You can do it just right too!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Modern Mess Hall

Mess hall dining dates back to the beginning of time when everyone gathered around a fire to eat the latest kill.

Today however, we have buildings and organizations that house the hall that the mess is made in: Soup Kitchens are charitable mess halls, there are restaurants serve mess hall style, colleges, schools and some corporations make use of large eating areas called, "cafeterias" and, of course, the Military is all-famous for the mess hall life.

Although in many of the examples above the focus is to, "get the job done", there are some who work at making the dining experience fantastic in a mess hall setting. So take heart, you can do it at home as well.

My favorite example of a traditional style mess hall diner which boasts hospitality and menu variety is, 'The Mess Hall', located in Springdale Township in Pittsburgh, PA. Their grand opening was, of course, Veteran's Day, 2006. Following is an excerpt from the debut article written by, Rebecca Killian for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review:

When a restaurant is called The Mess Hall, one might expect the items offered to be bland and uniform in military-like fashion. That's not the case. Each item the Lunch Bunch tried went beyond the call of duty.

Owner Sam Lane, who was in the military for 22 years and was a cook in the Army's mess hall for 17 of those years, fulfilled a lifelong dream when he opened his restaurant. He says the military ate well while he cooked for the troops and he takes the same pride in offering good quality and service to his customers.

The mess hall is decorated military-style, with stars in the wainscot and camo and Army jeeps in a wallpaper border. Even the servers and cooks wear flag-oriented clothing or their camo fatigues...

[examples from the menu]

Homemade soups are available, with different varieties featured every day. We sampled the Uncle Sam's Potato Soup ($2) and found it to be pretty much how we make the soup -- a thick, creamy base with a hint of onion and celery and chunks of potato. We also had the Southwestern Soup ($2), which was a tasty version of chili with kernels of corn mixed in. This would make a meal in itself.

The signature meal -- served for breakfast or lunch -- is the infamous S.O.S. Special ($3.95). You have to be in the military to know what it stands for (hint: It's not the signal for help), but hey, this is good stuff. It's ground beef (Lane says he uses only Black Angus beef) mixed with a mushroom sauce, spices and Worcestershire sauce...

Who would expect to see Crab Cakes ($6.95) in a mess hall? This lunch special included two thick crab cakes that were moist, tasty and lightly fried to a golden brown...

The Unkempt Joseph (more commonly known as Sloppy Joe) ($4) was another great lunch choice. A large, fresh bun is overloaded with a tasty, homemade concoction of ground beef, chunks of green pepper and a delicious sauce. Although Sloppy Joes are supposed to be sloppy, this one didn't soak through the bun and make a mess of things...

Appropriately, the Mess Hall celebrates its grand opening this Saturday -- Veteran's Day, of course.

Compiled by Rebecca Killian. Meals are paid for by the Valley News Dispatch and are unrelated to advertising.

So, you, too can make a mess of your kitchen and do it in style!


Mess hall dining dates back to the beginning of time- when everyone gathered around a fire to eat the latest kill.