Guelph has a reputation for food: the Creelman Market Place, for example, has long been seen as a model of what on-campus meals should be: fresh, healthy, hearty. But I wondered: if Guelph’s best is so good, how bad is Guelph’s worst? Waiting for a bus to the university, I informally poll students. Where, I ask, is the worst food? They all answer: “Prairie Café.”
Prairie is attached to the concrete fortress that is South Residence, where over 1,800 students live, most of them frosh. The food service area has no natural light, the ceiling is low and there’s not much room to move around.
There is a “home cooked” counter, a short-order grill, and Pita Pit. The fruit and vegetable selection is basic, and an equivalent-sized space is dedicated to (overpriced) bulk candy. I order fish and chips, and the lunch special, “Lentil Chickpea Casserole.” The fish and chips slide around on the plate and I lose most of the fries. The server gives me a full plate of the casserole. It is huge; I can’t image eating all of it in one sitting. The prices are a bit steep at $6.17 for the fish and chips alone. However, residents pay only $4.94, and that’s a steal.
After paying, we enter the dining hall. What a difference. It is by far the best-looking dining hall of any institution I’ve visited. There are large windows and skylights everywhere. The seating feels upscale, with lots of booths. The materials absorb sound and the lighting is soft. This is definitely the place for relaxing and socializing. We end up staying for an hour and a half.
And the food? It’s not perfect. How much batter can one fish have? The fish was good, once you got to it, but encased in a batter twice its size. The fries were horrible; I can make better fries, and I barely know how to boil water. But the casserole was excellent: it was simply one of the best dishes I’ve had at a cafeteria. Guelph’s worst food can go head to head with many other universities’ best.