As seasoned freshmen (and elders who have passed through the University Housing system), we have all found our favorite dining commons for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. We’ve checked the dining commons menus strategically and have chosen the best place to eat on any given day. We’ve configured our eating schedules based on our classes. To further that, we have also adjusted our eating habits according to our meal plans. The last thing for us to do is decide which dining common to visit.
Those living about a mile off campus in Santa Catalina may find convenience by dining in Portola, but convenience can come at a price. Some refer to this basement eatery as “Portoilet” or “the worst dining common.” Due to this reputation, many overlook Portola’s brunch, which I believe compares to the less ridiculed options. Similar to Carillo and De La Guerra, Portola is open on the weekends from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. But unlike DLG, with a line extending to the Santa Rosa lawn, Portola has little-to-no line to get in. That means there is no need to worry about cleverly planning which times to come.
During brunch, Portola contains more variety than either DLG or Carillo. For the entree portion this past Saturday, they offered everything from BBQ pork sandwiches to tomato vegetable barley soup to rainbow tortellini with marinara. Traditional breakfast items included fresh cage-free scrambled eggs, chorizo, whole-wheat French toast, Tater Tots, oatmeal, waffles (with your choice of blueberry sauce) and my personal favorite, omelets to order. The popular demand for omelets at Portola required the chefs to pre-crack the eggs onto the griddle. This process lets the eggs cook longer, giving the omelet a thicker and fluffier texture. In comparison, the omelets at Ortega tend to be underdone. For the omelet, you could choose either regular eggs or egg whites with a combination of sliced turkey, bacon, diced ham, shredded cheddar, jack cheese, diced tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, chopped green onions or diced green bell peppers.
And to top it off, in the dessert category Portola offered frozen yogurt, tapioca pudding, snickerdoodle cookies, apple strudel with caramel sauce and pecan pie. Not to mention the exciting fact that Portola provides ripe bananas! You no longer have to take bananas, put them in a brown bag and wait for them to ripen. But if you prefer your bananas green, don’t worry because Portola has you covered on that front as well.
As a pescatarian, I can only speak for the items without red meat. But I’m sure you’ll enjoy these items just as much as I did. Besides the traditional delicious items offered almost every day, like fresh-cage free scrambled eggs, oatmeal and Tater Tots, I would recommend the waffles or whole-wheat French toast accompanied with the blueberry sauce. The subtly sweet berry topping adds an extra tartness and bite to your traditional macronutrient brunch staple. Thus far, I have not seen blueberry sauce at any other dining common, so be sure to try this embellishment if you are a blueberry fan.
If you want something sweet to top off your meal, be sure to try out the snickerdoodle cookies. The cookies are reminiscent of the classic sugar variety, but coated in a cinnamon-sugar blend. The cookie’s center was moist on the inside and crispy on the outside. In comparison to the rich pecan pie and apple strudel, these are not as “guilt heavy.” But be cautious with these small addictive treats because one cookie can easily become four.
The one criticism I have about Portola is the layout. The curvy design, something reminiscent of a sine graph, makes it difficult to grab an entree without getting in the way of another diner. Portola’s awkward U-shaped layout to retrieve the warm food or omelets-to-order is far too cramped. However, retrieving salad items, oatmeal, hot soups, waffles and condiments has a much more breathable layout. Furthermore, it seems like the most cafeteria-like dining common due to the dysfunctional design, outdated colors and low-ceilings. But in Portola’s defense, perhaps my frustration with the layout stems from the fact that I am not a resident in Santa Catalina. In result, I do not know the lay of the land as well as the locals.
Despite the confined organization, Portola has the best brunch among the dining commons. So if you are not a resident fortunate enough to live so close to the ultimate late-morning or early-afternoon meal, come the extra mile by bike, bus, board or feet to get a taste of this diverse assortment of brunch items.