You win some, you lose some.
Sometimes you go into Sharples, Swarthmore’s finest (and only) dining hall, and everything you have ever loved is being served that day. Sometimes you sigh and make yourself a turkey sandwich at the deli bar.
For this post, the tour guides asked themselves… which Sharples bars make you jump up and down with joy and go back for seconds and thirds?
The Sharples menu is a stunning & dynamic kaleidoscope of flavor. I mean… at least to me it is (this is an unpopular opinion). The menu changes on a cycle that lasts about a month – some meals pop up very often (almost too often in the case of the twice-weekly pasta bar); others come around only once in a blue moon (I’m still trying to dial in my calculations of the mysterious, elliptical orbit of tostada bar). My personal favorite meal comes around every other Wednesday like clockwork – citrus salmon bar!
My love for this meal, honestly, knows no bounds. As far as the food on the plate is concerned – the salmon is flaky and moist, the potatoes are crispy, & the salad bar is (as always) fully stocked with fresh veggies. More than the actual food though – I love the associations I have made with the meal and with Wednesday nights more generally.
Every Wednesday night, the College Chorus & Chamber Choir meet after dinner for three hours of good music and good fun. Director Joe Gregorio pushes both ensembles with challenging material, but always manages to pull a good performance out of us. After chorus, I often have another rehearsal with my a cappella group Sixteen Feet for two more hours. It’s a lot of singing at one time, but there’s nothing else that I’d rather be doing.
Bringing this discussion of my Wednesday nights back to the dining hall (and back to that delicious salmon bar!), I often tie my two Wednesday night loves together by getting meals with other singers! I have lots of friends in the chorus and I’m extremely close to the other guys in Sixteen Feet, so it’s easy for my Wednesday nights to start at 5 o’clock with a delicious salmon dinner and then spill through until midnight or 1 am conversations with the squad at Essie Mae’s Snack Bar. Wednesday nights are marathons for me, but there’s nothing better to start them off than my personal “Homestyle Favorite,” the citrus salmon bar!
As it seems to me, a large majority of the campus likes Indian bar. I was sitting in Underhill Music & Dance Library one Thursday afternoon, checking the Dash for what Sharples would serve that night.
“It’s Indian bar,” I hissed to my friend. His face lit up.
A few minutes later, another group of friends studying together did the same thing, except they shouted. Now all of Underhill knew it was Indian bar.
My friend and I were hungry, so we went down to dinner fairly early. Sharples was uncrowded, and the employees stood at the ready behind the bar. Ladles in hand. Determined faces. Bracing themselves for the 5:30ish onslaught of hungry college students.
I walked right up to the beginning of the bar.
“Everything, please!” I said. I smiled at the employees. They understood my eagerness.
Jasmine rice. Creamy chicken tikka masala. The crunchiest, most delightfully oily pakora. Naan. Vegetarian samosas.
I sat down, looking at my plate. This was the last Indian bar of the semester. I’d better enjoy it, I said to myself. I resolved to eat slowly.
Ten minutes later, my plate was licked clean, my stomach was achingly full, and I was as reclined as I could be in those inflexible chairs. My friend got up to get seconds (I swear some people have bottomless pits for stomachs) and I glanced up at him with a satiated look on my face, my mouth burning from the spiciness. He laughed.
But that’s exactly what Indian bar is. Happily full people and laughter and spicy mouths. I like those Thursday nights.
Saturday evening, around 6:00pm, early fall. I finish up the last of a series of hard-fought games of Magic: the Gathering with my friends, and we all sprint to Sharples before it closes so we aren’t stuck outside scrounging for scraps at Essie Mae’s. I descend the main staircase into the lively hum, bright lights, and friendly faces of Saturday dinner, but tonight is not like all other nights. Why, you ask? I was soon to find out.
Turning the corner under the stairs into the main servery, my way is blocked by almost what felt like the entire school, crammed into the space. Long lines of hungry, eager students stream from the serving bars and fill the cavernous waiting area. It smells like hunger, anticipation, and…fried tortilla? I must have said these last words aloud, because the student in front of me turns around and whispers in awe “It’s tostada bar.”
