Tag Archives: cafeteria

Choco-Taco Tuesday

I love Choco-Tacos. It’s been so long since I’ve had one. As far as I know, it’s the only dessert taco, the only one made out of ice cream. The whole idea is pure genius. Instead of using a crunchy corn tortilla, you take a crunchy sugar cone that’s shaped like a taco shell. And then instead of beef and cheese and lettuce and sour cream, you put in ice cream, chocolate, nuts, more chocolate. I’m telling you, it’s the best.


When I was in college, during my sophomore year, the university spent something like fourteen million dollars on demolishing the existing cafeteria and building a new state-of-the-art facility. What that meant, though, was that for an entire year, there was no proper cafeteria. Instead, they kind of just threw together this weird makeshift caf in the student center. Sandwiches were on a counter set up next to the bookstore, there was a line of chefs to the side cooking runny omelets over dorm-style hot plates.

And everything suffered. Everything except the dessert station. In the old caf there used to be this gross soft-serve frozen yogurt machine, one of these things that, the first time you saw it, like on your first day of class or whatever, you got all excited, you thought, holy shit, look at that soft-serve machine, unlimited ice cream, this is going to be great. But then you made yourself a cone, it came out of the machine all squeaky, and it didn’t have the right color, the taste was, I’d say medicinal, but even that pink goo they made us take for strep throat when we were little kids tasted better than this stuff.

So yeah, after I tried to put back at least a few spoonsful of the froyo, I realized that while there were hundreds of people in the caf, the soft-serve machine was all by its lonesome, just hanging out, ready for the next unsuspecting freshman to wander over for an after-lunch treat.

Sophomore year, it was gone, along with the rest of the old eating infrastructure. In its place, administration put a big industrial freezer, the same type of giant white box you’d see in your uncle’s garage upstate, “That’s where I keep all of the deer meat I collected this winter!” Inside was just a bunch of loose individually packaged ice cream products, like Good Humor bars, King Cones, neon green Incredible Hulk heads with gumballs for the eyes.

And Choco-Tacos. I loved it all. Never before in my life did I have such unfettered access to treats usually reserved for the rare times that I happened to run into an ice cream truck on the street. The best part about all of this was, it was all free. I mean, yeah, college was something like thirty grand a year, and that meal plan wasn’t cheap either, but that didn’t feel like real money at the time. I just swiped into the caf with my student ID and there I was, face to face with that cooler, screw it, I didn’t need a real lunch, all I needed was like four or five Choco-Tacos and maybe a Creamsicle or a Toasted Almond bar.

Normally I think back to the caf and I cringe at the whole system, the way that they mandated you buy an overpriced meal plan, how shitty the food normally was. It really was terrible, boring, greasy slop, the kind of stuff that justified those rumors you’d hear about the staff adding laxatives to every dish as an added prevention against food poisoning.

But it was kind of all worth it for that whole year of free ice cream. After we finished our in-caf desserts, we’d head back to that freezer and grab as many as we could, sprinting across campus to get those popsicles and Choco-Tacos into are miniature dorm-sized freezers before they melted totally. And then for the rest of the night we’d sit around and play video games and surf the Internet, binging on half melted Strawberry Shortcake bars or slushy Flavor Ices.

The other day I went to the grocery store and bought like three pints of Ben & Jerry’s. For a minute, I thought that I wouldn’t be able to contain myself, that I’d spend the whole night trying to nurse a serious ice cream headache. But no, it wasn’t the same. I had a few bites and got bored, the whole time wishing that I was back in school, eating myself sick on Choco-Taco Tuesday.

High school lunch

Probably the only thing that I liked about my time in high school was the cafeteria. As a student, I was aware that we it relatively good. I’d heard horror stories from friends about their cafeterias, about green meatballs and slimy cold-cut sandwiches. Our cafeteria had its problems, like it was too crowded, just barely big and efficient enough to feed us all. But in terms of food, it wasn’t a bad place to be forced to eat five times a week.


That is, like I’ve already alluded to, if I ever made it inside. When I say that it was crowded, picture sixteen hundred boys trying to buy lunch from a counter approximately the length of a school bus. It was like, the bell rang, and it was this insane dash to drop all of your stuff off at your locker and then race down to the basement to try and not be the very last person on that line that was already snaking out of the cafeteria and into the hallway.

