Thursday, June 4, 2020

MSU dining halls: ranked

September 25, 2017
<p>Heritage Commons at Landon Hall.</p>

Heritage Commons at Landon Hall.

What comes to mind when a person thinks of cafeteria food? Are they struck with recollections of the square pizzas and milk cartons they had for school lunches as children? Whether one loves it or reviles it, it’s virtually a guarantee that a person has experienced eating cafeteria food at least once in their lifetime. 

Dining halls compromise large portion of student eating options on MSU’s campus. As the fall semester is now in full swing, students have gotten a chance to try some of what MSU has to offer food-wise. 

For those who haven’t gotten the chance to visit all on-campus eateries, we at The State News spent time traversing to each of the nine cafeterias at MSU. Here’s our definitive ranking of the MSU dining experience.

Holmes Dining Hall

Food quality:  3/10

Decor: 4/10

Food Variety: 4/10

Overall score: 3.6/10

Following the closure of Hubbard Hall’s dining area in 2016, the number of eateries in East Neighborhood fell from three to just two. The Edge at Akers Hall is one of them, and unfortunately, Holmes Dining Hall is the second. 

If one can shake the unnatural odors that waft out upon entrance to the Holmes dining hall, then one can probably ingest the food there with little difficulty. Limited food choices in Holmes leave a person deciding between greasy Asian fusion food or tepid slices of pizza that have been under a warming light for an hour. Keep away from Holmes’ “sushi” at all costs – when you bite into it, it’s at a sickening room temperature.


Fans whir noisily above your head, possibly in a vain attempt to flush out the sticky change in humidity you feel when you enter the room. Your tray will be discolored when you pick one out, and after you’ve gotten your food and sat down at a table, you’ll likely have to brush someone’s leftover crumpled napkins and crumbs out of your way. 

In terms of lighting, Holmes dining hall is straight out of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. There’s windows along one wall that face a concealing set of trees that block sunlight to the room. As a result, stark white lighting gives the dining room a dank, unflattering aura. 

The mediocrity of the dining room’s decor, food variety and food quality make it a place to avoid like the plague; unless, of course, you like getting intense heartburn in a place that’s less a cafeteria and more akin to the set of a horror movie. 

Wilson Dining Hall 

Food Quality: 5/10

Decor: 5/10

Food Variety: 5/10

Overall score: 5/10

This is possibly the most obscure of the nine dining commons located on campus, as it’s buried deep within the walls of Wilson Hall.

It’s somewhat of an “eccentric” dining hall. You could describe it as one that you love to hate. Interestingly, the peculiar thing about Wilson Dining Hall is its food has the ability to taste progressively odder each time you take a bite of it. For example, the chicken shawarma tastes fine at first – and then, by your fourth bite, you’re thinking, “What am I supposed to be eating again?” 


The dining room has two entrances, which proves to be confusing as all of the hot food is contained at one end, and buffet-like items are at the other end. Around the entirety of this, seating is configured. Thanks to Wilson’s obscurity, the room receives little flow of students, so the dining room is usually not busy. The confusing set-up of this dining hall, along with the fact that seats are configured uncomfortably close to each other, does nothing to improve the overall quality of its decor. 

One redeeming factor of Wilson dining is their option of offering a late-night menu to students who have the munchies, which is why it has a five instead of a four for food variety on this list. Although it’s better than Holmes’ dining hall, Wilson still misses the mark of being a superb eating experience. What is the best possible thing to be said about Wilson Hall? Well, their dessert bar is surprisingly scrumptious, thanks to its chocolate chip cookies that are the size of a CD. 

The Vista at Shaw

Food variety: 4/10

Decor: 7/10

Food quality: 7/10

Overall score: 6/10

Shaw Hall is an enigma in more ways than one.

It is allegedly part of River Trail neighborhood, and yet a heck of a long way from the other residence hall in River Trail. It's dining hall is similarly sized to Case, and yet it has a much smaller selection of dining options. 

The dramatically named “Vista” at Shaw is, to be frank, pretty underwhelming. Okay, sure, there's the nice view of the Red Cedar River, but aside from good-quality food (except for a heavily over-fried samosa that gave me indigestion), that's really all Shaw Hall has going for it. 

With only three dining options, Shaw has some of the least variety on campus. Bread Box has decent sandwiches, soups, and salads; Main Street can certainly deliver on the meats; and Garden Wok has your number if you like Asian-inspired stir fries and broth bowls; but that's about it. 


The decor is slightly below par with such ultra-modern establishments as South Pointe at Case or Brody Square, but there's ample seating for the lunchtime crowds. 

