On a campus like ours, there is no shortage of food options. Between WesWings, Usdan, Red & Black Cafe, and even Neon Deli, we have enough dining selections to keep students satisfied and, most importantly, full. But there’s another eatery on campus that often gets left out—and that’s Star & Crescent (S&C).
Some students may know the restaurant for its “first three freshmen eat for free” policy that’s often advertised on Facebook, but it’s so much more than that. Located in the Alpha Delta Phi (ADP) building on High Street, this student-run restaurant is serving up fresh and innovative meals Monday through Thursday.
“Alpha Delt started as an eating club, so it really started around Star & Crescent and gathering around food and hanging out,” Michaela Olson ’20, who has been a member of ADP since freshman year, said. “That’s always been a really important part of what we do and how we interact with each other, which is really fun. Good food is a part of our history. To continue that, every Monday we have member lunch, which is why we don’t have lunch open to all campus on Mondays—because it’s just members. We usually just push a few tables together and hang out.”
Now, the 175-year-old Alpha Delta Phi is a self-governed, co-ed literary society with multiple chapters across the country. To remain an active member in Wesleyan’s chapter, all members must work at least one shift per week at S&C. Both the kitchen and wait staff are comprised exclusively of students, paid in food rather than money. They are managed by two stewards, Annie Thompson ’22 and Cameron Smith ’21.
“I am technically the senior steward,” Thompson said. “Every year there’s a junior and a senior steward. I skipped a role just because we needed someone to do it, but basically we are the managers of the restaurant. We pay Ryan, who is the chef; we pay the staff, we organize all of the contracts—it’s basically just like managing a restaurant. We’re not in charge of food or anything, but in the beginning of the semester I had to organize all of the shift schedules for everybody.”
However, there is one integral member of the Star & Crescent staff who is not a student: Chef Ryan Talbot.
“My history is that I’ve been here for 12 years,” Talbot said. “I worked at two other spots before this, and then before that I went to culinary school. I worked at a Rastafarian restaurant as the executive chef there, right out of culinary school. I worked at a catering company in Hartford called Russell’s Creative Global Cuisine, and that was a really fantastic experience, where I gained a lot of my international knowledge even compared to culinary school—really good chefs there. Then I came here, and I’ve been here ever since.”
Talbot cooks all of the food that is served at Star & Crescent, and creates the weekly menus. When I came to interview him in the kitchen, he was chopping up carrots and dousing baked shallots in white wine, in preparation for a Monday night dinner of herb-roasted chicken, garlic-mashed potatoes, and maple-glazed carrots with caramelized-shallot sauce. Talbot often bases the menu off of the weather outside.
“I’m a huge weather geek,” Talbot explained. “I love snow and all that kind of thing, so I’m always watching the weather and thinking, ‘What would be the perfect thing to eat on this cold, dreary day, or warm nice day?’ Whether it’s, like, something Mexican and light on a sunny, warm day, or something hearty and comforting on a day like today, for example. Stuff that you’d want to eat on a gloomy, rainy, February day.”
This careful attention does not go unnoticed, as both staff members and non-staff members boast that it’s one of the best spots to eat on campus.
“It’s literally Ryan’s art,” Olson said. “It’s very interesting: Star & Crescent and the house are very separate. It kind of has to be, because he has his own—that’s his workplace, and we can’t be coming in there and taking mugs and taking food, making it messy when he has a system of how he runs his workplace. I had to talk to him a lot about where things go, what we could and couldn’t use, and how to clean up afterwards.… At the beginning of every shift, he’ll show us how to plate [the food]. The other night was chili night, and someone was, like, serving the chili, and he was like, ‘No, you need to wiggle the plate as you’re serving the chili so that it stays in one chunk. You don’t want more than one chili.’ When he plates the first thing, I’m just like, ‘Damn, that looks good.’ He does a really good job.”
Chef Talbot doesn’t plan far ahead for the meals—he only cooks on a weekly basis—but he notes that there’s definitely some consistency to the menu. Typically on Monday, he’ll cook new American food; Tuesday is Asian cuisine for dinner and Mexican for lunch; Wednesday is sandwiches for lunch and pasta at dinner; and Thursday consists of “soup day” for lunch and usually Indian cuisine for dinner. Since so many different types of food are offered, it’s hard to nail down what exactly the number-one fan favorite would be among students.
“Grilled cheese and tomato soup is the biggest draw for numbers-wise, but I don’t know why,” Talbot said. “That’s the novelty; I think people just like it. It’s not really the most advanced thing we do or the tastiest thing, but people come for that. I think people like different things. There’s a set pattern to how we roll…. People pick what their favorites are, you know what I mean? It’s hard to say.”
