Taking a tour of hospital cafeterias

The mere mention of hospital food elicits contorted facial expressions and conjures images of green Jello and meatloaf surprise. Depending on how sick the patients, or how sad the visitors, chances are, food is not foremost on their minds.

But they want to be comforted. Hence, comfort food — flavorful, home-cooked meals that offer a nostalgic, soul-healing appeal. And because feeling better is what every hospital wants for its patients, shouldn’t the cafeterias strive to achieve this basic need?

With this in mind, I visited each cafeteria in the four hospitals in Burbank and Glendale: Providence St. Joseph Medical Center, Glendale Adventist Medical Center, Glendale Memorial Hospital and Verdugo Hills Hospital.

Glendale Memorial

If you don’t feel sick walking into Glendale Memorial Cafe, you might once you get there. The edibility of the chicken burrito and lemon pepper fish behind the glass case looked as questionable as the entree display at the cafe’s entrance. A fry cook stood ready to grill hamburgers, tuna melts and grilled-cheese sandwiches, but I wandered over to the limited-selection salad bar, where the sheen on a stack of unwrapped lunch meat sent me toward the Grab & Go meals.

Thankfully, the cafe offered several pre-packaged salads. I opted for the $5.59 Greek salad (which tasted fine), as the other selections’ less-than-fresh chicken and slimy turkey Cobb left me cringing. The dining area was uninviting, so I grabbed my grub and left.

Glendale Adventist

Now this is a cafeteria. The Terrace Cafe stays open all day, catering to specific dishes at meal times. Under a sign that read “Comfort Food,” the cafe featured quite a selection of carb-heavy and high-protein fare, including eggplant risotto, corn bread, Cajun tilapia, and scallops and tartar sauce. Appetizing in appearance though it was, the comfort food I chose was a hamburger. The busy cook asked how I’d like it dressed before serving a thick patty on a toasted bun. It was tasty, cooked to order, well-done, with a choice of fresh lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions and a host of condiments. The burger, chips and a beverage came to just less than $6.

The spacious cafeteria proffers homemade soups and an entire section of themed food, such as traditional Mexican or Italian food. There are juice machines, latte machines, entire refrigerators of SoBe juices and energy drinks, as well as a stocked salad bar and bowls of fresh fruit.

Dessert here constitutes covered pies and cakes and a refrigerator brimming with ice cream sandwiches and Haagen Dazs bars. Dotted about the cafe are nutrition information sheets that break down the items’ nutrients. The carpeted dining room, complete with baskets of peace lilies, allows diners to forget they’re actually in a hospital.

Providence St. Joseph

The dishes on display at the Northside Cafe look every bit as tantalizing as the framed home-style cooking posters that led into the cafeteria. Baked ziti with four cheeses, Asian beef salad, linguine primavera and baked tri-tip offer diners a caloric reprieve from what ails them. Of the four kinds of freshly baked pizza, I chose vegetarian and delighted in each crispy, cheesy bite. For $6.50, I added a 32-ounce drink and side salad to round out the combo platter. While Providence St. Joseph provides a freezer of various ice cream treats, diners may also swirl their own frozen yogurt. Like Glendale Adventist, the dining area is inviting with its plants and paintings.

Verdugo Hills

Having sold out of his featured entree, a turkey and bacon wrapped panini, the cook at Verdugo Hills Cafe whipped up platters of mahi mahi, with a pineapple mango relish. Perhaps not politically correct, the meal was marvelous. However, short of bags of chips, it was the only food I could imagine tasting. The salad bar, with its limited fixins and handfuls of wilted lettuce, left me unenticed.

The Decision

Glendale Adventist’s Terrace Cafe offers the kind of food diners seek, not the kind for which they must settle.

 DONNA HUFFAKER EVANS’ culinary experiences range from hole-in-the-wall hamburger stands to cafes in Krakow. She can be reached at dhuffaker@sbcglobal.net.

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