October 13, 2010

Mac’s vs. Big Red Barn

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We often find ourselves immersed in patterns or routines. I myself have stumbled in to this trap throughout early fall, and have inherently ignored the many, lesser known dining options on campus.  Realizing this, I decided to seek out some of Cornell’s best kept secrets and to encourage anyone who is searching for a bit of diversity to try a couple of my favorites.

Under The Statler, around a few corners, and down a long, far from elegant hall is Mac’s Cafe.  Many hardly know it exists, and those who do often can’t find it.  But with the help of a teammate and encouraged by many excellent reviews I found myself ordering an italian trio sub at the counter of this little known gold mine.  “It’s the best sandwich on campus” raves Brandon Lee ‘12, part time Cornell Baseball co-captain and full time food fanatic.  On that Wednesday afternoon the tables were occupied by devoted customers who flock their coveted oasis of culinary excellence daily and marvel at its assortments of pizzas, calzones, pastas and sandwiches.

As I stood in line I scanned the menu and salivated over the numerous options listed, but ultimately found myself drawn to the deli station and its heaping portions.  With surprising, yet certainly appreciated care, my sandwich was constructed.  Slices of meat were generously piled on top of each other, accompanied by perfectly laid layers of lettuce, onions, dressing, and cucumbers.  My lunch was then placed and presented on a paper plate that nearly folded under the sheer weight of my hardy meal.

While paying at the register I was not only treated politely, but became involved in a friendly conversation with the cashier who was extremely kind and receptive.  It was a bonus of an already fantastic precursor to my meal. Finally finding a seat, and slinging my backpack in to the chair next to me I approached my first bite as one might approach a thesis statement.  It was daunting at first, and a little overwhelming.  It would determine my general attack throughout the rest of my meal.

I dove in, striking the center and most voluminous area of my target.  The cascade of flavors flowed together as might the notes of a tasty symphony.  The texture of meats mixed with the crunch of cucumber and lettuce, working together in creating an overall completeness to my every bite.  The dressing was perfectly portioned, accompanying the serious content of the sandwich. Looking across the table, I noticed my friend bathing in his own lunch, clearly in need of many more napkins.

I searched the faces of my fellow customers as they eagerly devoured their lunch and felt comfortable asserting Mac’s Cafe as one of the top two secrets on campus.

A deep, burgundy red characterizes this hidden, but subconsciously noticed, central campus eatery.  I walk past The Big Red Barn three days a week, but somehow always forget its existence when planning my mid-day meal.  But in writing this article, I realized my need to try this homey, on campus retreat.

One enters in to what felt much like a log cabin, and is a fire place shy of a well endowed lake house.  With tables upstairs, downstairs, and outside, multiple environments welcome hungry customers.  Mid range lines attest to its popularity amongst regulars, but also to its forgotten presence amidst new members on campus.  The deli offers sandwiches (such as the Turkey Hillary, named after Hillary Clinton herself), but while tasty, are not as filling as one might hope.  Ask Red Barn employee Peggy what to get and she’ll probably make some worthy suggestions.  Her friendly smile makes one eager to trust her opinion and likely to take her advice.

Having just had a sandwich the day before, I ordered the chicken pasta bake for only $4.99.  Relative to the amount of chicken in the meal, it was a pretty reasonable price and definitely not a regrettable choice.  The cheese melted on top gave it a slight richness, but one that avoided making me tired, or slowing me down in the slightest.  Rather, the light tomato sauce and generous quantity of pasta was perfectly filling, and equally tasty. The melted cheese even had me using my fingers to scrape out the last bits from my plate.

The environment, is pleasant and appropriate for completing one’s homework, reading the newspaper, or just relaxing.  The soups here make a cold day a bit warmer and the employees makes a dull day a bit brighter. It’s a place you shouldn’t miss, and one that might deserve a spot in your weekly routine. Enjoy a sip of coffee or apple cider, and enjoy this true Cornell secret.

Oh, and one dollar beers for grad students on Fridays after 2 p.m.

But while both The Big Red Barn and Mac’s Cafe have become personal favorites of mine, there of course has to be a winner.  While The Big Red Barn’s atmosphere and excellent service assert its excellence, the supreme quality of Mac’s Cafe reigns supreme.  The air of pride and hefty portions not only leave me with a bit of a stomach ache, but also a desire to go back again and again. For those reasons and many more, Mac’s Cafe is my favorite “Best Kept Secret on Campus.”


Food: *****

Service: ****

Atmosphere: ***

Price: ****

Overall Experience: *****


(Stars out of Five)

Food: ****

Service: *****

Atmosphere: *****

Price: ****

Overall Experience: *****

Original Author: Ali Hamed