Bruin Plate’s menu is all healthy, but that’s not what catches the attention of the nearly 3,000-person crowd each day for dinner and lunch. It’s the feel-good freshness factor: bright colors, bold flavors and unique recipes that are found on the menu. Breakfast, lunch and dinner selections that will help students feel their best and study stronger.
When describing the menu concept, “the first word that comes to mind is ‘fresh,’” says Kevin Aiello, executive chef. “We have ingredients prepped to a point and ready to cook as needed. It’s executed quickly so everything is fresh and hot.”
Aiello says the striking thing about walking around during lunchtime is the variety of colors on each student’s plate. One also notices the excitement: “People know something exciting is happening,” Aiello adds. “When we first opened, people were happily waiting an hour in line to get in. They would’ve sat on the floor if we let them.”
The excitement is due in part of Aiello and his team being proactive when talking about the menu. Before Bruin Plate opened, thought went into its public image. Sure, fresh healthy food should be its own selling point, but “I wanted to shift the focus from what wouldn’t be there (fries, junk food), to what would be there,” Aiello says.
What is there now is a menu that’s designed to increase the feel-good quotient of anyone who dines there: food that’s whole, healthful and colorful. The plates at Bruin Plate are so colorful, they’ve been compared to such things as the sun on the horizon (a vegetarian red lentil bowl with wheatberry and crests of sunny golden beets that have been roasted to reach their full earthy flavor potential.)
The whole grains, roasted veggies and grilled proteins are the building blocks for this menu, which reaches across seven stations and takes its inspiration from many places, but most of all from nature’s bounty. See a photo gallery of more menu items.
UCLA’s acclaimed FEAST at Rieber, and all-Asian multi-station dining hall on campus, has many Asian flavor profiles covered, so Aiello knew he didn’t want to repeat too much of what can be found at FEAST. Still, Asian influence is found in several dishes on the menu, like miso ramen soup. Latin-fusion inspiration is also at work at Bruin Plate, as in the Beef, Black Bean & Cabbage Tortilla Pizza.
Overall, the menu is a smattering of light, fresh plates, some with slightly Asian- or Latin-fusion influence, but many with a homestyle or even Southern feel. The sweet potato-turnip mash that’s served with spinach is just one of the Freshly Bowled station selections. One of seven stations, Freshly Bowled offers customizable one-bowl meals that can make a beautiful meal, with or without meat.
“Every day, we feature a different vegan bowl, but basically, any bowl can be made vegan if a student requests it,” Aiello says. And the Chef’s Featured Bowls (two are offered each day) can be turned vegan or vegetarian by request. Not that the meat is such a huge focus to begin with.
“If you do make a vegetarian bowl, the flavors are so good, you really won’t miss the meat,” Aiello says.
The other six stations provide different variations on the feel-good-food theme, amplified even more because at least one fifth of all the food served is local and/or sustainable.
Bruin Plate’s Harvest station is where whole grain salads really shine: chewy, substantial grains like wheatberry are paired with roasted vegetables, grilled proteins and lentils in many flavorful combos. The Simply Grilled station offers grilled meats like chicken or bison on ‘stacker’ sandwiches. Unique flatbreads and pizzas, like the Pear, Thyme & Blue Cheese pizza, are available at Stone Fired. All stations are proof that Aiello’s theory of “fast, fresh, hot” to be a very appealing concept.
Aiello hopes to ramp up the breakfast menu at Bruin Plate, and there has been some successful experimentation with a few off-the-beaten-path breakfast choices, including two savory bowls: the White Polenta, Egg & Shrimp Bowl, and the Edamame & Lima Bean Stew Breakfast bowl.
A savory French toast made with garlic bread and served with sage custard “makes your knees buckle,” Aiello says.
On the Southern side of breakfast, Savory Grits are simmered in vegetable broth and then flavored with onions and garlic. Kabocha Squashed & Caramelized Fennel Pancakes are another option to start the day off with something a little different. House-made butters and jams are also available, as are fruits, yogurts and some assorted “Sweet Bites,” that include raspberry coconut bars and sweet potato-pecan bread.