Eau Claire Eats: The Caf

Riverview Café: it’s no airline food, but it’ll do, I guess

Sam Johnson

More stories from Sam Johnson

The Tator
December 13, 2022

When Riverview Cafe doesn’t sound appealing, Midwest Meals prides itself on being a healthy alternative.

I’m a fourth-year student, which means I barely make it to campus for class, much less to enjoy the various amenities campus has to offer.

This fall, for my last semester at UW-Eau Claire, that’ll change, when I move into Sutherland Hall. I decided to prepare with a trip to the Riverview Café, better known as the “Caf.”

I wanted to get the real Caf experience — so, hungover at 1 p.m. on Saturday, I arrived for my first meal of the day.

Apparently, things have changed since my last trip to the Caf in the spring of 2020. The entrance has moved from the stairs over the hill to the stairs across from the Hilltop Recreation office.

Another change became apparent once I entered the Caf itself. All color has been drained from the walls and counters.

The only color was found in the blue-squared carpet (the same design from my first Caf visit during a tour in the spring of 2018) and canvas prints of Eau Claire scenery.

Chances are, if you have to add pictures of the town you’re in to uplift a dining establishment that has “view” in the name, the building is in need of a remodel.

Back in my day, the Caf felt like a weird cross between a dentist’s office waiting room and a mall food court. Now, it feels like a cafeteria in an unfinished hospital. 

I’m afraid it’s not much of an upgrade.

I also realized I had also changed. Surveying the dining area showed a clientele much younger than I was. Apparently, in the two years since my last visit, the Caf moved on.

Before I could shake off my washed-up feeling and dig in, I had to find a clean fork — a scarily challenging task — then awkwardly wander the Caf in search of Jackson Bires, a fourth-year healthcare administration student, also known as “not Mass.”

One thing didn’t change, though. The food is just as mediocre as always. Good thing the Caf still has hot sauce.

During my days as a first and second-year student, Caf hot sauce was my saving grace. Every questionable chicken patty, dry pile of eggs and bland slice of pizza was doused in hot sauce until it was edible.

The Caf’s facelift made me hope the hot sauce section received an upgrade as well, but that was not the case.

My flavor saviors were a near-empty bottle of Sriracha and a bottle of Tabasco. 

My scrambled eggs were the color of banana Laffy Taffy, the squash tasted fine, but looked like an old banana and my coffee tasted like someone ashed a cigarette in it. 

Thankfully, the Caf is all-you-can-eat, so I decided to try again.

I wandered every inch of the Caf for at least five minutes searching for food that looked appetizing. 

Instead, I chose a slice of pepperoni pizza (the “cheese” option possessed a blackened top layer that scared me away) and potato salad.

Disaster struck when I arrived at the hot sauce. 

Someone had kidnapped the Tabasco, an unsurprising yet devastating blow to my Caf experience. 

I squeezed the last drops from the Sriracha bottle, then glared around the Caf in search of the lost Tabasco, before returning to my table with bland food and a frown on my face.

For those who have been to the Caf before, you won’t be surprised to hear my thoughts on the pizza.

It still isn’t good.

The crust is somehow chewy, undercooked and too crunchy at the same time.

The sauce burnt my mouth — even though the rest of my pizza was closer to room temperature than “hot,” and the cheese was painfully chewy.

There are few constants in the world, but Caf pizza’s inadequacy is one of them. If pizza is Gossip Girl, Caf pizza is the pointless and substandard reboot.

The potato salad was a perfect metaphor for Caf food as a whole — bland and slightly gross, but edible and easily available.

Johnson can be reached at [email protected].