When students return to the University of Kentucky this weekend, they need to bring hearty appetites.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday, UK will debut its new dining hall, The 90, with options that will make anyone's mouth water.
Inside the $32 million complex built by Aramark will be the Fresh Food Company, Aramark's concept for a large residential dining hall. This one is dressed in UK and Kentucky-specific details, including limestone walls and two 1,500-pound "barn" doors of repurposed wood from Longwood Antique Woods. Huge windows offer some of the prettiest views of the tree-shaded campus.
The 1,000-seat room will have multiple food "platforms," including fresh produce, deli, bakery, grill, pasta and vegetarian stations, as well as traditional "meat-and-three" plates. There will be gelato makers, pizza ovens and a Mongolian grill-style cooking station; smokers for barbecue, a breakfast area where you can make your own waffles, and a "worry-free zone" where those with food allergies can get gluten-free, nut-free pizza, for instance.
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For special occasions, there's a private dining room — which can be reserved — that seats 120 people.
The 82,000-square-foot venture will serve about a dozen residential halls nearby, including the Woodland Glen's five new dorms; they expect to feed 1,800 to 2,500 students, three times a day, director M.K. Cole said.
Anyone is welcome to stop by for a meal, she said. The 90 takes cash and credit, along with the UK meal plan swipe cards. One hitch: there's no on-campus parking nearby.
The 90's first service will be lunch on Friday.
What won't be there: trays. The fill 'er up sectioned trays are gone, in favor of reusable plates.
Eliminating trays saves on water and helps with portion control, said Brian Buckner, project coordinator for The 90 for designers RossTarrant Architects.
Other steps to make things greener: You can get food to go, and for a $5 deposit can get take-out containers that can be returned and exchanged.
Food waste will be reduced to pulp and dehydrated before being composted, possibly at one of the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment farms.
One of the biggest nods to sustainability is upstairs in the demonstration kitchen, which features a top-of-the-line cooking setup that guest chefs, farmers and nutritionists may use to showcase local food, said Lilian Brislen, executive director of the UK Food Connection, which was established with a $5 million grant from Aramark.
Plans are in the works for a cooking show featuring Monica Fowler, the nutritionist for UK Athletics, Brislen said.
The dining room itself will use some locally sourced Kentucky Proud produce, meats, cheese and dairy products, Cole said. Last year, more than 20 percent of what Aramark served on campus was grown or produced by Kentucky farmers, Cole said.
If none of the dining hall's options suit you, there are more in a row of storefronts along Hilltop Avenue, including Ovid's Café, which moved from the William T. Young library; Aqua Sushi, a popular concept from Bluegrass Hospitality Group; Wildcat Pantry, a grab-and-go convenience store; Taco Bell Express; and, instead of the originally announced Panera, La Madeleine Country French Café, which will open at the end of September.
Across the street in the Young library, where Ovid's used to be, is a new Starbucks Coffee that opened Aug. 10. At 6,200 square feet, it's the largest Starbucks on a university campus anywhere, said Benna Deney, who manages the three Starbucks stores on the UK campus.
Decorated with historical photos from UK, the café seats about 300, including outside; current hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but the schedule will fluctuate with the school year to include extended hours before and during finals, she said.