Exclusive campus eatery serves up a taste of home
For most University of Massachusetts students who get their food fix through the “Your Campus Meal Plan” program, quantity – not quality – is the name of the game. Burritos at the Blue Wall, pitas at the Pit and DC grub of all kinds fit the bill and fill the bellies of the hungry masses.
Survival is the main concern for the average starving college kid, but one can only live off of pizza and chicken strips so long before those hunger pangs start to get the best of you. While taco salad may be filling, home cooking it is not.
Yet, not far from the center of campus, tucked away behind the Durfee Conservatory is a little-known eatery that offers the discerning YCMP diner a little bit more of a taste of home.
The University Club has a long history of serving quality food. While the building itself consists of the two oldest houses in Amherst, dating back to 1728, the business began over 75 years ago as “The Faculty Club.”
For years, the club existed as an exclusive eatery, accessible only to UMass faculty and graduate students. While the Faculty Club still operates, with a bar and function room dedicated to due-paying members, the facility has been expanded to The University Club and is now open to anyone with an appetite.
When walking into the club, one question comes to mind: what is this place, and why does it look like my grandmother’s house? The décor is decidedly quaint, seemingly a cross between a Massachusetts history museum and Grandma’s cottage. It is complete with collections of porcelain teapots and pictures of presidents hanging on the walls. And while it may not look like the next Todd English fine dining locale, everything inside the restaurant gives it a cozy, intimate feel that is hard to find in the fashionable restaurant industry.
The homey feel is further advanced by the service. Friendly and amiable wait-staff are to be expected in a fine dining establishment, but The University Club goes further. Regular rounds are made by the manager and even the chef, who was happy to discuss the dishes and check up on the end results of his work.
When the sun is warm, diners are given the option of eating on the club’s patio facing the scenic UMass greenhouses, but during inclement weather patrons are seated in the dining room, which is arranged so snugly that an ambitious eater could spare a ravioli from the next table over.
The University Club’s lunch menu, which is available every weekday on a walk-in basis, seems to be geared towards the YCMP crowd, with a good variety of high quality sandwiches and burgers, as well as more unorthodox dishes such as the Italian Salumi platter. Prices range from nine dollars for the standard cheeseburger to $15 for the more ambitious options. If a bill runs over the eight dollar limit of one YCMP swipe, the balance can be paid off in cash, credit, more swipes. It may cost a couple of bucks to get lunch here using YCMP, but the quality trumps anything found in the Campus Center.
Dinner options are more limited but also more expensive, with most entrees priced at over $20. Chef Chuck has gathered recipes from near and far, and the two-page menu contains classics such as Delmonico steak and chicken picatta. More exotic items like excellent Majool dates with goat cheese and bacon are also an option. The odds are good that Mom never cooked anything quite like this, but unlike your home dinner table reservations are required.
What was most impressive about the University Club was the freshness of all of its offerings. From hot-out-of-the-oven bread to crisp green Boston lettuce salad, everything that arrives on the table is full of fresh flavors. Even the roasted vegetable, served with pasta dishes,–– often overlooked in many restaurants, had a vibrant local flavor.
The University Club‘s odd charm and high-quality food make it worth a second glance for anyone who misses the comforts of home-cooked food. After all, how many times can you really get burritos?
Andrew Sheridan can be reached at Asher1@student.umass.edu