As a resident of Unit 2, Crossroads dining center, or “Croads” as Berkeley students lovingly call it, is my closest meal option. I can leave my dorm and five minutes later be inside Croads and in the meal line. Despite this convenience, it oftentimes feels like Croads’ proximity to the dorms is the best thing about it. The Crossroads online menu is infamously unreliable. There have been days where “shrimp stir fry” actually turns out to be ‘lemongrass chicken,” or the “creamy pesto alfredo” at the pasta bar is actually a red meat sauce. Furthermore, their food choices have a tendency to underdeliver complex recipes, as opposed to producing well executed classics. The best example of this was the soft-serve machine’s debut flavor: pistachio. Students flocked to the soft-serve area, only to find pea green colored ice-cream with an ambiguously nutty flavor. It’s choices like these where Croads may be creating a reverse “freshman fifteen” effect on many of its diners.
That being said, I think Croads has the potential for producing some solid meals. If you are willing to get a little creative, the salad bar, pasta station, and grill provide all the raw ingredients for some tasty alternatives to the hot meal! Here’s a day’s worth of hacks to maximize your dining experience on days when it feels like Croads simply isn’t up to par.
Breakfast: Iced Coffee
With only twelve meal swipes a week, I don’t go to Croads that often for breakfast. Their menu of typical breakfast items is generally underwhelming and not worth using one of my swipes. When I do go into Croads for breakfast, however, I like to make my own iced coffee—surprisingly, I’ve rarely seen other students utilizing this trick, despite being such an obvious hack. Croads serves Peet’s coffee—this is the exact same coffee served in the Den. Why pay for coffee at the Den, when on the other side of the wall (at Croads) you can make it for free? Let me walk you through it.
Fill up one of the coffee mugs with the medium roast coffee, and fill a separate glass with ice. Be sure to wait as long as possible for the coffee to cool before adding it to the ice, so your drink doesn’t become too watery. In the meantime, add your preferred sugar into the hot coffee, allowing it to dissolve better and more uniformly throughout the liquid. You can also use this time to get the milk for your coffee. The coffee station only has half and half and whole milk. If you want more options or are lactose intolerant, head over to the alternative milk section next to the cereal bar. I add the milk directly into the hot coffee to help it cool down before pouring the entire mixture over the cup of ice. You can also add the milk in after pouring the coffee over ice; this will give it the cool patterned streaks of milk you often see in coffee shops. Once you’ve mixed everything together, you’re done !
1. 1 mug of coffee (coffee station)
2. 1 cup of ice (fountain machine)
3. Sugar (coffee station) 4. Milk (coffee station or cereal section)
Lunch: Grilled Chicken Salad
This is my personal default for when I can’t find anything appetizing during the lunch or dinner service. I like salad recipes because they have a lot of versatility. Depending on your personal preferences or current mood, this meal is easily adaptable. The ingredient combinations are endless! It’s also great if you are in a rush between classes since it only requires a trip to the grill and salad bar station, neither of which ever have long lines.
The Grill Station
Here, Croads frequently serves hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, and the occasional hot dog. From this station grab one of the grilled chicken sandwiches. If you’ve never opened up the wax packaging they come in, the sandwich is literally a grilled chicken breast between two pieces of hamburger bun. If you ask for just chicken, you will get sent to the allergen-friendly section. Stay away from this! I made this mistake once, and ended up throwing out the portion of chicken they gave me immediately; it is quite literally unflavored, boiled chicken cut into strips.
Despite the seemingly unnecessary addition of the hamburger bun, however, the grilled chicken is solidly cooked, and well-seasoned with salt and pepper. This makes it an ideal addition to your salad since you can add more flavors with your toppings.
The Salad Bar
The salad bowls provided next to the station are only big enough for a side salad portion, so I always either grab a plate or one of the soup bowls to give myself more space for toppings. The offerings at the salad bar rotate daily, but the vegetables are always fresh and get replaced frequently. Another useful tip is to look at the options in the sandwich bar station. There you can also add ingredients such as red onion, pickle, shredded cheese, and hard-boiled eggs.
This recipe is flexible to Croads’ daily menu. The grilled chicken can easily be swapped out on days when Croads is serving proteins such as their sesame tofu or teriyaki chicken.
Here are three of my favorite salad and chicken recipes that you can make nearly every trip to Croads.
Grilled Chicken Caesar:
A simple classic and guaranteed for every trip to Croads
1. Grilled Chicken (grill)
3. Ceasar Dressing
5. Shredded Parmesan (sandwich bar)
Everything but Chopped Salad:
All the ingredients for a great chopped salad without actually being chopped
1. Grilled chicken (grill) 2. Romaine
4. Cherry Tomato
5. Bacon Bits
6. Grilled Corn
7. Hard Boiled Egg (sandwich bar)
8. Red Onion (sandwich bar)
9. Ranch Dressing
10. Salt + Pepper
Quinoa Salad Bowl
A Croads superfood bowl
1. Grilled Chicken (grill)
2. Quinoa (salad bar — fill bowl about half way)
3. Spring Greens
5. Cherry Tomato
7. Olive Oil + Viaigrette
What do I do with the Bun?
In all these recipes, the bun from the grilled chicken sandwich isn’t necessary. It feels wrong, however, to just throw the entire bun away. A simple way to incorporate the bun back into your meal is to put it through the toaster, season it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then have it as a side “roll.” Take this one step further by cutting the toasted seasoned roll to make makeshift croutons!
Dinner: Chicken Pesto Sandwich
You can probably find at least five coffee shops/cafés with some version of a Chicken Pesto sandwich within a block of campus. In an ideal world, we would have unlimited budgets to satisfy our sandwich cravings from places like Mezzo or Strada. While you can’t get sourdough or gourmet aioli at Croads, the ingredients are there to make a surprisingly tasty sandwich, and with no added expense.
