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The Campus Club brings fine dining to Coffman Union.

If the phrase “college food service” evokes visions of overcooked green beans and chipped beef on toast, you must not have been on a campus lately.

Schools now tout the variety and quality of their food. Carleton College in Northfield posts omnivorian, vegetarian, and vegan menus on its Web site, as well as links to local farms that supply the school with fresh meat, dairy, and produce. Both St. Olaf College in Northfield and Macalester College in St. Paul have contracted with Bon Appetit, a company based in Palo Alto, California, that provides “food service for a sustainable future.” Bon Appetit (which also services Best Buy and Target Corporation) promises ethnically diverse food made on site with fresh, seasonal ingredients, including responsibly harvested seafood and hormone- and pesticide-free foods raised by nearby growers.

Not to be outdone, the University of Minnesota also has started working with local farmers to provide fresher, more varied dining. But at the Campus Club—a nonprofit membership organization that is a tenant in the U of M’s Coffman Union (612-625-1442, 300 Washington Ave. S.E., Minneapolis,—Executive Chef Dan Ritter is pursuing his own commitment to excellent ingredients.

“Seasonal stuff is a very high priority for me,” he says. He sources what’s prime from producers throughout the Upper Midwest, including duck from Wild Acres in Pequot Lakes, and pork that’s “humanely raised” (another priority) by farmers around southeastern Minnesota.

Ritter has worked locally at the St. Paul Hotel, Aquavit, and the Hyatt Whitney. For a recent bargain-priced wine dinner at the Campus Club, the bill of fare included a warm salad of roasted squashes, apples, and wilted greens; a delicious pasta course of spaghetti tossed with duck confit and fava beans; an entrée of perfectly prepared venison loin sided with creamy polenta; an artisan cheese course; and a freshly made pear tart, each course paired with wine selected by the chef.

The surroundings are right for business dining or a nice evening out. The club is private, but membership parameters are broad, including alumni, students, their parents, and university-related organizations and their constituencies. All things considered, the fee of $300 a year for an individual alum or $1,200 for a corporate membership is modest. The Campus Club has the only full bar on campus; private meeting rooms to rent or use gratis; periodic tastings of wine, beer, and single-malt scotch; Thurs-day night fixed-price ($25) tasting dinners, and other special dining events. Anyone can try being a “member for a day” by coming in to enjoy a fee-waived lunch and the impressive view of the city.

Ritter welcomes more business diners to campus. The club, he says, is “an amenity of what the state of Minnesota surely must recognize as one of its greatest business assets.”