reviewing standards, it still was a bit of a turn off, and further illustrated Sodexo's lack of respect for this sacred sandwich. Heretics.

Au Jus: 0/10 pts

Well... if you didn't notice by looking at the earlier pictures... there is no au jus. That's right. A French dip without the dip. So technically they have no right to call this sandwich a "French dip", it should just be a "French". What, oh what were they thinking? If you are going to make your bread so dry that it makes me feel like Satan tempting Jesus in the desert for forty days, the very least you can do is take some of the juices expelled during the cooking, collect them in a bowl, add a little salt, put the resulting concoction in a small cup, and serve it with the dip.

However, for a while I debated whether I should award Sodexo 1/10 points in this category for NOT giving me au jus, as it probably would have just made me sick to my stomach. Trust me, I have seen the grill they cook these on, and it is not pleasant. Does anyone remember Quantum of Solace, where M mentions finding the guy with motor oil in his stomach? Just saying. In the end I decided that any au jus would be better than no au jus, and awarded my first macro-criterion 0. Congratulations, Luther College.

Miscellaneous: 5/10pts

  • Appearance: 0/2 pts
    I didn't really think that this looked much like a French dip, to be honest, hence my confusion when I saw my friend eating one. When I finally got my own, I was still dismayed at how it looked. The meat was all willy-nilly, the cheese was half off the sandwich, and there was a big fat pickle resting on the top of it. Needless to say it was no Karla Dobie when it came to looks.

  • Price: 2/3 pts
    How do I review price in a setting where I can eat as much as I want? Easy. I focus on quality, not quantity. The price for eating lunch at Luther is $7.00 if you pay in cash, but I obviously have a meal plan, so it costs me nothing (Thanks Dad!). This $7.00 can get you as much food as you want in the cafeteria (at least until 1:30). But is it any good? Well... kinda. The food isn't horrible by any means, but it sure isn't as good as your mom can make. Some days they have really good things in the entree lines, and sometimes they don't, it's just a matter of chance which one you get on a French dip day. If you are preforming a pilgrimage to come to Luther JUST to eat the French dip, I would subtract another point here. But as it stands, $7.00 for unlimited food and ambrosia (read: French dips) is not a bad price.

  • Restaurant: 1/2 pts
    What is there to say about the Luther cafeteria? It was a rather quiet time when I went, there being no more than 150 students in the eating area. There is a lovely view of the Upper Iowa River Valley though the large windows on three sides of the room. All in all its a pretty nice place to relax, eat lunch, and chat with a friend.

    If that's the case, then why did I take a point off, you may ask. Well, put simply, the student workers there suck. When I got my food and went to get a drink, there were absolutely no cups available. None. The cafeteria must have thousands of cups, but none were clean and out to be used. My friend and I saw a worker come out, see there were no cups, go to the washroom, and bring one cup out for himself. Wow, talk about diligence and effort. Don't strain yourself, man. It took them at least 10 minutes from the time I saw their were no cups until they finally brought them out. It's worker bees like this that make me thankful for the awesome waitress I had at Perkins (yes, I am still going on about that).

  • Extras 2/3 pts
    It is really hard to rate something like "extras" in an 'all you can eat' cafeteria setting. I suppose if I had wanted, I could have anything with my French dip. As it stands I had some pizza, country-fried steak, gravy, an apple, and milk. But as I stated with price... it's important to remember quality along with quantity. To be sure, there is a wide array of things to eat with your French dip... but it most of it isn't exactly scrumptious.

Final Tally: 23/50 pts

Another sub-par French dip. This French dip was almost the antithesis of the Perkins French dip; The bread was good, but not much else. The meat was cold, the cheese was greasy, and the au jus was lacking... literally! It was a fail of a French dip all around. Now I know, there is no expectation that a college cafeteria produce 5-star quality food. But this blog is aimed at those French dip connoisseurs who are looking for the next sandwich to sate their pallets, not at the barbaric masses who are satisfied with mediocre food. Unfortunately, the former category is not going to find what they are looking for here. While I have had some really good food in the Luther cafeteria, I have also had some bad food in the Luther cafeteria. Unfortunately, this rendition falls into the latter category, a shame considering the wonder that is a well-made French dip.

With this being the second sub-par sandwich reviewed in less than a week, I have come to long for the French dips I knew from my childhood, with their warm hoagie buns, succulent meat, melty cheese, and salty au jus. As Masons oft exclaim in public, "Is there no help for the widow's son?"

Attentive readers will be wondering, what am I going to do with that comment card that I grabbed? Simple. I'm going to let them know how much I did not appreciate them besmirching the good name of "French dip" with their abhorrent knock-off, that's what.

I look forward to their response.

Notes taken during review:

My lucky day. French dip in cafeteria. No au jus. WTF. Meat was cold, but well cooked and tasted pretty good. Cheese was cold too. the most basic Swiss cheese I've eaten. Onions are a nice touch. Sandwich was a bit small but can always get more. Bread was mostly correct, could have been warmer, maybe a little dry. Meat has a little fat, maybe a little too much. Swiss is a little too greasy. Not the vest [sic] French dip ever.

Until next time, faithful readers. And let us never forget the words of Patrick Henry: "Give me a sandwich worthy of the name 'French dip,' or give me death."


  1. Today they are serving French Dip sandwiches in my school too, although I think they didnt include the au jus (and I'm kind of glad about that though). I thought I'd let you know, when I saw it, the first thing that came to my mind was this blog.

  2. I understand the perils of Sodexo as they are our dining service as well, but I have yet to see them make a French Dip in our grill line!

  3. I like Phillies. This sandwich was like the offspring of a Philly and a French Dip. Not a good mating.