Nigiri at Pangea, Cactus Grill BBQ's pulled pork and the assorted sandwiches at Einstein Bros Bagels were among the new offerings Arizona Student Unions unveiled during the University of Arizona's annual Taste of the Union event.
Droves of UA students, faculty, staff and even entire families turned out for the Aug. 18 event, which amounted to four floors of food samples and giveaways, along with a live DJ mixing in the Student Union Memorial Center.
Even Wilma and Wilbur Wildcat made appearances and were quickly surrounded by students wanting to shake hands and take photographs with them.
"It's a great event, and it's a good introduction to the the University and what the union has to offer," said Stephanie Kung, a business management senior who attends Taste of the Union every year. A resident assistant, Kung arrived with a group of residents from her hall.
Kung, also an Honors College student, noted that in addition to a broad range of dining options, the student union has other academic resources, offices and spaces. "It's important that students know about all that the union has to offer," she said.
Considering the unions serve as major hubs of social activity, Nancy Sandoval said she attended to get a sense of the campus.
"I'm a freshman and don't know where to go to eat here," said Sandoval, a Phoenix native who is interested in studying nursing at the UA.
Sandoval was surprised so find a range of options, choosing to sample a flavored soda and caramel Frappuccino to start. "I'm enjoying the event. It feels welcoming."
Dozens of restaurants and markets participated in the event, handing out samples of ice cream sandwiches, energy and protein bars, salads topped with fruit, dry cereal, sandwich wraps, frozen drinks, freshly popped popcorn, fries, brownies, apple pies and other bite-sized eats.
"It's super welcoming, and I get the sense the University is trying to make a good impression on us students," said Brianna Tancke, a freshman from Phoenix planning to study in the sciences.
Across the way two wall-to-wall lines were converging as Pinkberry staff handed out samples. Also, the new Einstein Bros Bagels had opened. In addition to coffee and bagels at Einstein, other options will include a range of soups, sandwiches and salads.
Another new UA-born concept also opened – Pangea, which replaces 3 Cheeses & a Noodle.
A "world market concept," Italian dishes like chicken parmesan and eggplant parmesan will be a mainstay at Pangea, which will have a rotating menu of food from around the world, including Indian, French, Mexican and Japanese cuisine. Another boon – Pangea features an in-house sushi chef who will operate a bar with items that include nigiri and rolls with fish servings that include tuna, salmon, yellowtail and eel. And a Wildcat roll is expected to be announced sometime soon.
"The diversity of food here is amazing," said Kung, who was sampling a sushi roll from Pangea. "I was really surprised to see sushi here, and it's affordable. So there is a lot I'm looking forward to."
Also new to the student union is Cactus Grill BBQ, which replaces Fro Yo.
The barbecue pit's items also include smoked brisket and smoked turkey and the necessary complements: macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, baked beans and potato salad.
"We think the Cactus Grill BBQ will be a big hit. It's comfort food at its best," said Jon Levengood, the UA's retail dining manger for Dining Services.
Also, the meats are smoked on site for 12 hours with pecan wood sourced from the region south of Tucson, Levengood said.
"Barbecue is not as easy as some people might think. If it is not done just right, you get an expensive beef jerkey," said Levengood, adding that Dining Services has experimented with homemade rubs and sauces. The staff is also experimenting with tofu and salmon and is planning on introducing other items at a later time.
Other additions include the Red & Blue Market, a to-go line that will be available at several locations across campus, including Pangea, Highland Market and the Bookends Café. Items will include deli sandwiches, wraps, fruit trays, hummus and pita chips.
Also, Sabor's menu has been updated and will include both carne asada and chicken that has been marinated for 72 hours before going to the grill, Levengood said, adding that the meat will now be sliced to order.
Levengood noted other changes: Canyon Cafe is now Canyon Coffee and has been remodeled and will feature new selections of pastries developed and made by Dining Services staff members; On Deck Deli will now have prepared sandwiches; The Mesa Room will have an updated menu with more seasonal and sustainable items; and Redington Restaurant is now a self-serve dining hall.
And both the north and east patios have been expanded and are now open.
"We are working to keep up with student demand," Levengood said, adding that the division also is attentive to those with food allergies and who maintain low-carb, gluten free and vegetarian diets and lifestyles. The division, he said, offers such options across its dining portfolio.
“Our diners are incredibly savvy and are more conscious of their eating choices than ever before,” Levengood said. “Between our new concepts, the changes we’ve made to our existing restaurants and our facilities upgrades, we feel that we’re giving campus diners and visitors a one-of-a-kind experience.”