The Sandwich Bar (Part I)
Grab two slices of bread and toast them to your preference. The line between “toasted” and “burnt” is thin when it comes to the Croads toaster. However, if you actively adjust the speed of the oven using the dial on the left-hand side, you can better gauge how fast the bread is toasting. Another tactic is to set the toaster on fast and put your bread through several times, checking in between how far toasted it got. For this dish, I prefer using white bread, since it works as a great base for the other flavors.
The Pasta Bar
The pasta bar is probably the most consistent part of Croads, since at any given lunch or dinner period there is always buttered noodles. For this recipe, we aren’t interested in the noodles but the sauce. Frequently Croads offers a “pesto alfredo” sauce, which has a great garlic and parmesan flavor. Admittedly, using pesto alfredo is a bit unconventional for a chicken pesto sandwich. For our purposes, this adds to the sandwich since the cheese options at the sandwich bar don’t frequently offer mozzarella! Thus, the creaminess of the pesto can help give you the cheesy flavor if you can’t find a better alternative.
The Salad Bar
Here, you can add some greenery to your sandwich. I’d recommend a little bit of arugula, but you can also use romaine or some of the spring mix. Afterward, make your way to the end of the salad bar where the oil and vinegar are. Drizzle a little bit of oil, and then vinegar on the non-pesto slice of toasted bread.
The Sandwich Bar (Part II)
Oftentimes the cherry tomatoes at the salad bar come as whole rounds, and not sliced into halves. This makes them hard to incorporate into the sandwich. However, the sandwich bar typically has slices of tomatoes which easily fit on top of the arugula. Now, for the cheese—as I alluded to earlier, I have never seen mozzarella in the Croads dining center. However, if the pesto sauce isn’t enough for you, an acceptable alternative could be using a slice of the provolone or the shredded parmesan cheese they often have available.
Finally, the chicken! As mentioned in my salad recipe, the grilled chicken from the chicken sandwiches at the grill are well-cooked and a great addition to this recipe. You can even choose to use the bun that comes with the sandwich as your bread if you prefer. I put the chicken on last so that when everything is finally assembled it is still warm. This will also help melt the cheese a little, creating a gooey texture when you bite into it.
1. 2 slices of toasted bread (sandwich station)
2. Pesto Sauce (pasta bar)
3. Arugula (salad bar)
4. Oil + Vinegar (salad bar)
5. Tomato (sandwich bar)
6. Provolone (sandwich bar)
7. Grilled Chicken (grill)
Dessert: Ice Cream Sandwich
The desserts at Croads roughly rotate between four different categories: fruit pie, cookie, obscure cake flavor, and brownies. On any given day there are probably desserts from two of the four categories represented. For example: cherry pie and chocolate chip cookies, or brownie and german chocolate cake. Cookies make a frequent appearance as one of the represented dessert categories, and to add to Croads’ list of oddities, these cookies are exclusively vegan cookies: vegan chocolate chip, vegan lemon, and vegan oatmeal raisin. That being said, they are probably the best food item produced out of the dining center, seriously. I’m almost certain the vegan chocolate cookies may just be the most smuggled food item out of Croads. The cookies themselves need no upgrade, but in case you just had a midterm, or are craving a more substantive sweet to end your day, there is a way to make a bomb cookie sandwich at Croads.
The Dessert Bar
You will need two cookies that are round and roughly the same size. Luckily, Croads seems to have a knack for producing trays upon trays of cookies that are nearly identical in size and shape, so this shouldn’t be too difficult. Grab a brownie too—this will be used for finishing touches!
For those of you who didn’t know there was a soft-serve machine, this is your moment of realization (you are welcome)! The soft-serve machine is located near the alternative milk section in the back corner of Croads. The flavor options seem to vary from week to week, and on some weeks the soft-serve machine isn’t available at all. You want to put a large portion of soft-serve on one of the cookies, before placing the other cookie on top. It’s easiest to start by drawing a circle of ice cream around the outside of the cookie and then work your way inward.
To complete your sandwich, crumble the brownie into little pieces on a plate. Roll the sides of the sandwich along the plate, coating the sides in brownie crumble. Depending on what is available there are many different ways to spice up the outside of your sandwich with more toppings.
Here are some pairings I came up with depending on which cookies are available:
Ultimate Chocolate Chip Brownie
Chocolate, on chocolate, on chocolate
1. 2 Chocolate Chip Cookies
2. Chocolate Soft-serve
3. Brownie Crumbles
1. 2 Lemon Cookies
2. Vanilla Soft-serve
3. Crushed up corn flakes (cereal bar)
Oatmeal Raisin Berry
For the few oatmeal raisin cookie lovers out there
1. 2 Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
2. Vanilla Soft-serve
3. Craisins (salad bar)
Your Dining Hall Experience
Adjusting to dining hall food can be a harsh change from the freedom of choosing your own meals at home. I remember panicking the first few weeks of school when I went into Croads and couldn’t immediately find something to eat. Living off of the cookie section from Trader Joe’s, however, is not sustainable forever and wastes the meal plan you are obligated to sign up for as a freshman. Thus, it’s worth the time to figure out ways you can make the most of your dining hall experience.
Croads gets a lot of hate (I’ve definitely complained my fair share) but it would be spoiled not to be grateful for the many options it offers on a daily basis. Furthermore, the Croads staff are wonderful people that work hard throughout the day to make sure these options are always well-stocked and available. Hopefully, these hacks will help maximize your every meal swipe, or at least give you ideas on how to recreate your own favorite meals! Ultimately, knowing how to use Croads’ many resources can help adjust your dining hall experience to appreciate what it does have instead of resenting what it doesn’t.