Additionally, it should be noted that Shaw is seriously convenient. It's located just across the street from a vital nexus point for travelers all around campus: the CATA bus station! (Transfer point for routes 26 and 30 through 33!) If you have time in between a couple of cross-campus jaunts, Shaw is a perfect place to lay down your burdens and pick up a bite to eat. 

Holden Dining Hall 

Food quality: 6/10

Decor: 7/10

Food variety: 6/10

Overall score: 6.3/10

The dining hall in Holden is somewhat of a hidden gem of the lesser-known cafeterias on campus. If you go in the morning hours for breakfast, you’ll be rewarded — Holden contains a sizable breakfast bar in the morning hours, complete with fare such as pancakes, breakfast meats, oatmeal, eggs, fruit and dry cereals. An overlooked treat in Holden is the creamery food station, which serves hand-scooped Hudsonville ice cream. In the mornings, the creamery also doubles as a waffle bar. 

One thing to avoid at Holden, however, is the smoothies they serve. You’ll receive a glass of little more than juice and yogurt, with the pulp of whatever fruit was used in it settling thickly at the bottom. The smoothie looks more like some concoction you’d mix up in that chemistry class you’re failing rather than palatable breakfast fare.


In terms of decor, Holden is modest, but that works to its advantage. The food stations are at most basic, but the dining area is spacious and quiet a majority of the time. An added plus is the series of windows that constitute one wall of the dining room. It’s tidy and cheerful when the sun is shining through the windows, and it’s a good option if you are thinking of studying for classes while you eat. 

Though it does have limited weekday hours and is closed on weekends, Holden provides a decent dining experience and is worthy of going back a second time, if you are in its general vicinity.

The Edge at Akers

Food quality: 6/10

Decor: 7/10

Food variety: 8/10

Overall score: 7/10

The Edge. I’m really not sure what they were thinking when they named the Akers Dining Hall, but it probably has something to do with the fact that unless you live in East Neighborhood, going to Akers to eat is like going to the edge of the world because East Neighborhood is so damn far away from the rest of campus. 

They might also have named The Edge as such because, during peak hours, it seems like it reaches the edge of its fire-marshal mandated occupancy limit. Yes, that’s right, The Edge gets super crowded. I mean, it makes sense — with the recent closure of Hubbard’s dining hall, Akers is the only dining hall in East Neighborhood. (“What about Holmes,” you ask? Well, you saw our earlier review.) 

Akers has a variety of food options such as The Pit (barbecue), Tandoori (allegedly Indian food but I'm pretty sure it's just generally Ethnic™ stuff), Slices (pizza), The Grille (exactly what it sounds like), and Sprinkles, which has MSU Dairy Store ice cream in case you wanted to destroy any hope of staying healthy this year. 


But overall when it comes to food, Akers is as inconsistent as it is crowded. I tried a plate of penne pasta and red bell pepper alfredo sauce with a side of spaghetti squash from Sticks/Noodles, and I've gotta say that I was just plain confused by the dish. The alfredo sauce looked watery and chunky, the pasta looked limp and I was prepared to call the whole thing off. And yet, it tasted surprisingly decent. 

This along with the constant milling about of students trying desperately to soak up everything good that they could about Akers before having to return to their sordid existences at Holmes made for a deeply weird meal experience, but overall not a terrible one. 

Heritage Commons at Landon

Food quality: 8/10 

Decor: 9/10

Food variety: 5/10

Overall score: 7.3/10

Landon Hall’s caf is unique for two reasons: the first being that unlike most cafeterias on campus, a good number of the stations focus on customizable foods. At lunch, grab a custom grilled cheese sandwich and salad from Grains & Greens, or perhaps a made-to-order sandwich from Global Flavors. 


And if you don’t feel like making any hard decisions, don’t worry! Sizzle and Landon Bistro offer tasty but nearly interchangeable menus – and their position right next to each other in the cafeteria makes their subtle and maybe nonexistent differences even harder to discern.

The second thing that makes Landon unique is just how small it is. There’s only four hot food stations in the whole place, which would be bad if the food weren’t so good. Unfortunately, everyone knows the food is good, which results in long lines at peak dinnertime hours — especially since Landon is West Circle’s only dining hall.

Thankfully, Landon’s beautiful vintage decor gives you something nice to look at while you waste away in an endless line for a scoop of green bean casserole. As your stomach grumbles in anticipation of a pesto grilled cheese sandwich paired with a bowl of steaming chicken noodle soup, marvel at the gorgeous mid-century architecture of MSU’s first post-WWII residence hall, and gaze at the shelves full of academic-looking books that line the inexplicably library-esque seating areas. 

