#333 The day your cafeteria serves the best food they got

Have you ever had a panzarotti?

Well, if not then let me tell you that panzarottis are magical miniature pepperoni pizzas folded over into a giant doughy envelopes and baked to a golden brown crisp before being slathered with steaming tomato sauce. Sawing into them with a knife and fork gets the melted mozzarella oozing out like lava before swirling into a savory sea of puffy crust, salty pepperoni, and even more sauce that was baked inside to a tangy finish.

Our high school cafeteria served panzarottis every Tuesday and every Tuesday our high school cafeteria had raging lines out the door and down the hallway with sweaty backwards-cap wearing teens each holding five bucks for the most delicious lunch in our known universe. Lose the Lunchables and toss the tuna sandwiches because on Panzerotti Tuesday we’re a salivating room of equals buzzing over life, liberty, and the pursuit of giant, greasy folded-over pizza things.

Yes, it’s a beautiful moment when your cafeteria serves the best food they got.

Whether it’s Mac and Cheese Monday at the cubicle farm, Taco Thursday at the plastics plant, or Fajita Friday at the old folk’s home, it always tastes like fun … it always tastes like excitement … and sure does always taste like


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55 thoughts on “#333 The day your cafeteria serves the best food they got

  1. Love it! I’ve never had a panzarotti, but it sounds delicious. Our high school gave us the option of off-campus lunch, so after I got my license, I was outta there … but in the dark days of high school cafeteria food, there were a couple shining stars known as Bosco Sticks and some kind of pizza stick type thing. You described the crowd perfectly.

    Also, I gauge the quality of the current school lunches by how many kids bring their lunch on a particular day. Popcorn chicken, cheesy beef nachos, and chicken patties are all complete crowd pleasers, while salisbury steak, “pasta bake”?, and “holiday feasts” are completely out of the question.

  2. I have never had a panzarotti. Does eating too many make you look like Pavarotti? Sounds delicious, but my high school was an open campus, so we’d either go across the street to watch tv and have homemade snacks courtesy of my friend’s mom, or to the mall food court for some Hot Dog on a Stick or Panda Express, or Happy Meals containing mini beanie babies that we thought we could sell in the future for more than we paid for them. Silly teenagers.

    1. We were allowed to leave for lunch, too. That in and of itself was pretty awesome!

      Hahaha — the Beanie Baby thing makes me laugh! I was never into them, but my neighbors down the street were obsessed. OBSESSED. They had like, every single one. Even the Happy Meal ones. And they would put them in clear cases and put tag protectors on each tag and not allow anyone to touch them. Their plan was to sell them for college tuition, but I’m thinking they probably had to go to a plan b for that money. ;)

      1. One of my jobs as a teenager was at a Hallmark store. It was during the Beanie Baby craze and things got scary dangerous when we got new ones in. One lady climbed over my cash register because we kept them behind the counter so they wouldn’t get stolen! We had to call security on people constantly. After experiencing the Beanie Baby fanatics, the Precious Moments figurines fanatics, and the holiday ornament fanatics, I had to quit that job and never look back. I still don’t purchase Hallmark greeting cards to this day.

  3. it was always nice in college when there were parents’ weekends or big events on campus, because the cafeteria would serve crazy good food — steak and shrimp sometimes even…

    and after all the visitors were gone, it was back to cereal and milk at every meal.

  4. Thursday was always Chicken Nugget day in my school district, and because of it, it was my favorite day of the week. Then I went to college and they had those, too! Then they got rid of them…then brought them back about 2 years later.

    And speaking of college, the first big event that campus activities board would do for the semester is throw a “Welcome Back BBQ” during the fall and a Spring Festival during, well, the spring. Hey, you want fresh burgers, corn on the cobb, and all the other good fixin’s for free? Now’s your chance! I remember the few times they rolled out pulled pork instead of the burgers. I miss college.

  5. It’s been 35 yrs but I still remember hamburger day, french fries with thousand island dressing, and frozen OJ treats. Our pizzas were strange little mass-produced rounds of gunk but sooooo tasty!!

  6. By the time I was in the 7th grade, I had quit eating lunch at school. I was tired of the same old foods that all basically tasted the same. Watery spaghetti, chewy hot dogs, bland salisbury steaks was not my ideal lunch. It wasn’t until my senior year in high school was almost over when they started to offer Subway as an option. You better believe I ate everyday after that!

  7. Love this! For me, at my university’s caf, it’s Perogi Monday, when we get to skip the scary I-think-it’s-probably-pork and enjoy a steaming plateful of
    P.s. Thank you for brightening my mornings with your little moments of win.

