Ever feel like getting away from it all to someplace completely outside your normal routine? Step into the Union Commons on the ground floor of the Purdue Memorial Union and you’ll feel like you’re in another world—if campus isn’t your usual hangout.
We entered the hustle and bustle for lunch at two sister restaurants, Lemongrass and Ah-Z. Step up to any line and pay at any register and they’ll sort it out for you, no worries. Lemongrass features wok-fired entrees and a variety of appetizers, emphasizing vegetables, sauces and spices found primarily in Thailand and Vietnam.
Jo dove into a bowl of miso soup (she was a big spender at $1.50!) and said it was “very tasty and just the right spiciness as I added a little Sriracha sauce that was available at the counter.” She found it filling and great for a cold day—savory and authentic tasting.
Vegetarian Margy enjoyed the broccoli stir fry ($6.05). The stir-fry lunches come in three sizes. Small comes with rice (plain or fried) and one entrée; medium has rice and two entrees; large has rice and three entrees. There were eight entrée choices, two were veggie friendly. The medium-sized lunch with fried-rice, Chinese broccoli and tofu was more than enough food. Ask for optional free sauces– sweet chili and peanut– at the register. We managed to talk Margy out of taking a quart of the sweet chili sauce home! We figured that would push the “free sauce” issue, but it was that tasty!
Kay and Bev headed for the Ah-Z sushi line where their lunches became works of art. Ah-Z features handmade sushi rolls, sushi wraps, sushi bowls and noodle bowls. The 29 different menu items are made to order and always fresh. Kay enjoyed the Ah-Z roll ($11) which was filled with fresh tuna, fresh salmon, cream cheese, avocado, shrimp tempura, mayo sauce, unagi sauce, masago and green onion. The tempura shrimp caught her by surprise and she found it a delectable treat for a seafood lover.
There is a series of sushi rolls named after the schools in the Big Ten. Bev stops by here for lunch on a somewhat regular basis and, with limited interest in seafood, always has the Purdue Roll ($8) with avocado, cucumber, crab, spicy mayo, wasabi mayo, unagi sauce, topped with her favorite part—the crunch batter. Often, sushi rolls with crunch on top have pretty soggy crunch and if that’s not an oxymoron, we aren’t sure what is. But since Ah-Z makes these rolls to order, the crunch is… drumroll… crunchy! And delish.
This time, in an effort to expand her horizon, she chose the Indiana roll (also $8). She didn’t feel traitorous at all (largely because her money goes to IU to cover her son’s tuition) and enjoyed the avocado, cucumber, crab, sweet potato, spicy chili sauce and, you guessed it, crunch mix. Adding bits of ginger and clearing her sinuses with wasabi, she was a happy dining diva.
The Union Commons restaurants (there are more!) cater to the campus crowd so they’re open from 10:30 AM-6:30 PM on Monday-Thursday and 10:30 AM-3:30 PM on Friday. They’re closed on weekends. It feels a bit like being in a high-energy, crowded international market so if you’re intimidated by campus, you might choose to go during an off-peak time. On the flipside, if you’re intimidated by campus, get over it and step into the energy and commotion or you’ll be missing some good sushi!
We didn’t get to so many tempting menu items like crab Rangoon, chicken satay, bao, pad thai, sesame peanut noodles and vegetable lo mein so return trips are in order. We invite you to get caught up in the spirit of the Union restaurants!
Kay Conner, photographer, seafood superstar Margy Deverall, author of Lafayette articles, dedicated vegetarian Beverly Shaw, author of West Lafayette articles, bring on the beef (or chicken or pork)
Jo Wade, founder of this food blog, very veggie