Most dining hall events are limited to simple holiday-themed snacks and decorations. However, Café Evansdale flipped that idea on its head with its third annual 100-Mile Dinner on Thursday, Oct. 13. The dining hall created an entire menu from ingredients sourced from within 100 miles of Morgantown, which included dishes such as fried cabbage and noodles, smoked pork loin and maple chicken.
The DA Eats team visited Café Evansdale to see how its dishes stood up to normal dining hall fare. In short, we were simply blown away by the amount of care and effort put into the meal.
Live folk and bluegrass music greeted students as soon as they entered the dining hall, and by 5:30, the seats were already almost filled. Steaming trays of roasted vegetables, noodles and chicken quickly emptied as students began to form lines behind the food station.
A meat carving station serving up roasted pork loin and an apple cider fountain were popular among students, and a dessert station offered warm apple crisp and lemon pie. Small samples of stuffed mushrooms, salad, gazpacho, and cheesecake were also available throughout the dining hall.
We tasted each locally sourced dish and were surprised by the quality and flavor of each.
Pork loin (from Kingwood, WV):
Abby: “The pork loin was smoky and sweet with a tasty crust. It tasted just like a dish from a restaurant.”
Jade: “I really enjoyed the pork loin. It was tender with a rich flavor. It blended smokiness and sweetness well.”
Fried cabbage and noodles (from Home, PA):
Abby: “This was my favorite dish out of the entire meal. The noodles were tender and had a great garlicky flavor.”
Jade: “A classic dish! Perfectly cooked noodles, and the cabbage held in the garlic flavor while remaining crunchy.”
Maple chicken (from Cooperstown, PA):
Abby: “The chicken was sweet throughout and not just on the skin, which I enjoyed.”
Jade: “This was my favorite dish. The meat was juicy and the skin was crisp and had a nice honey flavor.”
Apple cider (from Enon Valley, PA):
Abby: “The cider was to die for. It was deliciously spiced and sweet, and the fact that Cafe Evansdale kept running out speaks volumes about its flavor.”
Jade: “The cider was light, sweet, and flavored just right. I think it was the most popular option at the dinner. There were students surrounding the fountain almost the entire time, waiting to refill their cups. My only complaint was that our cups weren’t big enough.”
We spoke with Chef John Thomas, production manager and senior chef, and Don Fike, the manager of Café Evansdale, about how the 100-Mile Dinner came together.
According to Fike, the goal of the 100-Mile Dinner is to promote sustainability and utilize local farms and markets. Along with using local ingredients, Café Evansdale also made other efforts in sustainability for the meal: even the hors d’oeuvres placed throughout the dining hall were served on platters made out of sugarcane, which is 100% biodegradable.
“[Café Evansdale is] not your father’s dining hall anymore,” Fike said.
The dinner will be judged by the National Association of College and University Food Services on Café Evansdale’s efforts in sustainability. The winners will be announced a few months from now.
Chef Thomas revealed the dinner came together over the course of 2 months. He reached out to farms in the tri-state area to see what they would have available in the late growing season and based Thursday’s menu off their answers.
The dinner was very popular among students. Many came to dinner expecting typical dining hall food, only to discover a locally sourced feast awaiting them.
“This food was absolutely fantastic. It was very surprising to see such a variety. That made it so much better because I was able to try a lot of things that I wasn’t ever able to before,” said freshman Brandon Zenevitch. “Having this special dinner out of the blue just made me so happy.”
Students were asked to fill out comment cards as they left, and their answers will be taken into consideration for future dinners. They were also able to choose between two theme options for the next major dining hall event, which will take place on Dec. 8.
All photos by Jade Artherhults and Abby Humphreys