Wait, we’re in the seating area? Oh, god. This really is a long line, isn't it. 

The Gallery at Snyder/Phillips

Food quality: 8/10

Decor: 6/10

Food variety: 8/10

Overall score: 7.3/10

Snyder-Phillips. Sny-Phi. Sny-Phy? Sni-Phi? Whatever. No matter the spelling, Snyder-Phillips is one of the top dining halls on campus. 

Lots of food options that actually taste good? Check. 

Large amount of seating? Check. 

Convenient location in a recently updated building? Check. 

Yes, that's right, Snyder-Phillips is truly a high-class, modern dining hall. Option-wise, we have no shortage of variety. There's the typical Brimstone Grill for burgers, Ciao for pizza, and Bliss for dessert, but also exciting, unusual places such as New Traditions and Latitudes, which are more upscale American and international fare, respectively. And then there's the star of the show, The Berg, which is … pretty much just a salad bar, nothing too fancy there. Although they do sometimes have unusual breads near their self-serve soups which are quite good. 


My only problem with Sny-Phi’s otherwise stellar dining hall is the decor. You might think that in one of the older buildings on campus, and especially in one in North, the space might have some kind of exciting or vintage architectural look to it — maybe something like Landon Hall, even. 

But alas, whatever decorative personality Snyder-Phillips had in the past was lost when it was updated. At least there's a giant, inexplicable contemporary art sculpture outside that you can ogle while downing a burger. 

South Pointe at Case Hall 

Food quality: 7/10

Decor: 8/10

Food variety: 8/10

Overall score: 7.6/10

South Pointe is a modernized dining commons complete with fluorescent lighting and bright green chairs that give the space a clean, airy feel. The food stations themselves are configured around a loop that is offset from the actual dining room, so options are laid out simply.  One of this cafeteria’s pros is the variety of food that’s offered. To name just a few options, there’s Brimstone, a pub-like burger bar; Veg Out, a vegetarian station; Ciao, a pizza station; and perhaps best of all, Bliss, which is a dessert counter that serves delectable crepes-of-the-day. 


Unfortunately, as big as South Pointe is, it has the capability to become packed to capacity. As a result of its popularity, folks will find themselves trying to wriggle through hordes of hungry students. They are all looking for a place to eat their meals, so watch out: on numerous occasions a table will open up and you’ll begin to walk to it, but someone might swoop in to claim it as their own. 

Overall, South Pointe is a well-managed cafeteria that ranks highly in all categories. To have an even better experience, be advised to go at a time when student activity is low — that way, you won’t be duking it out with a James Madison kid over a table.

Brody Square 

Food quality: 8/10

Decor: 9/10

Food variety: 10/10

Overall score: 9/10

Brody Square is new, sleek and shiny. Walking into this dining hall feels like walking into Google, probably. It also has the distinction of being the only dining hall on campus where the bathrooms are inside the caf itself, so if you want to take your food into the bathroom with you, you can. You shouldn’t, but you can. 

There's space for lots of people, but it can still be a challenge to find a place to sit. Not because it's too crowded, but because there's too many choices to sit on! Do you want a booth? Do you want a normal chair? Do you want an armchair next to a roaring fireplace? Do you want a stool with a back? Do you want a stool without a back? Do you want a weird round green thing that might be a chair, but also might be a piece of contemporary art? If you said yes to any of the above, you're covered. 


Food-wise, Brody has the most variety on campus. There’s the “world eatery” Pangaea (it’s usually just stir-fry), the pizza place Ciao, deli-sandwich venue Stacks, homestyle American cookery Homestyle, Boiling Point, grill-style burger joint Brimstone (featuring Kosher options), TexMex joint Cayenne, the ubiquitous S2 Salad + Sushi, Veg Out for vegetarian options, and Dolce for dessert.  

The typically unremarkable American-style food that can be found pretty much anywhere else on campus would've brought Brody’s quality score down, but the quality and variety of the more “exotic” multicultural choices more than makes up for it. In addition to soft-serve, there's also real actual ice cream, in case you felt like turning the Freshman 15 into the Freshman 50. 

I should note that my usual rule is to not eat cafeteria sushi, but I decided to try it at Brody because hey, I wouldn’t be a very good reporter if I didn’t. The good news is that I am indeed a good reporter. The bad news is that, as per usual for MSU’s cafeterias, S2’s sushi is really truly awful. I know they have to cook the salmon for safety reasons, but do they really have to overcook it?


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