If I wanted to grab a quick meal between classes while attending college at Ohio State University in the late '80s, I'd pop into the old Ohio Union, a drab, 35-year-old building on the southern edge of campus. Inside the low-ceilinged food court, students had their choice of pizza from Scarlata and Grey, greasy Chinese from Mark Pi's or meat of questionable origin from Rax. The inevitable gastric distress that followed came free of charge.
My, how times have changed.
Step inside the new $50-million, 82,000-square-foot Tinkham Veale University Center — or "The Tink" — on the campus of Case Western Reserve University and you're ushered into a bright, welcoming and architecturally compelling structure. Floor-to-ceiling glass walls offer views of the surrounding campus and nearby cultural attractions. News and entertainment is splashed across a two-story multi-touch media wall. In short, it is everything the Ohio Union was not.
When it comes to the food, students, faculty and anybody else who wanders in off the street have their choice of six different concepts that range from a grab-and-go coffee bar to a full-service, sit-down bistro. In between are a fast-casual Indian concept, design-your-own salad bar, a pizza and pasta shop and Melt University, a mini version of the local grilled cheese chain.
All of the shops are managed by Bon Appétit, the high-quality, sustainability-minded food-service outfit that also runs Provenance in the Cleveland Museum of Art, The Market Café downtown and about 500 other cafes around the country.
I had high hopes for Naan, a quick-serve Indian café sanctioned by Raghavan Iyer, a well-regarded chef, cookbook author and James Beard Award nominee. On the plus side, the mini eatery has a real tandoor oven that turns out a constant supply of hot, pillowy and fresh-baked naan. On the down side is a very small menu, with roughly four choices for main dishes — and half of them are vegetarian. A typical offering might include a tender and deeply spiced rogan josh ($7.50), butter chicken ($7.25), a vegetable and split pea curry ($6.75) and a grilled paneer dish ($6.75). Entrees come with two sides — basmati and chickpeas, aloo gobi, broccoli with mustard, for example — but not the namesake flatbread. That is an extra $1.25. I also had to request accompanying chutneys, which are included but were not offered up.
The curiously named bistro, Michelson and Morley, honors the ground-breaking work of Case professors Albert Michelson and Edward Morley, whose pioneering Michelson-Morley experiment led to a Nobel Prize in physics in 1907. That theme is carried over to the tabletops, with clear glass Erlenmeyer flasks holding fresh herbs. Elegant lines, attractive furnishings, dramatic views and eager service are not exactly what one typically expects from "student-center dining," but that's what diners are treated to here. The location, a two-minute walk from the Severance Hall parking garage, makes M&M a convenient choice for a pre- or post-concert meal.
For a seasonal bistro, the menu is just the right size, with a handful of items in a handful of categories that easily can be tweaked each semester. And while decidedly American in scope, the menu offers plenty of global nods, appropriate given the collegiate setting. A very open kitchen allows diners to watch the culinary team at work, including executive chef Tony Smoody, a longtime Bon Appétit employee.
Meals here start with artful little snacks like sweet pea hummus and garlic crostini ($5), braised beef tacos with corn salsa and lime crema ($6), or golf ball-size ground chicken fritters ($6) served with a fiery and flavorful sambal relish. While dark and delicious, the fritters were anything but crunchy as we had expected. Also enjoyable is the chicken and kale soup ($6), a large portion of hot broth, moist chicken, nubby dumplings and wilted kale.
M&M has a pizza oven, but it doesn't exactly turn out pizzas as the menu calls them. This is truly flatbread, with a thin, crisp and aggressively chewy crust supporting toppings like pork and parm, mushrooms and leeks or, in our case, sliced tomatoes, pesto, burrata and pecorino ($11).
Entrees are thoughtfully composed, with each main paired with an appropriate sauce, veg and starch in most cases. A skirt steak ($18) is grilled to medium-rare, sliced into lengthy strips and sauced with a vibrant charred tomato vinaigrette. The beef is sided by expertly cooked and seasoned fingerling potatoes and sautéed kale. A pair of thin chicken breasts ($15) get the Mediterranean treatment, with feta, sundried tomatoes and lemony couscous-style salad. Other entrée choices are built around scallops, pasta and a fresh fish of the day.
It would be easy to overlook Michelson and Morley, an oddly named restaurant tucked inside a building on a college campus, but try not to. It's a handy and handsome option when one finds himself exploring our city's cultural capital.
Michelson and Morley
11038 Bellflower Dr., 216-368-080, michelsonandmorley.cafebonappetit.com.