Terry and I spent a lot of time at UVA Hospital recently, and took many of our meals at the hospital cafeteria since most days we only left our son's bedside during the 30-minute shift changes when we were required to leave, and that didn't leave much time to take meals out of the building.

I wasn't expecting much from the cafeteria, figured it would just serve bland institutional food. But I was pleasantly surprised. The bland food was available, if that's what you wanted, but they really offered quite a variety of items for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

They had a lot of sandwiches, salads, snacks, desserts, and sushi pre-made so you could grab them and go. The pudding parfait was pretty good (it tasted like it had real dairy whipped cream instead of the fake chemically stuff I hate), and I had the lox & cream-cheese sushi rolls a couple times since they were pretty good (although I was leery about eating raw fish served in a hospital, paranoid it was just their way of drumming up business for the gastroenterology department, but it's just my paranoia, I'm sure it was no worse than what you'd get in any supermarket nowadays). This area was also the place to get small bags of potato chips, individual servings of cereal, etc.

They had a pretty wide selection of beverages; sodas, teas, sports drinks, etc were all in a wall of coolers immediately to your left between the entrance and the pizza bar, the cooler of Odwalla health drinks was in the opposite corner, the far right side back by the registers. The coffee was to the right of the Odwalla cooler. The coffee was adequate, but I'm not a picky drinker. Higher Grounds (a local coffeeshop) has a kiosk where they serve fancy coffee at the back of the dining area of the cafeteria-- it's not visible from the main food area, so remember it's there and just proceed to the area with dining tables if you want a fancier cup of coffee.

They had a hot pizza area where you could get pizza by the slice, or a pasta dish. The pizza was standard, they seemed to have a pretty mundane selection of toppings, nothing fancy. If anyone is a pizza aficianado and has a little more time for a meal I'd recommend they take a short walk to the "corner" and go to Mellow Mushroom or the College Inn. At the pasta bar I had the only meal I was really disappointed with all week, the spaghetti and meatballs-- the meatballs tasted like they were made with canned meat-- like what you'd get at a soup kitchen or a from can of Chef Boyardee.

The cafeteria also had a salad bar; it had breakfast items in the morning (2 kinds of oatmeal, which wasn't nearly as good as I make it at home, but I appreciate that at least oatmeal was available, cottage cheese, yogurt, various cut fruits, et al) and it was a regular salad bar for lunch & dinner (also with two kinds of soups).

They had a hot-food bar with a convenient pricing scheme-- instead of charging a flat rate (say, $5.99 or something) for 1 entree and 2 sides, like most restaurants would do, they charge by the individual item. So entrees were usually under $3, sides about $1, various breads $.50. So if you're not very hungry, or want three sides and no entree, or really hungry and want two entrees, or whatever, you could get exactly what you want. I liked that.

The entrees were generally acceptable. Nothing that made me think, "wow, this is a delicious meal," but nothing I was really disappointed with. Everything pretty much reminded me of what you'd get at the prepared-food section of an average grocery store. While I never thought, "Yay! It's time to eat at the cafeteria again," neither did I dread going there. They offered different hot food at each meal, so I did look forward to seeing what was new.

They had a cooler with various ice cream bars, but they also had a Freshens there where I went when I wanted ice cream.

They had packages of cookies (I had one with oatmeal raisin & sugar cookies) and fresh whole fruit available on stands in the middle of the room on your way to the checkout line. The quality was better than prepackaged Chips Ahoy, but not as good as restaurant cookies. But I suppose that would be asking a lot, for a hospital cafeteria to have its own pastry chef. . .

The dining area was pleasant. There was a high ceiling with plenty of natural light, and a full wall of windows looking into a small courtyard that had picnic tables. I ate out there a few times. The courtyard was surrounded by the building on all sides, so had a lot of shade and not too much sun, but at least you could get some fresh air. It was never so crowded in the dining room that I couldn't find a table, even during lunch hour when it was most crowded.

There is also a small deli separate from the main food area, you have to get to it from the dining room. I never ate anything from there, but Terry said the sandwiches were about the same as one would get from the pre-made selection on the other side. But since you can have it made to order, that's nice if you have something specific in mind that you like.

In the main dining room, all the foods served from the food bars were labeled with their nutritional content on the sign that identified the dish and its price. I appreciated that. I would have preferred if they had some organic options, especially for meat and dairy, and frankly somewhat surprised that none were available. But that's really my only big suggestion for improvement.

Overall, I was content with the UVA Hospital Cafeteria. The prices were reasonable, they had enough cashiers during the busy times to move the lines along, their food bars offered plenty of options that changed with each meal. The dining room was kept clean and had a pleasant ambiance. If you don't have time to walk to the better restaurants on "The Corner (University Ave between 14th St and Elliewood Ave, which is less than 1/4 mile by foot if you cut through the "West Complex" which is the old hospital, now admin offices), then the hospital cafeteria is a perfectly reasonable dining option.