No, it is not what you think at all.

Broken-hearted, once again, I have taken Noah back to the University of Tennessee for his sophomore year. And he invites Bunny and me to eat in the cafeteria for lunch. “Umm, O.K.,” says Bunny tentatively. She and I both remember college cafeteria food from the 1970s. When you were required to have a meal ticket because the university’s revenue stream would dry flat up if they couldn’t force kids to eat in the cafeteria.

Well, just let me say this. There are no starving college students at the University of Tennessee if they are on the unlimited meal plan. Oh, my God. We walk in and Bunny and I are stunned. The cafeteria is actually a food court at a Las Vegas casino. Somehow, it has found its way to Knoxville and is catering to a bunch of ignorant college kids who don’t know anything about starving and do not seem to be the least bit grateful about it. This is the homemade taco station where the chef prepares your tacos before your very eyes. But wait. There’s so much more. And I will have to go to the thumbnail photos to get this all in.

Bunny and I wander the cavernous cafeteria, not sure where to start. There’s the Asian station with stir fry, again prepared before your very eyes. There is the roast loin of pork, haricot vert and mashed potatoes. There is the sandwich station, where once you prepare your sandwich as you like it, you can press it on a panini press!

But wait. There’s more! Like pizza? Of course, you do. You’re an ignorant college student who doesn’t understand that it is highly unusual to watch pizza dough being thrown right in front of you and your hand-crafted pizza being delivered just minutes later. Are you kidding me? I’ve been to Vegas and this is better.

Bunny and I spend an hour just wandering around and trying to figure out what to eat. Noah is impatient. This is no big deal. Oh, yes it is. We finally start to choose and it is embarrassing. I start with pizza and salad from the designer salad bar. Bunny starts with a beef and broccoli stir fry and Asian noodles. I move on to tacos after sneaking a healthy portion of mac and cheese off Noah’s plate. Bunny goes all out with a hot dog smothered in chili, pizza and French fries. I think, for a moment, she has actually transported herself back to college. Look at us. They say youth is wasted on the young. Truer words.

But wait. There’s more. You like soft serve ice cream with colored sprinkles? Oh, yes. Bunny needs a few sprinkles these days. She called it a party in a bowl. But the real deal, the over-the-top winner is the sweet pizza with chocolate sauce and M&Ms. I am dead serious.

I am now officially jealous. Noah says the menu changes every day. At every station.  But the capper had nothing to do with the food.

When we walk in on Noah’s first full day back at school there is Janice. Janice would be called the maître d‘ if there were justice in the world, but she is the cashier at this food palace. And she loves my Noah. She gives him a big, proper hug and then asks me for my lasagna recipe. Noah has told her of my lasagna. I love the both of them. Noah is well fed and he is looked after by the amazing Janice. Would it be considered untoward to move into the dorm with my son just so I can eat at the Presidential Court cafeteria? Perhaps I will just move a sleeping bag into the cafeteria next week and take up residence. I thought Noah was on the unlimited food plan at our house this summer. But I was so wrong. So very, very wrong.


  1. Lori
    August 16, 2011 at 2:19 am

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this story!

  2. Dee
    August 16, 2011 at 2:30 am

    Wow, it sure has changed since I went there! I went to grad school there 1987-90 but never ate in the cafeteria. When I was in high school in 1976 I went to a summer program and stayed in those presidential dorms and ate at that exact cafeteria and it was NOTHING like that. Wow.

  3. Susan Harbin
    Susan HarbinReply
    August 16, 2011 at 3:44 am

    True .. All true! And we are going to be roomies in the dorm if we could just find one where they would let us drink and smoke!

  4. julie hendrix
    julie hendrixReply
    August 16, 2011 at 10:17 am

    That might be my favorite post ever.
    And that cute redhead in that picture is your mother-in-law, Bunny??? How can that be? She looks like she is 50. If so, the cafeteria DID transform her…

    • the south in my mouth
      the south in my mouthReply
      August 16, 2011 at 12:40 pm

      Our family is a kudzu vine and, yes, Bunny is younger than me. Paul was married to Mark’s mother and after she died Paul married Bunny. Both Mark’s and my natural parents were no longer living when Noah was born so Paul and Susan are the only grandparents Noah has ever known. And we’re so lucky. Bunny and I are sisters under the skin so it has worked out beautifully!

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