For students whose culinary choices peak at the Burrito Ultimo or the Six Dollar Burger, the Ronald Tutor Campus Center’s brand-new Lemonade might seem daunting — beets with pickled red onions and hazelnut vinaigrette, broccoli and ricotta with a champagne vinaigrette, and cantaloupe and Persian cucumbers with prosciutto and arugula. And that is just the side selection.
Open to a very busy lunch crowd, Lemonade also offers meaty braises, crustless quiches, grilled sandwiches, fresh soups, desserts and, of course, an impressive selection of lemonade.
The menu is so sweeping that Lemonade would leave a single food critic overwhelmed. That is why we bring you two — two foodies who hacked our way through Lemonade’s sides and sweets — and discovered what is currently USC’s best dining option.
Sophia: The concept is simple. Bring together that old-fashioned lemonade stand nostalgia with fresh, innovative cooking, and you have a modern cafeteria for those seeking something more adventurous than chicken nuggets.
You grab a tray, line up, point at what you want, and the cafeteria workers plop food into your plate — except your servers actually smile, and they don’t serve mystery meat. All the food here is made from scratch with quality ingredients, and instead of looking like alien mush, they form an edible, colorful work of art on your plate.
Mimi: Right off the bat, the open-view line of various marketplace salads caught our eye. From quinoa to sweet potatoes to beets, these salads aren’t just a plate of tossed lettuce.
Sophia: Many vegetables might be strange to the common diner, from hearts of palm to spaghetti squash to watermelon radish. If you couldn’t handle Brussels sprouts as a child, try Lemonade’s upgraded version — Brussels tossed in a sticky, tangy balsamic dressing and thinly shaved Parmesan cheese. These aren’t your average boiled cabbage balls.
Mimi: Likewise, the Israeli couscous is coated in truffle oil and Parmesan cheese, and the cauliflower comes mixed with raisins and curry powder. For sides, the beets with hazelnuts are an earthy and delicious combo. The broccoli, sharing plate space with ricotta cubes, is zesty and sweet.
A great feature of the sides menu is that you can split portions. For example, one portion can be half a lentil dish and half a butternut squash dish — perfect for the indecisive lunch-goer.
You can also choose cold proteins to go with your salads. Any cafeteria that dares to serve half-raw ahi tuna has confidence in its quality. The seared ahi tuna with citrus ponzu dressing is particularly good, though another popular entree was the buttermilk chicken.
Sophia: If you’re still ambivalent toward raw tuna, have a hand on Lemonade’s sandwiches. Just don’t expect PB&Js. Lemonade puts its own unique twist on traditional sandwiches.
The boring ham and cheese sandwich is transformed into a sandwich of grilled ham, manchego and quince preserves on chewy rosemary bread. Sick of tuna salad? Try one with crunchy cucumbers and creamy green tartar on rich potato bread. For vegetarians, they also offer a mozzarella, tomato, basil and sherry focaccia sandwich, a slight tweak on classic Italian flavors.
Mimi: For the meat lovers, Lemonade also has a selection of hot braises, from the exotic red miso beef short ribs as well as a lamb tagine with figs, apricot and almonds, to comfort food catchalls like beef stroganoff and turkey in gravy. The robust red miso beef short rib was a standout, and hearty enough to tide even the most muscly football player over until dinner.
Of course, there is the titular lemonade. Lemonade scores points for interesting flavor combos, such as watermelon rosemary and peach ginger. The actual drinks, however, will bring a diabetic back from depths of a blood sugar crash. Seriously, it took my roommate three hours to finish hers.
Save some sugar room for dessert. Forget cast-off stale pie slices from most cafeterias. Lemonade smirks at your waistline with an army of towering cakes, cookies, fruit, nut bars, brownies and macaroons. The macaroons in particular are a perfect end to a nice lunch — think of an elegant whoopie pie. The filling is a sweet layer of buttercream, and the pastry is light and chewy. The pistachio was the standout among chocolate and caramel.
Sophia: One word of advice about the peanut butter milk chocolate crunch bars: Resist — for a while. Pick one up, sprint back home to stick into your freezer and then distract yourself for about an hour. It’s good by itself, but delicious served cold and hard. The peanut butter and milk chocolate on top becomes a sticky, creamy layer of fudge, and the rice crispy crust gets chewy and crunchy at the same time.
By the time you’ve piled your tray high and reached the registers, be mentally prepared for the price. Yes, it’s fast food, but Lemonade is hardly the dollar menu. Expect to pay at least $9 (plus tax) for a single sandwich and about $4 for your macaroon. But for the quality and quantity they serve you, the price is justified. Lemonade is heavy on the helpings as well as on flavor. It’s not a place you want to break the bank on every single day, but if you’re looking for a break from Subway foot-long sandwiches, or want the occasional self-pampering treat, Lemonade is the place to pucker up.
Pucker up soon, however, because word is getting around about Lemonade, and the crowds are getting larger. Blake Wills, a sophomore majoring in economics, was already on his second trip.
“I’m here for both the flavor and the health factor,” he said. “This place is great. I’ll definitely be back often.”
As of now, Lemonade is only open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., which gives USC students just four hours to squeeze in and stake out a spot in the small eatery. One student arrived a few minutes too late and found the doors already locked.
But packed tables mean satisfied eaters. Use the time spent in line to plot out your lunch — you’re going to need it. But no need to stress. Most of the food is delicious, and a great adventure for both eaters and foodies alike.