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Making the most of Nasher brunch

cameron cravings

It’s November, Mercury is in retrograde and I for one have mapped out the remaining weeks of the semester with a mild but steadily intensifying sense of dread. The semester is flying by, and it’s a good idea to check in with the Food Points Usage Chart. If the food point balance is at all in your favor, it is time for one thing: Nasher Brunch.  

Did Michael Che once go undercover as a Liberal White Woman Named Gretchen for a Saturday Night Live bit? Yes he did. Was going to brunch an essential part of that character? Indeed it was. I know my brand, so I can sheepishly own up to it and enjoy a smoked salmon omelet at the same time.

The Nasher Café is arguably the highest-quality restaurant on campus. The menu is seasonal, the ingredients are local and the vibe is excellent. Before I jump into a deep analysis, let me lay a couple things on the table.

First, I should be honest: I work at the Nasher. I’m a Development & Marketing student assistant, which has absolutely nothing to do with the Nasher Café and quite a lot to do with stuffing envelopes, but my innate bias towards the institution that sustains both my body and my bank account will undoubtedly make itself clear, and I wanted to get it off my chest.

Second, I want to emphasize the importance of financial responsibility. No one’s meal plan can support unrestricted Nasher outings, and I cannot be held liable for any first-years blowing through their food points because they read this and threw caution to the wind after their first bite of the Nasher’s baked cinnamon French toast. Easy does it, young padawan.

No, the Nasher cannot—and should not—be a daily routine. It should be a grand affair, reserved for birthdays, flunches or dates (I mean, I assume. I definitely have not imagined how perfect it would be to share a cheese plate with a special someone on an open terrace surrounded by tall pine trees swaying gently in the spring breeze. It’s never really crossed my mind).  

Nasher brunch is for those weeks when you realize you’re twenty food points ahead of the suggested amount, or have used a Marketplace guest swipe on an upperclassman and it’s their turn to pay up, or just want to treat yourself. And if you’re going to Nasher brunch, you’re going. This is not a time to hold back or choose between appetizer or dessert, but it is important to follow a gameplan.

The first rule (and the most important by far): make a reservation.  You can do it online!  You don’t even have to talk to anyone!  But you gotta have a res. 

Second: don’t eat breakfast before brunch. That’s like making a sandwich an hour before Thanksgiving dinner is served—it simply isn’t done.

Now we’re going to walk through the tantalizing cornucopia of possibilities that is the Nasher Café brunch menu: start with a drink. If you aren’t 21, for the love of orange farmers, wine snobs and art museums everywhere, don’t degrade the Nasher by trying to order a mimosa with your fake I.D. Their lattes and hot chocolates come in mugs the size of soup bowls, and that will be indulgent enough.

But if you are 21, you know what to do.

App time. While you’re half-listening to your brunchmates exchange lukewarm takes about Tallman Trask’s retirement, smile to the waiter and whisper the magic words: "caprese platter." In an instant, you’re no longer sitting at this quirky metal table, but lounging somewhere along the Italian coast, worshipping the real Holy Trinity—tomato, basil and mozzarella.

I know a restaurant makes a good salad if I, Gretchen Wright, will order a salad at that restaurant. And the Nasher Café makes one of only two salads that I order on campus (the other is at the Loop and contains both chicken tenders and shredded cheese, but you probably guessed that already).  

Brunch is about indulgence and luxury, but sometimes the 1 am Pitchforks haystack from the night before weighs heavily on the mind (and stomach). On those occasions, the agave roasted beet salad is just as decadent as anything else on the menu. It has more ingredients than I could name, and the combination of different textures makes it feel like so much more than a plate of leaves.

The savory sandwiches and sweeter options (like the aforementioned citrus-infused French toast casserole) are all stellar, and sometimes hit the spot just right. But the true stars of the show are the eggs. I believe I have sampled all of the Benedicts, huevos rancheros, hashes and omelets on the menu, or at least all of them that don’t have mushrooms, and I don’t think I could pick a favorite. They’re just that good.

When they ask if you’d like to see the dessert menu, the correct answer is a resounding, unequivocal “yes, please.” The chocolate chip cookies are some of the best on campus and the gelato is always a lovely palate cleanser, but there’s really only one clear choice: the chocolate lava cake. A unique kind of primal urge takes hold when you cut into the warm cake for the first time, and I want everyone to be able to experience that rush.

At this point, everyone is too full to think straight and we’re all ready to go lay in bed or fight for a table in Perkins. And this is where the Nasher gifts us with a final, unexpected delight: if you pay in food points, the gratuity is automatically applied to the check. When the food coma is setting in, my befuddled, English-major mind doesn’t even have to do math. And that is truly a beautiful thing.

Gretchen Wright is a Trinity senior who wishes she could teach a house course on the history and socio-political significance of brunch. Her column, Cameron Cravings, runs on alternate Thursdays.

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