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Mary Washington Hospital's salad bar offers bargain bites.
Let's face it, sooner or later we're all going to have to eat hospital food. Those intravenous fluids and soft solids are an inescapable fact of life. And that's just the cafeteria food. Think about the stuff the patients have to eat!
I know what you're thinking: The restaurant critic is now going to take potshots at the easiest of targets, a hospital cafeteria. What's he going to weigh in on next? Airline food? School lunches?
It's true. Hospital food has been the butt of many jokes. But things are changing. People are demanding healthier choices. And the medical establishment is listening. Today's hospital food is no longer your grandmother's fare--even if cafeteria prices don't seem entirely out of line with the rates the Greatest Generation used to pay.
Besides, Mary Washington Hospital is one of the few places in the area where you can still find a decent bagel. We're talking about Einstein Bros. Bagels, not far from the Starbucks, on the atrium level.
When my wife and I visited MWH for lunch recently, we bypassed the atrium (which required an act of will on my part) for the ground-floor eatery where Sodexo, an industry leader in providing dining solutions for institutional clients, does its level best to make things look inviting. For instance, we were greeted by a festive sign declaring April "Dig it! Month" and something called the "potato rellena" (a Mexican loaded "baker"?) the featured item.
Another master stroke is calling the operation--which features vendors such as Subway and Bullets Hamburgers--a food court. However, the ultimate stroke of genius is in carefully fostering the illusion that what you're about to eat is healthful, what with the inviting salad bar getting prominent placement at the center of the floor plan.
The fact is that most people we saw were headed straight for the Subway counter. And my wife is generally no exception. She's going to kill me for saying this, but every time we've had occasion to eat at the food court she has never once deviated from declaiming on the freshness of everything on the salad bar, before making an immediate beeline for a burger and fries.
On this day, she's not so lucky. Being a Sunday, Bullets is closed, as is Wrap N' Roll. We both avail ourselves of the salad bar, which at $4.29 a pound is a bargain at about half the price of the one at Wegmans. I also get the featured hot entree, marinated flank steak ($2.99), and two sides (69 cents each), corn and the potato du jour, mashed redskin potatoes, which aren't loaded with anything except butter, salt and pepper. My partner gets a banana and a slice of pepperoni pizza from Perky's ($1.69).
My steak was lukewarm but had a pleasant flavor. The potatoes were well-seasoned and tasted homemade, but I suspect the corn, which was bland, came from a freezer bag. The pizza was doughy but tangy and pleasing, the perfect antidote for a comfort-food craving. We both followed medical advice and had cottage cheese and fruit from the salad bar for dessert. With drinks, our meal for two came to $16.75.
On a scale of hospital food ranging from "critical condition" to "resting comfortably," we'd have to rate MWC's current state as "stable." The entrees bar still needs some fine-tuning but it's definitely showing signs of life. With hospital parking a problem and some of the dining conversations sounding like something from an "ER" episode, the MWH food court might not become part of your regular rotation. But if you happen to be in the neighborhood, it could be just what the doctor ordered.
Kurt Rabin: 540/374-5000
Subway, Bullets Hamburgers and More, Wrap N' Roll, Perky's PizzaThe Scoop: Family-friendly, good value, spacious dining area. Parking can be a challenge. Payment: Major credit cards accepted.