Benjamin Franklin famously said that only two things are certain in life: “Death and taxes.” For me, someone with 16 major or minor allergies including a severe shellfish allergy and a peanut allergy that is off the charts, food paranoia is a third certainty. Or maybe certainty 2.5; it’s kind of attached to death. That’s why I was excited to try MSU’s new allergen-free dining hall: Thrive.
Thrive is located in Owen Hall and caters to the dietary needs of students and faculty with the big eight allergies: milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. The dining hall is also gluten-free. Many of the meals that are served at Thrive also cater to vegetarian and vegan options.
When I came to MSU as a freshman, eating at the dining halls was a daunting adjustment. The anonymity of who was preparing my meals was stressful. Over the course of that year, my experience helped ease my fears and establish trust in the dining halls. The sign system, listing out foods and the allergens that are in each dish, along with easy access to chefs helped me feel safer than I would have otherwise.
However, I still had a nagging fear in the back of my mind that there was a chance of a slip-up.
Jordan Durkin, a chef at Thrive, said that feelings like mine are what led to the creation of the new dining hall. The opportunity to alleviate the stress of mealtime for students by creating a completely allergen-free environment was of the utmost importance to the staff.
Mission accomplished. Upon my first visit to Thrive, I felt like I was eating a meal that was prepared with as much thought and attention as I would prepare for myself. I asked questions, and the employees’ knowledge of the food, from ingredients to preparation, helped put my mind at ease.
To me, that peace of mind is enough of a perk to eat at Thrive, but the star of the show is the food.
So, let me put on my unqualified-critic hat and talk about my experience.
Thrive has two main stations with rotating menus: one that focuses on homestyle, comfort food and the other is intended to be dynamic and trendy, “street-food.” Additionally, there is a salad bar, soup station and gluten-free chicken tenders and fries that are served daily.
Durkin said his intention was to take recipes already being used on campus — that students and guests enjoy — and modify so guests with dietary restrictions could enjoy them too.
When I went in, Thrive served a variation of stir-fry at one station and roasted potatoes with vegetables and coffee rubbed beef at the other. Also, they offer salad, delicious soups (I had the beef chili) and their gluten/egg/wheat-free chicken tenders with fries.
I figured I have to try everything, because I wouldn’t be a true critic if I didn’t, right?
Starting with the stir fry. I was impressed. I’ve always loved MSU’s stir fry — it was my go-to as a freshman living in the Brody complex — and the allergen-free version did not disappoint! They were serving sweet-and-sour sauce, which is my close-second favorite sauce option behind Cantonese, and the other ingredients were prepared well. The ingredients were strictly rice, vegetables and beef, kept separate, free of any of the main eight allergens. Can’t go wrong with a good stir-fry bowl.
Next, I tried the homestyle station. In my family, meat, potatoes and veggies are standard fare, so I always look forward to anything resembling a home-cooked meal. The version that Thrive prepared was fantastic. Most impressive to me: Thrive’s roasted potatoes were almost as good as my Grandpa’s, and that’s a high bar. I almost felt like the critic in Ratatouille when Remy’s ratatouille whisked him back to his childhood. Almost.
The beef chili soup was great as well, and the gluten-free chicken tenders and fries were tasty! The salad was, well, a salad. The salad bar was comparable to other dining halls, minus the hard boiled eggs.
The verdict? Thrive is a welcome addition to MSU’s dining options. A breath of fresh, allergen-free air on campus. If the rest of the menu is as good as what I sampled, students with and without allergies and dietary restrictions will be lining up to make Thrive part of their dining routine. I know I will be!