Sometimes in life, we find ourselves in the hospital. The experience, if at all prolonged, tends to be a sonata of boredom, high tension, angst that eventually unspools into exhaustion, and seriously disrupted daily rituals. Always stressful, but under the best of circumstances (awaiting the birth of a baby, for example) it’s a song played in a major key.
The recent birth of my son at Fairview Southdale Hospital put my wife and me into the thick of it. There we were, on the heels of a life-changing, exhilarating, thoroughly exhausting jumble of circumstances, more or less stuck in a hotel room that played host to a revolving cavalcade of nurses, doctors, friends, and relatives — plus the odd tout for the resident infant photography service.
And although we’d packed some utilitarian snacks and understood our rights (and my ability) to sally forth into the city to import our food, we were collectively exhausted enough after the whole “PUSH 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10” experience and disoriented enough by the ongoing battery of tests, paperwork, and adventures in breastfeeding to go to the lowest common denominator of food: calling room service and ordering hospital food.
What a surprisingly good idea.
As a two-word expression, “hospital food” ranks right up there with “eel mucus,” “dry socket,” and “soy bacon” on the list of expressions least likely to stimulate the appetite. But the approach at Fairview was — and I say this as a thoroughly non-compensated real-life customer — profoundly appropriate to the circumstances.
The food was healthy without being depressing or repressive. The meals were balanced, the ingredients were fresh, the dishes were familiar without being absolutely tedious. The comfort factor was high: scrambled eggs or cinnamon French toast (above) for breakfast, or pork chops or pasta for dinner. That most dishes were lightly seasoned or even bland was, under the circumstances, a feature, not a bug. Similarly, the bulletproof black plastic bowls, mugs, and trays that the food came on seemed charming and earnest and somehow encouraging in dangerous times, like insisting on having high tea while in a bomb shelter during the Blitz.
But how was the food? Fine and amazing. “Fine” because there was nothing remarkable that would merit a visit to the cafeteria independent of a health care crisis. “Amazing” because, under the circumstances and in the context of hospital food, it was not merely edible, but actually often tasty.
A sausage personal pan pizza was substantial without being heavy or greasy, and the crust offered a bit of chew and resistance, while the brightness of the sauce rounded out the entree. A black bean veggie burger (like the veggie breakfast patty) gave evidence of being house made, or at least of being made by a decent brand — it was gently seasoned, mellow in texture, and substantial. The fajitas were about as gringo as they come, absent all the seasoning and char that clinches the flavor of a great interpretation of the dish, but the ingredients at least tasted fresh and the dish leaned on the vegetables for flavor, not greasy chicken or heavy, gloppy guacamole. And the oatmeal raisin cookies — crispy, light, kissed with cinnamon, and not overly sweet — were comforting as its gets, a happy conclusion to simple meals.
Best of all: Every order we made (by simply dialing **741 from our janky, old-school wall phone) was fielded by an alert, competent, thinking adult, who correctly recorded not just the dishes ordered, but the correct sides and toppings (butter and jam for muffins, for example, or pepper on the side for scrambled eggs). The restaurant takeout norm of 45-65 percent accuracy has been shattered… by a hospital. (See also: the excellent Bite Squad.)
Because of the circumstances, it’s difficult to assess the value of the food served (mom’s food was part of the overall package; my guest meal was $6.50 for breakfast or $8.50 for dinner, a price that included a main, four sides, and beverage), but from a psychological perspective, having a bit of nutritional joy and competent service under stressful circumstances was priceless.
And therefore: The next time you or a loved one gives birth or otherwise gets stuck in a Fairview hospital for an extended stay, don’t forget to order the oatmeal raisin cookies.
At Your Request Room Service Dining
BAR: None, unfortunately
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: Yes / Yes
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $6.50-8.50