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Comfort Food in Uncomfortable Places: Rediscovering the Cuisine of OU Medical Center’s Cafeteria

For those who don’t know, I have been in the hospital more times than I care to admit—and re-admit!—over the past few years.

During these stays, I've had every type of hospital food imaginable, from liquid-based diets to full-blown turkey dinners, and have become a well-timed connoisseur and expert in its diagnostic, systolic, and apostolic form of finer dining.

It was a style of food I had grown accustomed to, and in a strange way, kind of missed.

So, as my girlfriend checked into OU Medical Center for two overnights following a planned surgery, I decided to take advantage of the other side—the tasty side—of the serving tray, and eat dinner at the hospital-friendly dining room, to get reacquainted with those sterilized tastes.

After spending five or six hours in the waiting room during her surgery, I made my way downstairs as the nurses roused her to consciousness, and gave her a new cocktail of drugs to allow her to sleep.

The grand cafeteria is on the bottom floor in the basement. Called the Sooner Café, it was somewhat dead. Between the hospital scrubs, the patient pajamas, and the cold-cocked visitors looking for cups of coffee and honey buns, it was the place to be seen around eight o’clock at night.

On my first night, I noticed there was a salad bar, a chili counter, and a soup wagon, but they were all put up for the night. Luckily, a sign pointed to the wall with the old favorites including “Pizza,” “Favorites,” and, of course, “Grill.”


It had the solid resemblance of my high school cafeteria, with my tray including depressingly dry pork slices, cold mashed potatoes, and, thankfully, a new wave crumble with hot cherries and a granola mixture.

I was ready for my well-meaning dinner...

But not too well-meaning.

While the roasted (?) pork and mashed potatoes had been heat-lamped to death, thankfully, the bizarre mélange of the cherries, granola, and, unexpectedly, a weird cakey mixture, was actually pretty good.

I thought about having another round of crumble, but it was getting to closing time. As my girlfriend was sound asleep, I made a bed out of two chairs and, of course, it was terrible. 

The following day I arrived early for dinner and, man, it was a complete 180.

On the menu were cold beef sandwiches, warm baked potatoes, and the hottest baked goods this side of an overworked ER. They also had fried chicken, chicken quesadillas, and the classic American burger…or the black-bean patty, if you are lucky.

Basically, they have everything a patient, employee or mourning visitor could want.

After a judicious selection process, I finally settled on my own private Idaho: a Philly cheesesteak sandwich.

Now this is what I'm talking about!

On a toasted bun, we had the gargantuan piles of steak, drowning in the vast sea of peppers and cheese. I don't know what Philadelphia hospital cafeterias are like, but it would be hard to top this.

Along with a bit of the darkest mac and cheese available and, for dessert, a slab of otherworldly pecan pie, it was a tremendous meal that changed my whole outlook on your healing.

The next day, I took the bags to the car and, unmistakably, that anti-septic wash of pure beef and whole cheese was drowning me again. Maybe, the next time I go to the hospital, I can order that for dinner again.


Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler and Instagram at @louisfowler78.

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