The Stein’s new menu

January 24, 2020

What a treat! The holidays were kind to The Stein this year. Everybody’s second favorite dining option (the first being UberEats) has received a menu design makeover with some fresh and perplexing options to spice up the new semester. Did management finally give the employees a loudspeaker so they don’t have to distend their vocal cords every time an order goes out? Well, I suppose we can’t have everything.

I’ll start with the look—the new menu layout is slick and easy to take in. The coffee-ice cream background compliments the light and dark blues of The Stein logo shockingly well. While black text is not necessarily the best against a brown backdrop, it is far from unreadable. The previous iteration crowded the entire menu onto one sheet of paper—a little overwhelming, especially with a crowded line. The new menu divides its options between a front and back side, which would have taken some getting used to if the headers weren’t so large and bold. 

The best thing about these new menus, however, is simply the sheer quantity of them. Enough of these things are printed that they can be circulated around the dinner-rush line or carried back to tables. Gone are the days of waiting until you reach the front of the line to see your options! There is no longer a seperate menu for meal-swipe options; meal exchange options are marked with a blue icon.

With the new menu comes new items and the loss of some old ones. I get the sense that a number of unpopular items were dropped with this iteration, but I honestly couldn’t tell you what they could be. The old menu was chock full of weird choices that definitely weren’t actually stocked. Granted, The Stein still isn’t totally up to speed with its new menu items either. When a friend of mine tried to order the grilled salmon, she was told that they didn’t have any. An old Stein favorite, the chicken/veggie tortellini, is gone. In its place we have the so called “wild” mushroom ravioli. Let’s talk about that.

Of all the new items, the ravioli is probably the best. I love tortellini as much as the next Italian, but the vegetables they used to serve with them were gross, limp, tasteless, too wet, etc. The mushroom ravioli actually tastes pretty sophisticated as far as Brandeis dining goes, and they are steeped in this orange “lemon beurre blanc” sauce filled with tomatoes that keeps the heavy pasta from being too dry. It’s tasty, but it could do without the shredded cheese on top. If you don’t like mushrooms or the very specific salty-tangy taste of mushroom raviolis, then you are out of luck. The pub mac and cheese is still around, I guess, but cheese on the outside is very different from cheese on the inside. The specific combination of chicken, tortellini and red sauce is also a protein carb combo that will be missed by many, even if it wasn’t particularly great. Regardless, as a swipe-able dinner option, the raviolis are a great addition.

There is another new swipe option available, but this item is far less exciting than the raviolis. It is called the grilled cheese bagel. It is on brand with the whole “Brandeis = Jews = Bagels” thing, but the idea sounds a lot better than the execution. For starters, the bagels are not served in traditional sandwich style; the rounded “tops” of the bagels are on the inside with the flat cut bottoms on the outside. I suspect this is done to facilitate grilling on a flat surface, but this does not make for a pleasant eating experience. When the sandwich is bitten into, the cheese, lacking an even surface to cling to, is squished out the sides and middle hole of the bagel. The bagel itself, contrary to Einstein’s model, is not a great sandwich bread in the first place (chewy inside, tougher outside and generally dense), and the bagels The Stein is employing here are of a prepackaged Market Basket generic quality. I would have welcomed a crispy grilled cheese on wheat with a side of tomato soup instead. No, these grilled cheese bagels are not served with tomato soup. The menu refers to it as “tomato basil bisque.” 

Please don’t get me started on the bisque. It’s marinara sauce with a little extra water in it. Would you guzzle down a small cup of the mozzarella stick marinara sauce with a spoon? No. Then why would you do it just because they call it bisque? This whole menu option is a trick of names. Seriously, this item is just a meal-swipeable pizza bagel with the two halfs put together the wrong way and the sauce on the side. The cheese tastes exactly the same as Einstein’s. I cannot understand how they justify charging $8.49 for something that is six bucks max at Einstein’s, let alone a meal swipe that is priced in the dining halls at around $12. These cheesy bagels are just as expensive as the angus burger. Remember kids, Sodexo runs private prisons. Upcharging captive buyers is kind of its thing.

Speaking of corporate shenanigans and beef, the fabled Impossible Burger has finally reached The Stein, and it comes out on its own special metal tray. It’s awesome that we can get ahold of one of these things without leaving campus, but it is the second most expensive item on the menu next to the steak tips at $12.49. I can’t say I am entirely pleased with the way they are cooking it, either. Mine was served like a panini. The bun was charred and compacted and the patty was, as Steve Buscemi would put it, “burnt to a crisp.” I have ordered this thing twice now, and it came out the same way both times (The Stein fries, on the other hand, vary immensely from crispy to flaccid). One could probably ask if they’d grill it a little more rare, but campus health restrictions might require them to make it well done. If you want the burger to taste like it’s fresh from the Burger King drive-through window, it might be worth asking. 

I do not know if The Stein has always served entree options that come with two sides, but the new “crabless crab cakes” stood out to me. I don’t usually eat crab outside of the sushi bar California rolls myself, so I wouldn’t be able to judge even if the cakes had crab in them. The meal easily filled me, but I can’t say I was satisfied. They aren’t meal swipe-able and their consistency brings to mind the texture of waterlogged bread. The soft cakes are spicy, but in a white person kind of way. Are white people allowed to say that? All of that said, it is nice that one of the larger entrees is a vegetarian option. Fish and crustacean lovers might really love these, so I will suspend further judgement.

I still have a lot to experiment with, but the above pretty much covers the new stuff. While the mushroom ravioli and Impossible Burger are wonderful new additions, the menu changes as a whole are decidedly nothing to get excited about. The redesign has also disappointedly failed to address a longstanding problem with Brandeis dining, and that is the severe lack of value meal swipes have in comparison to points. I still can’t use my leftover meal swipes to buy myself a plate of mozzarella sticks, nachos or a small pizza, and that’s unacceptable. I’m already paying $2,000 more than I would like to for this meal plan, at least let me use it to stuff my face with salt and grease!

All of this goes without mentioning the dark rumours that have been swirling about. Brandeis is in the midst of renegotiating and potentially selecting a new dining provider. The Stein menu redesign comes alongside improvements to Sherman’s dining experience as well (Sherman has a stir-fry station and sandwiches now). Is upper management pushing for improvement in a bid to retain its contract with Brandeis, or has a new contract already been worked out? Thankfully, I don’t need to give you any answers. This is Opinions, not News.

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