Star & Crescent also offers a meal plan, where students can use meal points to buy a certain amount of lunches and dinners for the semester.
“Basically, it used to be a requirement that if you were a member of ADP you had a contract with the S&C,” Smith explained. “It’s technically still a requirement, but it’s one of those things that’s flexible…. Any student on campus can have a contract, assuming you have enough points. At the beginning of every semester, one of the stewards sets up shop in the S&C and anyone can come through.”
However, cooking and operating a restaurant isn’t all fun and games. Occasionally, when meals are crowded, Star & Crescent runs out of food and has to turn away heads. Typically, they only prepare food for around 120 people.
“It’s tough to know how a night is gonna go,” Olson said. “Sometimes it starts out really slow, and sometimes it’s insanely rushed and you sell out of food. It’s really hard to balance when you’re getting low on food and people have already sat down…. There’s not a super set system, and it makes us as students have to communicate really well with other students who are trying to eat there. There’s no system to it, and we’re literally just children trying to run a whole-ass restaurant on our own. It’s really hard. I know it seems like a really chaotic environment a lot of the time, but that’s because it is…. In Alpha Delt, we just don’t have enough active members to fill the shifts, so people are picking up two to three shifts a week, which is hard on people. We don’t have the funding to hire more workers and pay them.”
“It’s so up and down,” Talbot agreed. “Last spring we had such a great semester: It was packed and we really killed it. Then it kind of dropped off a bit. I don’t know if that was a big senior class following, or the way the points worked, but there is a changing of the guards…from year to year.”
Because Chef Talbot has been working at Wesleyan for over 12 years, he’s noticed these ups and downs happening not only inside Star & Crescent, but outside of the restaurant, too.
“I’ve seen immense change on campus,” Talbot said. “The social scene, the enrollment has changed from when I first got here; it’s just a whole different student body now, a whole different environment. It was definitely far more crazy and debaucherous when I first got the job in 2006 and 2007. It was crazy, the partying was out of control, but it was fun. ‘If these walls could talk,’ you know what I mean?”
Inside the kitchen, the members make sure to have a lot of fun, even though they’re technically working. The staff has a lot of traditions, including something they like to call “special meal.” At the end of the semester, Chef Talbot whips up a special gourmet meal for people who have worked in the restaurant, showing off his classically trained culinary skills with specialties such as indulgent chocolate lava cakes and crème brûlée.
“[Working] is so much fun. It’s a really, really good time,” Olson said. “There’s always like eight-ish people in the kitchen working shifts at once, and it’s just a time when Alpha Delt people are hanging out: not necessarily in a house meeting, or an executive meeting, or a thing you have to be at, and it’s also not partying. It’s just nice to have this consistent time each week with this group that you end up becoming really close to throughout the semester. I’ve also become really good friends with people on kitchen staff that I never maybe would have interacted with otherwise. Different circles on campus, different class years.”
On a typical night, servers usually dole out a three-course meal, complete with a salad to start and a dessert to finish.
“It’s stuff you’d have at home,” Talbot said. “It’s comforting, it’s made from scratch, it’s not…preservatives or any cafeteria-style tricks in this food. It’s really just me making it.”
Nonetheless, not everyone is aware of the delicious food that Talbot and the ADP members are whipping up on a daily basis.
“In the fall, less people know about it, and then when the spring rolls around again everyone realizes that they can get a meal plan,” Thompson said.
Talbot agreed, noting that many of the people who eat at Star & Crescent resemble a clique.
“It’s like a niche vibe,” Talbot said. “It’s like a cult following, S&C. I don’t know: I’m back here most of the time, so I don’t always see who’s out there, but I don’t think that a ton of athletes come. The portions are small; it’s not like Usdan where you can just stuff your face, and they need the calories. Of course, I wish it would appeal to everyone—for some reason, one night a week—[and we were able] to feed the entire campus. The more the merrier.”
Regardless, Star & Crescent is still a huge part of campus, and a huge part of ADP’s culture.
“The S&C is a very special place,” Smith said. “I have a lot of friends at a lot of other schools, some of them very much like Wesleyan, some of them not at all. But you don’t find a lot of Greek societies like ADP…places on campus that have such an intimate kind of dining scene. It feels really nice when you’re in there, and I haven’t been able to find that at any other school. That’s something that’s purely very Wesleyan, very ADP, and I’m very glad that we have it here. It is a very special place. It means a lot to a lot of people.”
And for Chef Talbot, he’s just as big a part of the community as anyone else.
“They’ve asked me many times to become a member, you know, ‘Do this, do that,’ but I feel like I’m already a member,” Talbot said. “I’m here everyday, 12 hours a day… I’m an honorary member.”
Jane Herz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.