I usually try to write about something meaningful and widely relevant that might apply to many of my peers on campus, but also something that I’m passionate about and feel qualified to discuss. And today I don’t want to write a hot take; I want to write about bread.
If I had to choose only one category of food to eat for the rest of my life, it would be carbs. It would be a short and ill-fated life, but one worth living nonetheless. Carbs like bread and pasta have the power to make vegetables appealing and can turn a mundane condiment like peanut butter into a full meal. They’re pure magic, and according to WebMD there is scientific evidence to prove that they can also alleviate depression by producing serotonin—pseudo-science at best, but I’ll happily take it as true.
One of my favorite parts about Duke Dining is the abundance of carbohydrate options. So many choices! The powers that be know what the people want, and have executed this vision particularly well in West Union, where many main dishes come with a small bread item on the side that I’m usually more excited about than the central meal itself.
However, not all carbs are created equal. I want to clarify that I’m talking purely about flavor and texture here, not the good carb/bad carb divide that health and fitness bloggers love so much. Bread is always good, but sometimes, it’s great.
After almost four years of careful sampling, examination and deliberation, I am proud to provide here, for your entertainment and practical use, a thoughtful ranking of the bready side items at West Union. I am honored to be able to provide this service for the community.
ABP breadsticks: No offense intended, but these breadsticks put the pain in Au Bon Pain. Lying in cute little baskets right above the soup, they are tantalizingly deceptive. Available in a few flavors, they always appear to be the perfect complement to a bowl of chili or chowder, but always, always disappoint. Texturally, they are more like crackers than bread, and even soaking them in broth doesn’t help much. What’s more, they somehow have too much seasoning on top but not enough flavor, which I didn’t realize was possible. Stick with oyster crackers.
Skillet biscuits: Like many of us, biscuits are fragile creations and easily damaged by the pressures of this cruel world. A perfectly flaky, tender biscuit is formed by folding and stacking the dough in sheets, creating layers that fill with air and steam as the butter melts in the oven. This gives the biscuit vertical lift and the layers are often visible from the side, like a marvelous sedimentary rock sample.
Unfortunately for everyone, Skillet biscuits are not those biscuits. I’ve never been there early enough in the morning to get one fresh and piping-hot, and by midday they’ve been drying out and hardening under the orange glow of a heat lamp for several hours. This is no one’s fault; it’s merely a simple, tragic truth that biscuits are sensitive and temperamental. I hold out hope that someday I will try one fresh from the oven, but for now they don’t quite make the cut.
Tandoor naan: First and foremost, I’d like to make it clear that I have no authority or expertise to judge how traditional and/or genuine Tandoor is. For most of my life I’ve lived in Vermont, where there are probably five or six Indian restaurants in the entire state. (You think I’m exaggerating; I’m not.) I don’t have much frame of reference for the authenticity of Tandoor’s naan, but I do know that it’s delicious.
From the basic criteria of taste and texture, this naan checks a lot of boxes for me. It has a gentle smoky quality from the light char on its surface, and its mild flavor is a perfect contrast to the rich dishes it’s served with. Aesthetically, it’s a very pretty bread, with bubbles on the surface in varying shades of toasted brown and no two pieces alike. Haters will say it can be a little thin and cracker-like, but at its best, this naan is truly a blessing to behold and consume.
Il Forno breadsticks: These are the best breadsticks on campus, blowing right past ABP’s cracker-like daggers and the Loop’s doughy, comparatively flavorless version. One might ask, aren’t these just pizza dough covered in butter? Of course they are, but I don’t see anyone complaining. Butter and pizza are two of America’s favorite foods, and Il Forno has capitalized on this to the best of their abilities.
The main reason I order pasta is to get a breadstick, and sometimes, on very auspicious occasions, a couple breadsticks are inseparably stuck together and my life is graced by bonus breadsticks—is there any phrase in the English language as beautiful as “bonus breadsticks?” On the whole, these are everything you want in a breadstick, the perfect carb to put on top of a large bowl of carbs.
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JB’s rolls: More than once, I have bought a few of these rolls and eaten them and nothing else for dinner. I’m not too ashamed to admit that, because they are just so good. These rolls are the more impressive, cooler older brother of Skillet biscuits. Whereas those tend to be hardened and dried out from the heat lamp, JB rolls have a built-in shield that defends them from a similar dehydrated state.
The crust safeguards the soft, crumby interior while developing a toasty chewiness that never feels dry or crunchy. In terms of flavor, texture, bite, aroma, appearance and any other quality one might want to use to describe bread products, these rolls sweep the competition far to the side. Well done, JB’s.
I could write a thesis about bread, and will never have enough words to do it justice. There are far more carbohydrates on campus than I could discuss here, and I only hope that this column serves as a helpful culinary guide to some of the most notable ones. It’s the yeast I could do.
Gretchen Wright is a Trinity senior whose plan of being more serious and profound this semester went far a-rye this week. Her column, “Cameron Cravings,” runs on alternate Wednesdays.