Equally worse was that, because of the size of our student body, and the inverse size of the cafeteria, lunchtime was split amongst four periods. At my school, once you received your class schedule, it was cemented, that was it for the whole year. Which meant that, if you were fortunate enough to be assigned one of the two middle periods, you’d be eating somewhere around lunchtime.

Fortune had it that for two of my high school years, I was mandated to have a lunch break that started at ten-thirty in the morning. It was terrible. In addition to rushing downstairs, buying food, finding a spot to eat, and then eating it, I had to try and load up on enough snacks to hold me over for the rest of the day. Which was really just wishful thinking. By the time two o’clock rolled around, I’d be starving again, with still another two hours of boring classes to sit through before I could make my escape and go to Seven-Eleven for hotdogs and Slurpees.

I guess I shouldn’t complain. I never had to suffer the indignity of that last lunch period. I think it started around two in the afternoon. Which meant that the majority of your school day would be spent fantasizing about a lunch period that, when it finally happened, you’d get down and find a cafeteria ravaged by everybody else in school. Was there even any food left? I’d heard that it was mostly scraps, unwanted sandwiches and diet sodas.

Whatever the logistical problems, our cafeteria was pretty decent. The school published a monthly calendar, detailing exactly what would be on the menu every day. And it was always something different. We had pork rib heroes slathered in barbecue sauce, chili in a giant bread bowl, occasionally they’d even send out for White Castle hamburgers.

On top of the hot lunch option, there were also various deli sandwiches, Arizona iced teas, and, what I thought was the coolest, a soft-serve ice cream machine. I truly looked forward to lunch every day. For under ten dollars, I was able to buy basically whatever I wanted. Yeah, that’s a lot of money for a high school lunch, but I was eating like enough for three people, so it was money well spent.

The only time things got tricky was on Fridays during Lent. It was a Catholic school, so they refused to serve meat. The insult of it all, BLTs replaced with LTs. Disgusting. That’s not a sandwich. Frozen Ellio’s pizza. Gross. I’d eat cold pasta salad until I felt my hunger pangs subsiding somewhat, hopeful that it might be enough to last me until I could make it Taco Bell after school.

Sometime during my junior year, the school installed a Slush Puppy machine. If you’ve never had a Slush Puppy, it’s basically a poor man’s version of a Slurpee: the slushy ice was dispensed separately, mixed with your choice of flavor from these syrup dispensers. There were several options, cherry, grape, tropical, great, terrific, but the one at the end was a mystery. Shocker. That’s all it said, shocker.


So of course, you put way too many teenage boys in a cafeteria, you give them a flavor option with a ridiculous name like shocker, and it immediately became everybody’s default choice. The peer pressure to order shocker was enormous. Everyone was doing it, shocker, shocker, shocker, were you going to be the pansy that ordered raspberry? Even the teachers jumped on the shocker bandwagon. I remember one of the gym teachers, this crazy lacrosse coach, he came up to my table one time, we were all drinking Slush Puppies, all shocker, of course, and he was drinking one too, he goes, “You boys drinking shocker? Huh?” and he inspected all of our cups, making sure it was all colorless shocker, before going to the next table, his hand in the air with his ring finger tucked in his palm.

Of course, shocker was disgusting. It didn’t taste like anything. It was like a pure lemon but without any of the lemon flavor, only the incredibly sour sensation. Nobody enjoyed drinking shocker, but this mania had overtaken the entire student body. Who was going to be the first one to take a step back and say, all right guys, I don’t really like this, I think I’m going to try peach. It wasn’t going to be me.

And then months later the cafeteria workers put up these notices. Apparently nobody read the instructions, but shocker was supposed to be a sour additive for any of the other flavors. You’d get your cherry, and you’d add a squirt of shocker to make it sour. Orders came from high up in the school’s administration, no more solo-shocker Slush Puppies. And everybody let out a really dramatic, “Come on! That’s not fair!” but really we were all just relieved.

Now and then I’ll find myself in a rut with my adult lunches. Everything feels boring, sometimes I can’t muster up the motivation even to go out and buy a simple sandwich. I find myself thinking back to my high school lunch period, every day something to look forward to, a different meal, some stupid high school conversations. If we were lucky, somebody would drop their tray on the floor and, in unison, the whole student body would scream out, “Heeeeeey, dick!” before erupting into a wild laughter, the lunch moderators scrambling to hand out random detentions in a toothless effort to calm us all down. It’s crazy, the things that I look back on with fondness.