  8. Is that Panzerotto from Luini’s in Milan?!?!
    I think I recognize the creamy deliciousness and the cobblestone in the background.

  9. This is so true!
    Back in the good ol’ days of high school the clear winner was the gigantic taco salad served in the also awesom edible bowl. But the thing was it didn’t have a specific day so it would be a mad scramble to borrow money, call in favors and collect on last week’s lunch debts to get together the funds to purchase your own tower of tasty taco bliss.

  10. Love this! Reminds me of my elementary school all the way through college when my favorite meal was mini corn dogs!!! I still buy a bag at the store every now and then to re-create the magic but alas, it’s just not the same. :(

    Somebody also mentioned bosco sticks – the delicious little breadsticks filled with ooey, gooey cheese. That was a side dish for us in high school but on those days I would skip the main course and just buy 2 of those with a little marinara. Awesome!

  11. Yes,a Great memory… the lunch bell rings, we race down the halls, like the scene from St. Elmos Fire…senses high…salivating taste buds big as milk duds, eyes bulging, nostrils flaring, fingers,hands,jaws exercising- prepping;
    the buzz, chitter-chatter, and thunderstruck teenaged stomachs, closest we were all week alike sardines in a can, a reunion bubble line-up… most of us having 2 for 5 bucks, THE BEST EVER, SLOPPY-JOE WEDNESDAYS.

  12. Awww yeah. Every time we had regular ol’ pizza we all went NUTS. Fridays were pizza day in our school and man ohhhhh man that was some GOOD pizza. Even better than the pizza though was the chocolate cake. Oh.My.God. When that showed up on the menu we didn’t care WHAT it was being served with, it was worth tossing the craptastic food and eating cake alone. God. So good. I would have had it at my wedding if only I knew how to get a hold of it. :)

  13. Yesterday my students all flocked to the hot lunch graph. When I asked what was for lunch that day, almost in unison they answered “Brunch for Lunch”! Ah, yes, the joy of French Toast and scrambled eggs for lunch!

  14. Haha, today’s post brought back a super-powerful memory of the cheese balls at my middle school cafeteria. I was (and still am) a pretty picky eater and preferred to brown-bag it to avoid all the other less-than-awesome fare the lunch ladies were dishing up, but there was this one magical thing they served daily for 50 cents, as a side, called a cheese ball. It was a delicious soft roll that had somehow been injected with gooey and probably artificial mozzarella, and (this is the most magical part of all) a lone pepperoni somehow had been placed dead-center in this bad boy, though I couldn’t see where or how. I loved them so much I started calculating my pocket money in cheese balls (“I have $10- that’s 20 cheese balls!”) In fact, I still live relatively close to my old middle school and sometimes fantasize about walking into their cafeteria at lunchtime and seeing if they’re still for sale- and then purchasing 20 of them!
    Cheese balls were definitely a bright spot in an otherwise terrible time (hello? Middle school??). Thanks, Neil, for always bringing a smile to my face with your posts, and for reminding me about the awesomeness of my past. Cheers!

  15. I used to look forward to “Hot” lunches in middle school, an alternative to our usual “cold” cut lunches consisting of Bologna and Cheese sandwiches. This day would come around every other month and we would have pizza from Garibaldi’s. We used to turn in a slip in advance to select which type of pizza slice we wanted to eat (usually the big three, Pepperoni/Sausage/or plain cheese). These lunches became even more AWESOME when they handed us a “freebie” coupons after our meal was done for a slice of pizza to use at their store location!

    1. Ah, but we South Jerseyans would beg to differ! The Tarantini family brought the Panzarotti to America in 1960, but they were actually invented in Italy, not here.

      But regardless of where they came from, I’m sure we can agree that they’re all AWESOME! :)

  16. Panzarottis are the best! They’ve gotta be The Original Tarantini Panzarotti, though. Anything else is nothing more than a pizza turnover in my book, but then I’m spoiled. ;) I could walk across the parking lot right now and get one, because the baker/distributor is here in my building! It’s torture walking outside and smelling them. SO GOOD! The next time any of you are in the South Jersey area, you’ve got to try one!

    Funny story: one day (about 20 years ago!) I picked up Panzarottis for dinner for my dad and myself. Unfortunately, I got broadsided on the way home. I didn’t get hurt, but the bag of Panzarottis got squashed between the bucket seats and were unrecoverable. I was actually more sad about losing them than I was about losing my car.

