Old Faithful Underground
The Underground’s attempt at cuisine Americana is admirable. And though it’s nobody’s ideal Friday night dine and far from the best on-campus eatery, The Underground stands as the choice place for many students on the north side of Carnegie Mellon. I’ll lay it on the line that, carrying its flaws and character proudly, The Underground receives unwarranted contempt and has rightfully earned its defenders with its steadfast status of readiness.
The Underground, or U.G. as it has been termed through Carnegie Mellon’s patois, is reliably open, a trait which isn’t common among Carnegie Mellon’s dining options. Interestingly, it seems this trademark of the establishment has perhaps spoiled us to take it for granted, by being so accessible during late hours that students have declared it a pis-aller, in case no other dining option is available. That, however, is an unfair assessment of the restaurant as its food choices are not the worst that the campus offers — quite the contrary, actually.
The U.G.’s fries, for instance, are better than Tepper’s E.A.T.'s, Back Bar’s, and Tahini’s, and it is not entirely because of weak competition. Unlike Back Bar Grill, which terribly salt-and-peppers their store-bought bag fries, the U.G. at least serves them decently. Even if fries are out of the question, U.G. has many sides ranging from fruit cups to baked goods. They even advertise themselves as having the most variety on their side menu, an area in which other on-campus eateries are lacking. Back Bar, in contrast, has either mediocre fries or equally mediocre chips. A piece of fruit is an option, but it’s tucked away in the corner. The Exchange has every flavor of chip known to man, but only three fruits. The worst that one could say about the menu is that they do not trust the U.G. fish. There, I do not blame them. It doesn't taste terrible; I haven’t seen any student roll over sick due to it, but since there isn’t an ocean within five hours in any direction from Pittsburgh, I too hesitate to call it freshly caught.
The U.G. staff are also great. No matter what, it seems like the U.G. is well-staffed and never dysfunctionally overwhelmed by orders, even when at full capacity of customers. Other restaurants around Carnegie Mellon are commonly felt to be understaffed, giving them insufferable wait times. This is not a condemnation of the workers at those other restaurants; I can name a handful of food workers that actively attempt to give students the best experience possible, like those at Hunan, or the four gentlemen working the sandwiches at The Exchange. Service workers have difficult jobs, which is why I feel the need to write this review as a grateful gesture to all of our university’s chefs feeding us. Still, we should be able to point out the flaws we experience at the establishment, as a means of bettering the dining services that we fund as part of our student expenses.
The Underground also provides occasional jazz nights or other events. During finals week, it even kept open further into the night, and gave free coffee to students who went there to study. Possibly due to its status as a Carnegie Mellon staple (24 years and counting), The Underground has a connection to Carnegie Mellon and its students that no other dining location can replace. Generations of classes prior have sat at the same spots we have, laughing and talking and crying over classes in the same ways we do. Our experiences will live in those walls as long as it exists, and will continue to exist long after us.
Looking at both the concept art and previous versions of The Underground, it seems that it used to be a place that frequently gave chances for would-be famous singers and bands the chance to show off their talent. It seems that it was supposed to turn out like an old-school diner, like something that could be found in Anytown, USA. It isn’t anything like what it looks like now, and it’s up to the individual to decide whether or not it used to be better than what it is now.