If you ask any undergrad here what their favorite campus eatery is, they’ll likely say Terrace, Trillium or Zeus. Each one is delicious in their own right, but let’s be real — making it through the lines at these places is hard work. Even in the late morning, you’ll find long lines filing out of most popular campus eateries. Although no eatery could ever replace my beloved Terrace salad or Zeus soup, I’m getting a bit tired of spending my entire lunch break waiting in these lines, leaving me to discreetly eat my lunch in the back of the lecture.
My solution? The Atrium Cafe. This humble cafe is tucked into the corner of Sage Hall, the hub for Johnson MBA students. It is an especially convenient location for Hotel, Engineering and Arts & Sciences students. Although I’m a student in Human Ecology, I sometimes still make the trek over just to avoid the long lines and loud noises at the other nearby cafes.
Upon entering the Sage Hall atrium, you are welcomed by a soaring ceiling composed entirely of a mosaic of windows which let abundant light in. The space is airy, refreshing and light, even with the weak glimmers of winter sun in the later months. Various sized tables are scattered throughout the space and taller tables are pushed up against the walls, making it an ideal place to eat solo or meet up with friends. The most notable part of the space is the bustling energy of the graduate students, who form clusters to mingle between classes. Beware that you might feel underdressed amongst these students, who often use the atrium to network and host various business-related events, but do not worry. Smile, pretend you’re not a measly undergrad student, and take a left to find Atrium Cafe.
Atrium Cafe appears rather small from the outside but has a wide range of menu offerings. The space boasts a make-your-own salad bar, soups, fresh-made sandwiches, dumplings and personal pizzas. In the mornings, they even have an oatmeal bar in place of the soup bar for a customized boost of energy on the go. The most popular offering at Sage is their hot lunch option that alternates between a burrito wrap/bowl on Mondays and Thursdays, a noodle/rice bowl on Tuesdays and Fridays and a curry rice bowl on Wednesdays. Although I’ve never tried the curry rice bowl, I absolutely love the burrito bowl. It is served Chipotle-line style, but here’s the catch: Guacamole is not extra! The portion size of these hot options are very large, and I am always left fulfilled.
The noodle bowl, too, is a real deal in terms of how much you get for the price. For about $6 (a little more if you get the chicken instead of the tofu), you’re able to get your fill of rice noodles or white rice and a wide variety of Asian-inspired toppings in a savory ginger lemongrass broth. While the tofu and noodles can be a little bland on their own, the additional sauces you can add along with the broth adds a nice kick of acidity and unique flavor that you can’t find anywhere else.
If bowls aren’t your thing, or you just need something super quick to-go, the personal pizzas that come prepared in their own mini pizza boxes are a great option. They come in cheese, meat, vegetarian or gourmet (a pie based on the cook’s choice) and are all decent options for something hot and satisfying without the wait. The toppings on the meat and vegetarian pizzas change daily, and they’re baked fresh in-house. These are personal pizzas meant for one person, but with four slices, they’ve always filled me up and left me with enough time to make it to my next class, too.
Atrium Cafe’s variety of options don’t stop with their pizzas. They’ve recently been changing up their sandwich menu too, as last year’s sandwich options with business-themed names like “Parker Center Pesto” and “Immersion Chicken” have now been replaced by six new speciality deli items ranging from classic chicken or turkey sandwiches to pork banh mi. I got the “Southwest Portobello Wrap” one day, which features tangy chipotle marinated portobello mushrooms, refreshing corn and black bean salsa, cheese and spinach in a whole wheat wrap, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The combination of flavors and textures was interesting and filling, and although the sauce ended up leaking out of the wrap making it messier to eat than I would’ve liked, it didn’t make the wrap any less delicious. All sandwiches come with your choice of either carrots and celery or chips and a pickle. For the price that you pay, which is about the same at any other eatery on campus, the overall value makes the sandwiches appealing offerings to return for.
My favorite aspect of Atrium Cafe? I can almost always find a seat in a nicely lit, not-too-loud place, which sure seems like a luxury compared to the narrow, crowded spaces at most other popular eateries. Everyone deserves to have a relaxing break within their busy day, and lunch is the perfect time for that if you can manage to find a place on campus that allows for it. I’m thankful that I discovered Sage, and now can only hope that it stays a place where both undergrads and Johnson students can enjoy Atrium Cafe’s offerings harmoniously, too.
Katie Zhang ’21 also contributed to this article.