  17. Spartan Rib Sandwich. Only happened once a month. Limited two sandwiches per student. No matter how much they made they were always sold out by the fouth lunch. If you had fourth lunch that day and knew it wsa Spartan Rib day, you better sneak in to an earlier lunch or else you may not get the best food the cafeteria had. I actually had gone back after graduation before just to get a Spartan Rib Sandwich. FTW!

  18. TOTALLY HAPPENED TODAY. Public school kids came for a volleyball tournament, so the cafeteria had to make extra food, so they had pizza, poutine, fries, delicious pasta, caesar salad, burgers, chicken burgers, and then the usuals like the extremely fattening but oh so delicious cookies, slushies, brownie parfaits.. Best part is, I forgot my lunch today, so I HAD to buy it! AND we got out of gym class early, so I was in line before everyone else! AWESOME . haha :)

  19. Chicken Finger Wednesdays (or the occasional Thursday).
    Best day ever. At my school’s cafeteria, those lucky enough to scrape up more than $3.00 skipped the gross “regular” lines (most bearable item: Chicken Nuggets) and went to the magical “a la carte” line, where decilious items were offered.
    Mozzerella Stix and Chicken Fingers would set you back at least $3 + .50 cents for water, but it was so worth it.

  20. Anyone else remember Fiestada’s? They were pretty much an octogan shaped personal pizza with a Mexican twist. I remember that not many people packed a lunch on Fiestada day! My hubby found them at GFS and although they still tasted good, he just couldn’t seem to replicate the greasy, cheesy awesomeness of the school cafeteria Fiestada :)

  21. This reminds me of the two or three times a year the Queen’s cafeterias would serve amazing meals – chef-carved roasts, full turkey dinners… They would dim the lights and put out candles and for one meal per season, the food didn’t suck.

  22. I never get luckier than Bosco sticks, but there have been bad experiences there (the time when the kid sitting next to me pulled off one end of the stick and started sucking out the cheese making it look like a you-know-what), but there is a place down the road from my house that has bonafide panzarottis. There is so much cheese in that sweet dough that it starts to fall apart as you eat it.

  23. Ahhh, every other Friday at my sorority: Taco Salad and Cinnamon rolls. Sounds like an odd combination, but it wasn’t. Not at all.

  24. I can’t say much for school-school lunches, but I went to the Culinary Institute of America and let me tell you, all our meals were AWESOME!!!!! We had about 6 different kitchens to eat from (Such as a Skills class, Americas, Mediterranean, Asias, etc), serving 5-6 different entree choices every day. An every few days the menu would circulate depending on what they learned that day (We’d have Chinese for three days in Asias, then Japan, India, etc) Holy crap, the food was amazing. I discovered so many different meals and tried so many different things! I was and am so grateful for that experience alone!

  25. Ahh, yes! Nacho Thursdays were THE BEST in high school! You had to practically run to the lunchroom from class in order to get in line before it started winding out the door, though. Totally worth it, though, week after week.

  26. Gumbo day at my school.
    We only have it during ultra cold winter weeks and you can tell, cuz it’s the obly dys you can ever find me in the Cafeteria

  27. I go to a vegetarian boarding school, so we get caf food three times a day, which is really tiring and gross after a while…but on Poutine day and Burgers and fries Thursdays you have to run to the caf if you don’t want to be stuck in line for 20 minutes…best meals EVER. :)

  28. Middle School: Orange Creamsicles on Ice Cream Friday… line out the door with the sun shining down on the playground.

    Also in high school there were days when the Walgreen’s up the street did a “2 for a dollar” candy sale. Hit it up!

  29. I never had a cafeteria till I hit highschool but oh man their chicken pies is what sparked my never ending love for them. Warm flaky mini chicken pies popped out of its aluminum shell onto a plate and finished off with hearty gravy goodness on top. Cut a piece and mix it in with the gravy n u’ve got a spoonful of heaven! They were inconsistently served on thursdays but whenever I hear to my surprise that they’ve made them you will literally see me running to the caf screaming OMGGG CHICKEN PIESSS. Those were days of Awesome!

  30. I went to a small Catholic high school in Paterson NJ and we had the best lunches. Most days were good but when they did either cheesesteaks or the PC Whopper….those were the greatest. They also had a salad bar and Sara Lee cakes for sale every day. I still think about those lunches sometimes. Just found this site a few days ago, love it!

  31. Nachos Grande. The only reason why I went to school. And by the way, I don’t have any idea where that picture was taken, but those lunch trays are the same as our school’s trays. Then again, those lunch trays are probably the same all around the planet.

  32. Hurrah for tater tots…at least until they got removed from the cafeteria menu. Time to shed a tear T-T

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