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The Hawk at SOU welcomes the public

Once upon a time, a college cafeteria meant soggy steam table string beans, meat-something, red Jell-O and stale cookies. Once upon a time, a salad bar was a huge innovation in the university dining hall: iceberg lettuce, hot house tomatoes, mushy sliced cukes, three-bean salad and bottled dressing.

That institutionalized, corporate food approach to college dining is long gone.

Today, you can stop by The Hawk, Southern Oregon University’s largest campus cafeteria, where the community is invited to enjoy a reasonably priced fresh, healthy and delicious breakfast, lunch or dinner. Located at 438 Wightman Street on SOU’s north campus, The Hawk is all you care to eat from eight different kitchens for $12.50 for supper, slightly less for lunch or breakfast meals. Or you can take advantage of the new prepaid Community Meal Plan that run from $7.50 to $8.50 per meal, depending on how many you purchase. While SOU’s campus kitchens have been open to the public for a while now, the new prepaid Community Meal Plan doesn’t expire at the end of the term.

The Vege specializes in vegetarian foods, and tonight the hummus, falafel and fruit looked great. I layered the grilled za’atar flatbread with coarsely ground hummus. The garlicky and lemony hummus was a nice bed for falafel, which were dense and moist inside and crispy out. I painted the whole with herb-inflected yogurt and dabbed on some green goddess dressing. The seasonal roasted vegetables were just right, the zucchini and yellow squash not crunchy but toothsome, punctuated with bright bursts of grape tomatoes.

To accompany my hummus and falafel plate, I indulged in a tall glass of ice cold 2% milk, with chocolate milk mixed in. Soda, juice, coffee, tea and water are also available.

The menus for each of the kitchens change daily and are posted to the web. Chopped offers made-to-order salads with produce from the on-campus farm; Pao has Asian-infused cuisine, today’s offering being pan fried noodles and vegetable egg rolls; you can also order a custom stir-fry. The Rogue Deli has sandwiches with every bread (gluten-free available on request) and filling imaginable, while Rossi is Italian with pizzas, pastas and soups. JoJos has vegan options but is probably better known for its burgers, grilled chicken, hot dogs, grilled cheese, fish fillets, three kinds of French fries and at least for today, a huge well of corn dogs.

There’s no shortage of condiments, accompaniments and garnishes next to each kitchen.

Perhaps the most popular Hawk kitchen is The Red Plate, featuring traditional home cooking like meat loaf, ribs and fried chicken. Today’s special was a moist and tender pork stew with mushrooms served with a side of three cheese tortellini. I was compelled to try both, just to taste, and found them mouthwateringly delicious.

The Hawk is an active scene, filled with students talking, working, laughing, fueling. The place is huge and filled with sound and color, loud music blasting from speakers placed throughout the hall. The wall-sized windows bring in light and the green of trees growing in the courtyard. There’s plenty of room at the large tables and some corners for privacy. Parking is limited.

Last year, as an alternative to dining in, The Hawk began offering green to-go boxes for a one-time purchase of $7.50. The boxes are huge, about 4.5 inches-by-4.5 inches and 3 inches tall, big enough for more than one meal if you aren’t a teenage athlete. Please note, your meal is either dine in, all you care to eat, or to-go using the green boxes; you can’t dine in, all you care to eat and also fill a green box for one meal purchase.

There are several Prepaid Campus Meal Plans available: the Ashland Plan is $170 for 20 meals at the Hawk or$8.50 per meal; the University Plan brings 30 meals at $8 per Hawk meal and includes$50 credit toward any campus dining facility; The Raider Plan brings 65 meals at $7.50 per Hawk meal and includes$75 credit towards any campus dining facility. While The Hawk offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, Kayla Bondoc, dining services sustainability coordinator, says dinner is the best buy for your buck.

I just have one complaint about The Hawk. My mouth memory of the Rutgers dining hall longed for soft-serve vanilla ice cream in stale cones, but at The Hawk, ice cream is only available on special occasions.

Well, that’s OK. The Hawk has plenty of cakes, cupcakes, puddings, cookies and pies to satisfy a sweet tooth. And now we have Yogurt Hut.

For more information on specific meal plan options, visit SOU.Campus-Dining.com/meal-plans/ or stop by the administrative office in The Hawk. You can also call 541-552-6042 for more information. Cash, check and credit cards accepted.

The Hawk is open from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Dinner is served from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com

A fresh falafel plate from Vege at The Hawk. Photo by Maureen Flanagan Battistella.