I Got the Munchies

Neatorama is proud to bring you a guest post from Ernie Smith, the editor of Tedium, a twice-weekly newsletter that hunts for the end of the long tail. In another life, he ran ShortFormBlog.

(Image credit: Flickr user Yelp Inc.)

When the bar closes or the house party is broken up by the cops, college food suddenly seems like the best thing ever. Check out these dorm-room favorites.

“You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here,” Grammy award-winning songwriter Dan Wilson frequently sings to the unwashed masses at many a college town bar around the country. (Fun fact: He won that Grammy not with Semisonic, but for writing a Dixie Chicks song.) And often, they don’t go home. Instead, they go to restaurants made for easing the next morning’s hangovers. Or they do go home, but then they order late-night food that gets delivered to dorm rooms so fast, they freak. Today’s Tedium looks at the cottage industry of college-town food in all its dark alchemy.

The Pizza Place Where Gumby Still Lives

The saddest part about the evolution from traditional animation to 3D might be the fact that once impressive hand-crafted techniques for creating eye-popping visuals suddenly seem old hat.

Which means that Gumby is a forgotten icon of youth that rarely comes up anymore. The claymation bellwether hasn’t regularly been on the air since the 1980s, when it had a brief comeback on the back of an iconic Eddie Murphy sketch on SNL.

(Hollywood is full of blockheads, clearly.)

One place where the memory stays alive, however, is on college campuses, where Gumby’s Pizza menus have been sitting on mini-fridges since the ’80s. (In one case, however, Gumby’s declining name recognition actually led the local franchisee to change its name entirely. Sorry, Gumby.)

The Yelp reviews of the pizza and capital-I Important sides say it all: Gumby Pizza is perfect drunk food. Especially the Pokey Stix. Especially.

Perhaps its greatest, but strangest, moment came in 1991, when University of Florida student Marshall Ledbetter broke into the Florida Capitol building in the middle of the night, high on something, and made a list of odd demands, specifically that people “stop being automaton clones of one another.”

At one point, he faxed a list of demands to a local radio station, including a desire to speak with Ice Cube, Jello Biafra, and Timothy Leary (among others). He also asked for weed and Chinese food. At the very top of the list, however? One 20-inch Gumby’s veggie pizza with extra jalapeños.

The situation ended peacefully, but Ledbetter, who became a folk hero in Tallahassee, was institutionalized for the incident. More than a decade later, he committed suicide.

But his legacy lives on. Biafra wrote a song about him, and it’s rumored that if you order a “Ledbetter Pie” at a Tallahassee pizza shop, you’ll get a veggie pizza, extra jalapeños.

Bet you didn’t expect this Gumby’s Pizza blurb to take such a bizarre tonal shift, did you?

Jimmy John's Sandwiches

Jimmy John’s has over 2,000 locations nationwide. The sandwich shop was one of the most popular college food joints in the country, getting its start in the college town of Champaign, Illinois, thanks to the work of a townie who barely even graduated from high school and was told it was either business, or the military. (As anyone who has ever had the #13 would agree, he chose wisely.) It’s one of the few major chains that’s built a huge following outside of its college-town roots.

The Legend of Taco Dave, the Burrito Slave

When I first went to Michigan State University back in 2001, the first job I had near the campus was one that I was fairly comfortable with—burrito slinger at Taco Bell. I worked at one when I was in high school, but that was nothing compared to doing the same in East Lansing.

My co-workers were all older than me, they were mostly nerds, and they would often play stuff on the radio system that should never be played in a place of business, like Wesley Willis and WWE entrance songs.

I worked Friday and Saturday nights, and it was insane. I met so many drunk people. But at some point, I decided I wanted a job with weekends. I lasted two and a half months.

While I was there, I heard about this dude who predated me at the restaurant by a few years. His name? “Taco Dave.” He wore a sombrero and cape while dishing out chalupas to the drunken masses.

“That dude was a weird ass mofo but his shtick was pretty funny. He went through a period of a few weeks when he pretended to be some sort of robot while working the register,” recollected one local forum poster. “I think he also would wear a Star Trek shirt every now and then, and I also remember him pushing the buttons on the register and giving change with AUTHORITY!”

Being a folk hero, Dave worked at Taco Bell during a particularly dramatic time in the store’s history, where he held court during the infamous 1999 MSU riot. That night, the store’s window was broken in and an enterprising rioter made himself a taco. He claims he never left his post. (It was one of many riots in East Lansing’s history.)

But it wasn’t the riot that did him in. You see, Dave probably violated a few health codes along the way, which eventually led to his firing. I heard it like this: Dave decided to start handing out a beverage he called “fire water,” which he handed to unsuspecting (drunk) customers. This beverage came from the drain pipe of the soda machine, effectively making it so that Mountain Dew Code Red was no longer the most adventurous soda on the menu. That move was not cool with the bosses, and led to his firing.

“What exactly happened on that last day last February is still up for grabs. Some people swear they saw Taco Dave leave with his head hanging low, entering the cold dark night a man exhausted and beaten,” a page at the University of Antarctica about Taco Dave explains. (Spoiler: The University of Antarctica isn’t a university.)

I quit that Taco Bell job before I could even make an impact, but Taco Dave was a legend of his day, someone who still gets talked about in the right places. All praise Taco Dave.

The Story of the Garbage Plate

"I'm outraged. That was my go-to time in and time out. The food was good as hell. Where am I going to get a meal for $6 now?”

— Brandon Wylie, a University of Maryland student circa 2007, discussing his frustration that Danny’s Sub Shop, a prominent hole in the wall in College Park, had closed. The shop, which a source tells me was not in the best of shape, is something of a relic of a different kind of college food—the kind before fast-casual, “artisanal” nosh became the rule. Another College Park legend, Ratsie’s, closed earlier this year, and earned a lament in The Washington Post.

(Image credit: Flickr user jeffreyw)

When you’re drunk and hungry, your mindset probably is a lot like Brandon’s. It’s understandable why he might be so upset that he can’t nosh on extremely inexpensive foods from a dingy corner restaurant where the quality doesn’t matter so much as the nourishment.

You have to remember, dorm-dwellers often can’t afford to subsist on much beyond what can fit in a rice cooker, a mini-fridge, and whatever the latest internship is bringing in. So the goal is really to get as full as possible, not to get all fancy or anything.

Which brings us to the story of the garbage plate. In an effort to win over the college students of Rochester, New York, restauranteur Nick Tahou asked a bunch of college students what they wanted out of a meal. They told him they wanted something with “all the garbage” on it.

His solution was the ”garbage plate,” which includes multiple kinds of meat or protein—hamburger, hot dogs, fish, eggs, or probably actual garbage—and multiple kinds of starches. It’s covered with a special meat sauce, layered haphazardly, further sauced up with mustard and onions, and offered up with a slice of bread. It’s basically the unhealthiest food you can find, and it’s legendary in western New York as a grease-bomb hangover killer.

If you let college dudes come up with an idea for a dish, this is what you’ll get.

(Image credit: Flickr user Dennis Yang)


A version of this post by Ernie Smith originally appeared in the Tedium newsletter, which tries in vain to make dull topics slightly more interesting. You can follow along on Twitter or Facebook.


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