The Leaf Raker is back with a sleek new look and tasty food designed to fit your schedule.A fresh menu features new flavors like the black bean burger and kale beet salad, and Haitian-inspired items like tostones and black bean soup.
Other changes to the café include the addition of a meal-replacement plan, reusable carryout boxes, Starbucks coffee, and a modern interior makeover.
The most exciting changes are on the menu. Old favorites, like chicken tenders, quesadillas, and burgers, aren’t gone. But food options have been upgraded to prioritize freshness and include elements of Haitian cuisine as a nod to the Hunsberger Haitian Art Collection that was iƒnstalled in the Union building this summer.
Jeremy Corson, resident director of AVI food services, collaborated with his staff, other AVI chefs, and folks from campus to craft the new menu. It was Deanna Risser, vice president of finance, who gave Corson the idea to include tostones.
Tostones are a Caribbean snack that Risser remembers from her time leading Study-Service Term in Nicaragua. They’re made by frying plantains not only once, but twice.
Leaf Raker chefs fry the plantains in chunks, then smash them flat and fry them again. They’re so sweet, chewy, and flavorful that you’ll hardly notice the leaves of romaine lettuce they’re served on.
Senior Rebecca Choi likes seeing diverse dishes the menu. “It was pretty brave of them to go for tostones,” she said. “They exceeded my expectations for sure.”
Other menu items stand out too.
The kale beet salad is beautiful. Deep pinks, dark greens, and little white chunks of feta make a modest work of art. And it tastes as good as it looks. The cheese is soft and salty, and blends well with the sweet beets and crunchy kale.
The black bean burger is a powerhouse of a vegetarian option. The burger mixes black beans, peppers, and chopped up bits of kale, seasoned with garlic and cayenne pepper, and bound together with rice flour.
Like a good mattress, the bean patty is firm but not hard. It’s the perfect bed for pickled red onions, arugula, and AVI’s “yum yum sauce.” Hold the yum yum and it’s vegan.
The AVI team added a smoker to the Leaf Raker kitchen. If you’re up for a big meal, order the smoked brisket sandwich to get a taste of the new hardware.
Feedback has been positive. Junior Zach Begley raved about the brisket, adding that it’s best with some Alabama white sauce from the condiment station.
“If that was my last meal that would be A-OK,” he said.
Another kitchen addition is the grill, where burgers and chicken can now be cooked with a flame, rather than pan-seared.
“The flame taste is so much better,” Corson said.
Even the chicken tenders got an upgrade. They’re now made the same in the Leaf Raker as in the dining hall: big, crispy, and served hot.
Enjoy the new dining area while you eat your food.
Larger windows on the east and west walls let in natural light. Warm, orange overhead lamps provide balance with the sleek, gray floors and countertops. Outlets and USB plug-ins are within reach at almost every table.
Students commented on the bright, open feel of the space. It even smells good, according to sophomore Noah Kauffman.
“We should actually come here more often,” said senior Natalie Graber as she and her friends took in the new look.
With new extended hours of operation, that’s possible. The Leaf Raker will now be open from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday.
Corson spoke about other changes in a short program for the café’s grand opening on Monday morning. He explained the new meal replacement plan, designed to provide a quick and easy option for busy students.
The idea is simple. Students with meal plans can use a meal swipe in exchange for select menu items or a sandwich, side, and a drink from the new grab-and-go menu.
The deal is available during the hours when the Westlawn Dining Hall is closed: 10:30-11 a.m., 1:15-4:45 p.m., and 7-8 p.m on Monday through Thursday and 10:30-11 a.m. and 1:15-3 p.m. on Friday. Students can get up to four meals a week.
Sophomore Gabe Hartzler is excited about the option for food when he can’t make it to the dining hall. Marcus Housholder, a sophomore, agreed. “We have a class that gets out at 1:00 p.m., so it’s good to have an option,” Housholder said.
Come to the Leaf Raker to see the changes for yourself.