Tostada bar entered my life like…well, like a plate of warm, crispy, slightly salty tostadas, heaped high with tender, juicy pulled pork (or chicken, or seitan, for folks with different dietary needs), and topped with salsa verde, this cool crumbly white cheese sort of like parmesan but way better, and lime-infused sour cream. A new bar at Sharples is treated sort of like that new kid in your middle school homeroom: at first no one talks to you because you could be weird, then everyone wants to get to know you to see if they were right, then things settle down into a series of regular comrades who can tolerate your own unique weirdness. In the case of tostada bar, however, there was no pretense of a polite “sampling period”: I, along with many, many others, flocked to the bar for seconds and often thirds, and I have continued to do so at every tostada bar since. Thus, tostada bar established itself forever in both my heart and my stomach, and claimed the mostly-lofty-but-somewhat-dubious title of “Canaan’s Favorite Sharples Bar.”
Taco Bar (not to be confused with my least favorite fish taco bar…) is one of the most beautiful occurrences to ever grace Sharples (apart from Breakfast for Dinner Bar). Any of my friends know that when it’s taco bar, they can find me in Sharples during ALL of dinner time.
Literally, the entire time.
I head over to Sharples as soon as it opens for dinner at 4 pm and no one can remove me from my table by the window until 8 pm when Sharples closes. I usually take my computer or a textbook to do some work as I prepare myself for the heavenly journey I am about to embark on. Many people enjoy doing work in Sharples at one of the smaller, private tables in between socializing and devouring their favorite bar. Pat, one of my best buds at Sharples, always knows when I’m heading over to the taco bar line exactly what I’m getting — EVERYTHING. Soft shell, beef, lettuce, tomato, black olives, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, and nachos on the side. I usually pair this meal (and every meal for that matter) with the delicious Pass-O-Guava juice. I savor every bite of this meal as I daydream of puppies, the 8 hours of sleep that I never get, and everything else that is joyous in life. I do some reading or write some essays that I have most likely been procrastinating on while I wait for my food to go down.
Then I repeat.
Around 12 tired pairs of eyes stare into our assistant coach’s stone cold face. I look around at my teammates to see how everyone else is faring. Legs are being stretched and grimaces paint my teammates faces. The panting echoes inside the Mullan center. We wait in anticipation to see if our coach will push us to run more suicides or if he’ll let us go a little early. He smugly grins. My heart races. He opens his mouth.
“Alright, you guys can go” he said, surprising us all.
As we all circle up to stretch, the question of what’s for dinner tonight at Sharples arises. Someone mutters, “I think it might be burger bar.” My heart rate rises again for all the right reasons.
I’ve been a bit of a burger fanatic since I was just a kid, constantly trying them at various restaurants across Cincinnati and some of the various places that I’ve visited. I was skeptical about what the burgers would be like in some random suburban place outside of Philadelphia, far away from my home of Cincinnati. However, much to my delight, Sharples holds its own ground on my self-made rankings.
We hurry from the Mullan center with our tennis bags swinging from our shoulders, the night already wrapping around the campus. The check-in ladies at Sharples can sense the team’s excitement and hunger; they smirk as we all charge in. We desperately search for a table to fit most of the team (and all of our equipment) and neighboring tables that won’t mind the smell of a bunch sweaty college tennis players. When we find our spot, the journey of my favorite Sharples meal begins. Three or four burgers later, I’m totally stuffed, surrounded by the enjoyable banter of my teammates. I guess in a sense, it’s really less about the burgers and more about seeing my teammates eyes fill with excitement. It’s about the company and the late night feast.
Wing Bar is my favorite because it’s tasty and meaty. Sharples serves amazing hot wings, bbq wings, and crispy/fried wings with sides of celery and carrots. Pat, the best Sharples staff member ever, graciously overloads the plates of varsity athletes fiending for meat after practice and professional nerds looking for brain fuel to keep studying.
Surprisingly, I love wing bar because it’s different from all the other specialty bars. We already have a permanent vegetarian/vegan bar and most of the specialty bars have a vegetarian and vegan option, too. There’s also a Homemade Style bar with the usual comfort food. However, Wing bar is a treat because it is all meat.