It’s not often you can go out to lunch for $10, but at The Citadel’s new dining hall, you can treat yourself and a friend to lunch for just that.
The Canteen has been the military university’s cafeteria alternative since the 1980s. Coated in a dated powder blue, the old Canteen’s tiled floors and narrow, semi-padded booths made the old snack bar feel like a 1985 McDonald’s.
Wanting to revamp the dining hall, The Citadel began renovations last May and focused on warm, welcoming colors and opting for much more subtle Citadel paraphernalia. Designed by the Citadel’s resident architect, John Gardner, the new Canteen is brighter with more windows and updated lighting, while new cabinetry gives more wheelchair accessibility. The place has been upfit with new tech like flat-screen TVs for sports, free WiFi, and Sirius radio (playing “Call Me Maybe” while I was there, for the record). Many of the staff have held through the transition, including Mrs. Burt, who has been working at the Citadel dining hall for over 30 years.
UPDATE: The Canteen is open to the public weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m, with the morning meal ending at 10:30. (Mon.-Thurs. 7 a.m.-7 p.m., & Friday 7 a.m.-4 p.m.).
For breakfast, combo and a la carte options abound. The Canteen Breakfast special serves up two eggs, grits, bacon or sausage, and toast or a biscuit, all for a affordable $4.25. A real steal on Wednesdays, get a stack of two pancakes and sausage for just $2.79. Complement any meal with fruit for 60 cents or a cheese omelet for $1.99. At the self-serve coffee bar you can choose from your standard cup o’ joe including flavor options, as well as cappuccinos, tea and hot chocolate. Compared to the exorbitant markups of most coffee joints, a large at The Canteen will run you just under $2.
Lunch means variety at The Canteen. Staff will build your preferred toasted or cold sandwich to order, with a wide selection of protein and bread options. At the salad bar, you can craft your own with several dressing options and interesting toppings like dried cranberries or some protein like grilled or crispy chicken. Pick two combos with soup, salad, or half sandwich are also available for $6.99. The Hot Bar features southern comfort foods that rotate daily, which have included everything from meatloaf with mashed potatoes to fried chicken and mac and cheese. Depending on how many sides you pile on, these combos are around $5. Pizza by the slice, burgers, and chicken tenders make for the cafeteria standards and hit around $6 with a drink.
The real value is found in their Wednesday Night Dinners. These pre-order, carry-out meals come with an entrée, sides, and a dessert for three to five diners, all for just $12. And, that’s the total price, not per person. Last week, the dinner included flank steak and green beans. The dinners have proved to be a popular offering, and the new dining hall has been averaging about 60-70 orders a week.
They've got $5 dinner deals on other nights too, including a two-topping pizza for $5. (Specials are listed on the website at www.citadel.edu/canteen.
The Canteen boasts some tech-savvy drink machines too. The Coke Freestyle drink station provides an entertaining approach to self-serve sodas, where you can pick and choose from 256 flavor combinations to fill up your mega sized cup. The milkshake machine was also fun.
Imagine a vending machine, television, and blender rolled into one and you have the F’real Blending Bar. After choosing from the flavors, you can select your preferred level of thickness. While mixing, the machine amuses with a screen flashing images of wizards and ’70s funk masters enjoying their own F’reals.
A food supplier to many colleges, Aramark is the food purveyor for The Canteen and the quality is what you expect from a cafeteria, though the salad bar was surprisingly refreshing. Despite the national supplier, Aramark and The Canteen strive to fit into the current local food trends. They are sourcing produce locally and all of the salad bar options come from Limehouse Produce. The coffee is certified Fair Trade and holds the Rainforest Alliance seal. Aramark tries to appeal to local tastes, too. The day I was there, the two hot bar options were shrimp and gravy over dirty rice and fried chicken.
The Citadel is trying to shed the idea that campus is for affiliated personnel only and welcome the public to the dining hall and campus. For those that wonder if this is an open invitation to the chow hall, it’s not. The cafeteria that feeds 2300 cadets three times a day is a separate facility and so, you can enjoy your meal without getting lost in the swarm of uniforms. On the day I visited, a nice spread of customers filled the tables. There were families with kids, constructions workers, and members of the active military dining in and taking out. There’s even parking for visitors right out front.
Overall, the place deserves recognition for reaching out to the community with an affordable variety of options. Next time you're heading through the Hampton Park area and want to grab something cheap, consider stopping in The Canteen.