“Re-fec-to-ry/noun/a room used for communal meals in an educational or religious institution.”
— Oxford English Dictionary
Unusually for me, I wasn’t on the hunt for lunch that day. Now just a few weeks ago, cruising south down Los Robles Avenue, I passed Walnut Street and noticed a large, slightly aged wooden sign propped against the side of a building to my left, proclaiming “CAFETERIA OPEN TO PUBLIC.”
An arrow pointed toward a parking lot on the campus of Fuller Theological Seminary.
(Where was I headed again… the post office?) I hit the brakes, swerving into a sharp U-turn for an open parking space across the street. Now the hunt was on. Through the parking lot and a left turn, I found myself on campus in a quiet courtyard and at the door of the seminary’s dining hall.
I’ve lived and lunched in Pasadena for the last 10 years. I even spent a few years managing a nonprofit that rented an office at First Congregational Church, which sits on the corner of Los Robles and Walnut, at the corner of the seminary’s stately, compact campus. It had never occurred to me that there was a campus dining facility, let alone that it was open to the public.
(OK, I have a weakness for cafeterias, or at least the concept. Remember Beadle’s on Lake or the original Clifton’s downtown? Scooting a tray down a counter and taking your pick of prepared delectations with combination and quantity solely at your whim sparks for me my first joyful memories of early childhood gluttony. The exercise of volition, choice, and taste unimpeded by agents, intermediaries, or adults. Delicious.)
However, my zealous curiosity has delivered me to a proper refectory at an actual seminary. Located on the first floor of Payton Hall, the dining room seems furnished with chairs and tables stolen form the library next door and the atmosphere is not so much hushed as calmly sedate. To the left, a small line forms at the counter where your dish is made to order by two genial chefs. Open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, the refectory feeds not only seminarians from Fuller but also undergraduates from Providence Christian College, which recently moved its campus to the First Congregational Church building, next door. Unaware of this fact when I get in line, in time for breakfast. I seem to be standing behind a group of baseball players. Baseball? Yes, in fact I’m joining the Providence College “Sea Beggars” baseball team for breakfast this morning. When asked about the food, Martin Casillas, star third baseman, replied enthusiastically, “It’s good! They take good care of us here!” Lining up behind me is Summer Hornecker, accompanied by her friend Abigayl Doiron, both standouts on the women’s volleyball team. Unprompted, Hornecker declares, “Their breakfast is amazing!
We try to come every day for breakfast.”
The dining operation is serviced by Simply Gourmet Plus, a local catering company owned and managed by Gerardo Garibay. Ably assisted in the dining room by his onsite manager — the ever cheerful and helpful Silvia Gutierrez — and a staff of nine employees, Garibay has been working with Fuller’s dining facility for 20 years, having originally moved here from the kitchens of Caltech.
Suffice it to say, Garibay has something figured out here. The menu includes breakfast entrees served until 11 a.m., Mexican specialties, salads, sandwiches, wraps and paninis. There are also always three Daily Specials. On my last visit, the specials included: chicken flautas with rice and beans; beef Stroganoff with noodles and vegetables; and a fish burger with fries and a small soda included. Finally, here’s the real hook to this story: if you choose one of the specials, you will be paying the highest price found on the menu: $7.95. That’s right, $7.95. On any given breakfast, lunch or dinner tab here, you will likely get change back on a $10 bill.
My breakfast burrito? $6.25. (Attention members of the local breakfast burrito cult: this burrito competes with Lucky Boy’s lauded version just across Walnut, where you will spend $6.95 and sit in a vinyl booth.)
Meat lover’s skillet? $6.75. How about the popular “McFuller” breakfast sandwich? $3.25.
lunch? An array of burgers, including chicken and vegetarian options run from $3.75 to $5.50 with combos including fries and a soda ranging from $6.25 to $7.75. There are three composed salads: the “Santa Fe” with chicken, cheddar and tortilla strips; the traditional chicken Caesar; or the wonton Oriental salad, all priced at $6.50. Sriracha chicken wrap ? $5.95. jalapeno, chicken and onions panini? $6.25. You get the idea…
Also, please bear in mind — unlike much standard cafeteria fare — these items are not precooked and packaged but made fresh to order, by the cheery chefs helming the grill top.
Have we just discovered the finest breakfast and lunch bargain in the land hiding in plain sight?
How is it that I was anointed to deliver this revelation to our beloved readers?
Divine providence is the only answer!
Fuller Theological Seminary
135 N. Oakland Ave., Pasadena
Cash & Cards Accepted/No Alcohol