Every year, the Chronicle’s Best of Duke provides a ranking of the restaurants, businesses and people that Duke has collectively voted on and decided are the best. It’s a good list, and covers most of our campus and Durham favorites, from Au Bon Pain to Zion. But I haven’t always agreed with Best of Duke.
I never really considered myself qualified to give a better ranking of Duke’s favorites, and Best of Duke is settled by popular opinion, so it is theoretically representative. But everyone is currently scattered around the world, some of us never to eat on campus again for the foreseeable future. Now, no one can test my picks or argue with me about my decisions.
So I present to you the definitive Best of Duke, based on nothing but my opinions and tastes. Don’t like it? That sounds like your own personal problem. But I’d be happy to get a coffee at the Perk and discuss it with you, just as long as you can wait until the next time I’m back on campus.
Breakfast: Divinity Cafe. Whether you want your breakfast to be sweet or savory, Div has you covered with a rotating menu that provides a wide variety of options, all delicious. Baked oatmeal, breakfast burritos, bread pudding, scrambled eggs with bacon, yogurt parfaits, veggie strata, lemon ricotta pancakes—you want it, they’ve got it. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: God bless Divinity Cafe.
Sandwich: Marketplace. It’s been a few years since I’ve been a Marketplace regular, but I always used to order the same sandwich: turkey and cheddar on a wheat roll with pesto mayo, pickles, cucumber, green pepper, and lettuce. The game-changer move is to put some potato chips on too, which truly elevates this sandwich to the next level.
Fries: Krafthouse. In 2018, The Chronicle published a guide to campus French fries that ranked McDonald’s as the winner. I would like to say that I wholeheartedly disagree. Krafthouse fries are expertly seasoned, obviously made in-house and truly a joy to eat. I’ll admit that they can be inconsistent, and are only at their best when they’re piping hot. I’ve never tried this at Kraft, but you can always do what customers at the deli I worked at in high school used to do: order your fries unsalted to ensure that they’re made fresh for you and then put salt on them yourself. Rude but entirely effective.
Pizza: The Loop’s chicken barbeque personal pie. The best thing about this pizza is that you don’t have to share it with anyone. It has a perfect crust-to-topping ratio, featuring tangy barbeque sauce, sweet red onions caramelized in the oven, and roasted garlic so soft it’s basically melting. Every part of this pizza seems specially designed for maximum tastiness.
Salad: Nasher Cafe. All of their salads are excellent, and the menu changes regularly so it would be fruitless to pick just one. But their ingredients are fresh, local and always in-season, so you are guaranteed a delicious meal. They are also huge, and most of them have a few ingredients that are not vegetables, which is always something I look for in a salad.
Pasta: Pitchforks’ spaghetti. This isn’t fancy; it is humbly unpretentious where Il Forno is bold and ostentatious. It is pasta and sauce and nothing else, and it’s perfect. It’s exactly the same spaghetti-from-a-box and tomato sauce-from-a-jar that my family makes at home, which makes this the ultimate comfort food.
Cookie: Cafe/Vondy chocolate chip. Cafe and Vondy do a lot of things right: pumpkin bread, Vietnamese iced coffee and discounts if you bring a reusable mug, to name a few. Their chocolate chip cookies are chewy in the middle and crunchy at the edges; the flavor is so complex and alluring that you can tell they used brown sugar or molasses instead of just white sugar. It’s simply a good cookie.
Small dinner option: Sprout’s soy nuggets. When you’re kinda hungry but mostly looking for something to fill the void, the soy nuggets at Sprout are there for you. Judge which type (regular or gluten-free) looks like it was made the most recently and get that one—the $1 charge for gluten-free is worth it for fresh nuggs.
Potatoes: JB’s mashed potatoes. This mash is so magnificent it feels like a special occasion just to order it. Garlicky and creamy, they melt in your mouth and pair perfectly with whatever your main item is. In my opinion, a perfect meal (taste-wise, not nutritionally) might be JB’s mashed potatoes with one of their rolls on the side. I am forever grateful for JB’s contributions to the world of carbohydrates.
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Dessert: The Loop’s brownie sundae. This was a hard category for me because I really do love most desserts, but it came down to the vibe of each one. This hot brownie topped with melty vanilla ice cream and the appropriate garnishes (whipped cream, cherry, hot fudge and caramel sauce) is undeniably delicious. But beyond taste, this giant sundae is meant to be shared. You are meant to pack tight into a red vinyl booth and split it with your friends—it’s basically predestined. At its heart, food is a shared experience, something that gathers people to do something together. And nothing does this better than a brownie sundae.
There you have it: the authoritative, irrefutable Best of Duke, featuring all my favorite foods and the places I am missing the most. It feels conceited and selfish to fixate on these things when the world is grieving so much right now. I am incredibly blessed, in so many ways. But I also can’t stop remembering things I did for the last time without even realizing it.
I would give so much to be able to share one more brownie sundae, to steal one more handful of French fries from someone else’s plate, to split one more chocolate chip cookie in half.
Gretchen Wright is a Trinity senior who could really go for a brownie sundae right now. Her column, “Cameron Cravings,” runs on alternate Wednesdays.
Editor's Note: The best fries on campus are from the Law School Cafe. Sorry Gretchen, but I have to share this with the people.