Cafeteria Review: Blackford Hall, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Scientific Dining: Reviews of research institute cafeterias

Blackford Hall

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories: Cold Spring Harbor, New York

by Karen Hopkin, Biochemist and food critic

The decor is stoic but pleasant in a dining hall that offers a spectacular view of the quaint and peaceful Cold Spring Harbor. With its informal ambiance, Blackford Hall draws a very faithful following. In fact, many diners return just about every day.

Blackford Hall

"Actually, the food here is not bad, really," raves geneticist Alcino Silva, a frequent diner. "At least they donít rip you off...They offer mediocre food at a mediocre price."

The group we lunched with began the meal with a dish called "Shrimp Nuremberg." This entree was described by the diners as being "chunky," "yellowish," and "somewhat recognizable," with a taste that was "subtle, sort of."

The weekly menu frequently features ethnic dishes, ranging from jambalaya to lamb curry, and lyonnaise potatoes to white beans and sausage with corn chowder. We were told that these meals usually proved to be less frightening than predicted.

We were most pleasantly surprised by the dessert selection. The cakes and pies, imported from a local bakery, were described as "supreme" and "highly recommended," though when it came to dessert, resident scientists seemed to feel that quantity was as important as quality. Because of the imprecise nature of the cake-cutting procedure, biochemist Yuri Lazebnik informed us that, with careful observation and selection, one could choose a slice of cake that might be two standard deviations larger than the average hunk. All for the same price, of course.

Cafeteria Interior

Unfortunately, we could not stay long enough to experience firsthand the boisterous excesses of the legendary Saturday night lobster banquet. Or the warm comfort of the Sunday afternoon lobster bisque. Or the half-price bargain of Mondayís lobster salad.

The quality of the food improved exponentially after Chef Ron Padden, formerly of the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan, joined the staff in March of 1994. He replaced a chef who had been the head cook on a submarine for seven years. "He certainly had a captive clientele," said geneticist Michael Hengartner of their former chef, "But he wasnít too good with fresh fruit."

Hengartner summed up the Blackford experience most eloquently. "Itís the best place for miles around," he said. "Actually, itís the only place for miles around."


Quality: 1.78
Trendiness: 2.5
Bearded Men: 3

Explanation of Ratings

Quality: Food quality is rated on a scale from i (the square root of -1) to Ģ (with a numerical value of 3.141592...), where a rating of i signifies that the food is of good quality only in your imagination, and Ģ signifies that it is roundly accepted as delicious. As an example, the research facility with the finest quality food, a Ģ rating, would be the Howard Hughes Medical Institute headquarters in Chevy Chase, Maryland; the cafeteria with the poorest quality food, a rating of i, would be the Princess Margaret Dining Hall at the University of Swansea in Wales.

Trendiness: The cafeteria’s trendiness is also rated on a scale from i to Ģ. As an example, the dining hall where one would most like to be seen would be at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. The cafeteria where one would least like to be seen would be the Princess Margaret Dining Hall at the University of Swansea in Wales.

Bearded men index: Number of photos or drawings of bearded men displayed on the walls of the cafeteria.

Copyright © 1995 The Annals of Improbable Research (AIR). All rights reserved.