ATLANTA (Sept. 17, 2007) – The unmistakable aroma of fried chicken wafts through the dining hall and onto campus every Wednesday during the academic year at Agnes Scott College, sparking hunger pains throughout and beyond the college community.
Faculty, staff and students on campus and the surrounding community know that all of the traditional side dishes served in the South with fried chicken are available on Wednesdays at Agnes Scott's Evans Hall.
"People love Wednesdays at lunchtime here," said Pete Miller, food services director at Agnes Scott. "The menu is one anyone who's lived in the South would recognize and those from elsewhere would enjoy, including traditional Southern fried chicken, turnip greens, black-eyed peas, corn bread and rice with gravy."
This tribute to Southern cuisine reflects a gastronomical trend of regional recognition among the nation's colleges and universities. An audit of college dining hall menus reveals least one or two especially popular regional menu items served regularly.
But satisfying most college students and other dining hall regulars most of the time is a daunting challenge.
Miller and his Agnes Scott food services staff have built a record of frequent success satisfying his charges. His team’s attention to detail, courtesy and ongoing dialogue to meet culinary expectations has earned a kind of celebrity status on You Tube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cc2nhEkaNdQ&mode=related&search), and his quick response to queries, suggestions and complaints on the “Beef Board” garners Miller considerable respect.
Located just south of downtown Decatur, Ga. and only 6 miles from the city of Atlanta, the college's dining hall draws a significant number of off-campus guests. Especially popular is Wednesday’s traditionally Southern fare.
Off-campus guests are happy to pay $8.50 for all they can eat at lunchtime. But that's just the hot food line -- other options on the daily menu include an opulent salad bar, pasta bar, international recipe station, traditional grill fare, a sandwich bar and several selections of baked goods every day.
"Students frequently don't eat this well at home," Miller said, noting that most contemporary households have two working parents who struggle to bring their families together for traditional meals more than once or twice a week.
Family dining traditions may have changed over the years, but students may discover that their colleges and universities offer long-standing specialties and areas of expertise in food. Clemson University for example makes its own blue cheese, which is featured in the Clemson filet, a center-cut filet served with garlic mashed potatoes, mushroom ragout and topped with the pride of the college's cheese production.
South Dakota State University's dairy science plant makes its own ice cream, featured in the dining area's ice cream station. A key ingredient is milk from cows raised by the agricultural program.
Boston University presents an annual New England clam bake dinner in September. The menu is consummate New England, featuring lobster, clam chowder, corn and the best the region offers.
At Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, it's no surprise to find crab cakes on the menu, which features other signature local seafood.
Aramark, the food service company that serves each of these college and universities, conducts an annual survey to gauge student satisfaction with the menu and service. Agnes Scott earned the highest satisfaction levels in the most recent survey conducted in 2005. Miller attributes the success to attention to detail and attention to those he serves every day.
The genesis of "fried chicken Wednesday" is just one example. The legendary Southern fare -- if prepared well -- is hugely popular throughout the South. But the tradition of serving it every Wednesday at Agnes Scott only began in 1999 despite a long-standing passion for the dish Miller explains
"Wednesday’s fried chicken menu is a fairly new phenomenon. Fried chicken has always been an important part of our menu here at ASC but it wasn’t until August 1999 that you could begin to set your watch by the smell of the frying chickens midweek," he said. "Agnes Scott’s Evans Dining Hall was renovated in 1998-1999. The renovation created a much larger serving area with seven points of service whereas the pre-renovated space offered only two," Miller said.
This expansion has created many new possibilities including the infamous “chicken day.” Agnes Scott's community has many different dining needs -- some would eat fried chicken three meals a day, seven days a week if they could, but others opt for a lighter fare. The newly renovated dining hall provides the space needed to satisfy everyone, Miller said.
Mary Bolden, a 37-year-food services employee at Agnes Scott confirmed that the fried chicken recipe dates back at least as far as her arrival at the college in 1969.
The tastes of students, staff and faculty will continue to change over time, but Miller promises close attention to the preferences of his guests to ensure continued satisfaction.
As students, staff, faculty, families and guests sat down for their first meal of the 2007-2008 academic year Friday, Aug. 24, at Agnes Scott's Evans hall, many were thinking about the following Wednesday and the southern fried chicken they would be served.
Reaching for napkins from new “display dispensers” featuring colorful seasonal collateral, guests’ eyes were drawn to cards announcing "Fall '07 Dining Events." Each week in September and October will offer a special food: “BBQ U,” National Chocolate Day (with hand-dipped strawberries), pancake night, 5-foot sub day and the always-popular “Halloween Spooktacular” trick-or-treat dinner.
"New napkin holders that don't burst open their paper contents unexpectedly are an admittedly minor improvement," said Miller. "But these hold an added benefit -- news of special treats. While people look forward to treasured culinary traditions such as southern staples on Wednesdays, little surprises never hurt."
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