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Gold standard -- DSU’s dining facility serves ample helpings of food and fun

Aaron Zummer has done a lot to make The Perch a true gem for Dickinson State University. Here he diligently prepares to gild chicken wings, a special item inspired by the latest food trends. Iain Woessner / The Dickinson Press1 / 5
The students have really embraced the new DSU dining facility, which offers allergen-free, health-conscious eating options as well as hearty homestyle favorites. Iain Woessner / The Dickinson Press2 / 5
Executive chef Tom Gordon kneads a ball of cookie dough in the busy kitchens of the Perch. Gordon helps to create the many varied dishes The Perch serves each and every day. Iain Woessner / The Dickinson Press3 / 5
Pizza is as essential as oxygen to the college student, and The Perch prepares pipin' hot pies each and every day, just one of the myriad meal stations that operate at DSU's new dining facility. Iain Woessner / The Dickinson Press4 / 5
Joe Damico, one of The Perch's chefs, puts the finishing touches on a beautiful dish of roast chicken and potatoes, topped with a garnish of peppers. Iain Woessner / The Dickinson Press5 / 5

They've been cooking up something special at Dickinson State University.

It's called "The Perch" and it's the new moniker for the university's dining facility, which has expanded leaps and bounds from what it once was and now serves as both an eatery and hub for the community and collegiate worlds to come together.

"It was in need of some love, but the team here, they immediately saw how things could change. We all worked together and brought something, I think, completely different and unique," said Aaron Zummer, general manager with Sodexo, the company that operates The Perch in partnership with DSU. "We brought in a team of people to take a look at the space and how we were going to transform the space, what was going to look great, what's trendy and what's unique. As a team, we pulled together and created the space."

Now The Perch offers 15 different "stations" to appeal to every possible appetite, from vegetarian and vegan options to cheesy pizzas, ice cream machines, a carvery and so much more.

"We have 15 different stations in operation every day. We have our Simple Servings station, which is kind of your down-home cooking but also allergen-free, anyone with the top eight allergens is perfectly safe. We've got our Chef's Table, that's where we get a little more creative ... we do pastas and stir-fry cooked to order and we also have a whole-muscle carved meat. We could put out a beef top round or a glazed ham or turkey breast," Zummer said. "We have our grill, always grilled to order, burgers and chicken patties and, if everything goes to plan, we'll be able to offer smashed burgers. We'll be making all our burgers in-house, smash style."

Smash style is when a ball of ground beef is pressed down onto a flat-top grill, allowing for a maximum amount of surface contact for the meat and creating a tastier burger, according to Zummer.

Continuing to expand and improve the quality of The Perch's service is important to Zummer, whose vision for the location transcends food.

"It's not just something to eat; people can come in here just to hang out. You can come in and play ... foosball, you can play table tennis, we have an old-school arcade machine, you can interact with the Rockbot and set a playlist to listen to while you're eating lunch," Zummer said. "Today we've got life-sized Jenga, tomorrow it could be washers, the next day it could be a skee ball machine, bowling. Don't think of it like a college cafeteria, because it's definitely not. We're going for a place to hang out that also has food."

There's a strong creative spark behind what's served at The Perch, and with a menu that is always diversifying, every day seems to bring a completely new item to try. On every other Tuesday, for instance, the Chef's Table hosts something wholly unique, special dishes inspired by trending foods on Instagram or novelties served in the big cities. These culinary creations are branded under "The Perch Creates". The most recent item was a truly sterling selection — Golden Chicken Wings, based on a high-class collaboration between a prestigious New York restaurant and a popular Instagram account.

"We want to provide every available option that we're able to, that the students and the community as a whole are looking for," Zummer said. "If there is something you want to see in a dining facility or a place where you just want to hang out, if it's within our power, we're going to make it happen. What we want is a singular location in Dickinson where people can come and unite, spend time, enjoy themselves and get something tasty to eat while they're at it."

The Perch will continue to innovate, Zummer said, and they want the community to know that it's not just students who can partake in the feast. Most recently, they've begun a new program dedicated to sharing the bounty of the Blue Hawk table with those in need.

"The Perch Cares is a new program I've just started to develop. We're trying to find a way to benefit the community as a whole by donating food," Zummer said. "We're going to be taking any leftover food we have, anything that would otherwise go to waste, and we're going to donate it to shelters. We're also going to be doing canned drives almost nonstop in an effort to donate to the community."

Additionally, a fine dining experience is on offer — for just $15, on the last Wednesday of each month, The Perch will transform into a high-class restaurant, serving up a five-course meal that won't break your wallet.

The Perch is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week — breakfast is served from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., lunch from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., dinner from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and the night owls can enjoy a limited overnight service that allows for midnight snacks at any time.

Lunch is $8 and dinner is $10, and service is all you care to eat. The Perch is located on the DSU campus, in the basement of the student center on the east edge of the campus.

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