Why Hillel’s E-cafe was the best place to eat on campus

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Lilah Kimble

Students will miss the E-cafe’s bagels, flatbreads and smoothies while Hillel is temporarily closed. Photo by Lilah Kimble, ’21.

Annalisa Waddick

We all know the saying “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” It’s the line a character in a cheesy romantic comedy might say as they look out of a rainy window, and it’s definitely a quote I screenshotted off of Tumblr back in 2013. 

But this phrase took on a whole new meaning this week as the Hillel House kitchen went up in flames, closing the building for an undetermined amount of time. For the first time this entire year, I couldn’t make my daily (sometimes twice daily) trek over to my favorite yellow building — and boy did I miss it. 

So, I took that time I normally would have spent devouring bagels to instead brainstorm all of the reasons why the E-cafe — or simply “Hillel” as most students lovingly call it — is the best of the bunch when it comes to Washington and Lee University dining. After all, is there even a better way to honor something than to write an opinions piece on it for the school paper? 

Now before I begin, I want to offer a disclaimer. This list is not ranked in order of importance, although I could have easily done so. Rather, I am of the opinion that what makes Hillel so great is the culmination of all the little details which on their own are nothing really special. Thus, an arbitrary ranking system of individual parts seems unnecessary. 

So without further ado, here are ten reasons why Hillel is the crème de la crème: 

1) Bagels. Specifically warm bagels that have just come out of the oven. I know I just said that this list isn’t ranked in any order, but I might have lied because warm Hillel bagels are clearly #1. Ordering a bagel and being handed a slightly toasty one can literally change the entire course of my day. Doughy, chewy and yeasty, they are a delectable choice for any meal. 

2) Let’s stick with the theme of food, and talk about Hillel’s smoothies. They’re healthy, light and a great way to get those fruits and veggies in. And, with six different flavor options ranging from green machine (the worst) to strawberry banana (one of the best), there’s something for everyone. What’s more, they’re customizable! Vegan or dairy-loving, you can have it made just how you’d like. 

3) Speaking of being vegan, I’m a vegetarian who is transitioning to veganism, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Hillel’s meatless menu. For all of us non-meat-eaters out there, Hillel provides great quality vegetarian food with great options, which can be tough to find in the dining hall (or small southern towns in general). It can be frustrating when tofu is served five days a week, but Hillel offers a slew of options to change things up. 

4) Continuing with the menu, Hillel’s usuals never change, and this is an unrecognized blessing. You always know what you’re going to get, or at least what you have the option to get. If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone describe D-hall as “hit or miss,” I’d probably have about five bucks. But there’s no miss at Hillel, because you can order exactly what you want every day.

5) Now this point is quite niche, but Hillel is the only spot on campus where one can buy caffeine-free Diet Coke. This drink is a hidden treasure, people! Zero calories, refreshingly delicious and guaranteed not to keep you up late into the wee hours of the night. 

6) One last point about food, I promise: Hillel has some stellar soups. For whatever reason, they’re just better than the soups over in D-hall; perhaps it’s the small-batch cooking technique. Each day has a different option, and the soup is always served piping hot. But the soups seem to be a tragically overlooked item,  so I highly encourage everyone to try Wednesday’s vegetable chili — it’s by far the best of the soups. 

7) The Hillel House is in a great location. I’m slightly biased because I live down the street in Gaines, but still. It’s close to the academic buildings, which makes it easy to quickly pop over in between classes. And its central location also means that a walk to Hillel doesn’t feel like a marathon (I’m looking at you, third-year-dining). 

8) Every single person who works at Hillel is a sweetheart. This one is a biggie. Every single worker I have ever interacted with at Hillel has been sweet, patient and hardworking. They are some of the nicest people on campus, and they are able to hold it together even when their working conditions are less than ideal (for example, the kitchen can get so hot that the doors have to be propped open). 

9) Hillel is only open five days a week. “How is this a good thing?” you ask. Well, distance makes the heart grow fonder — or in this case, days-off make the heart grow fonder. If you could have Hillel food every day it wouldn’t be nearly as special. Sometimes waiting for something you really want makes it taste 10 times better when you can actually eat it. After all, my peanut-butter-madness bagel always tastes the best on Sunday, when I’ve been Hillel-deprived for two days. 

 10) And finally, the front porch — with its comfy rocking chairs and covered patio — serves as a perfect spot to sit and share a meal with friends. It’s also the perfect spot for doing homework during the warmer months. 

So I encourage everyone to take this dark time without Hillel to reflect on all the meals you miss — and count down the days until you can eat them again. Hillel is not a place that one should take for granted, and I for one count my lucky stars to have it as a dining option.