“Did you hear?” asked my friend, their voice drenched with enough solemnity to suggest an asteroid might be inbound, “that a new restaurant opened in the kitchen above Il Forno.”
“Whoa,” I marveled as though an asteroid was actually inbound.
I only somewhat jest. When the pretty-solid stasis of West Campus cuisine is disrupted, if only a bit, the little ripples feel like a tsunami.
WU welcomed a welcome disruption this semester with the introduction of It’s Thyme into The Chef’s Kitchen (on the second floor of Brodhead) for lunchtime service — 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. That’s in addition to the evening cooking classes and demos offered at the Chef’s Kitchen (yep, that’s a thing!).
As fantastical tales of new WU burgeoned across campus, the crux of common room conversations and Wilson treadmill banter seemed to resonate with the same pun: “Ughhh… what thyme is it exactly?”
“It’s a Mediterranean place” — a student with a backpack told me.
“It’s a Caribbean place” — a student with a satchel told me.
“I’m not sure it knows what it is yet,” someone conjectured, “I think it’s kinda in the process of finding itself, in a way, kinda like a stude…”
“Ok,” I interrupted, and said nah to any parallelism bullshit.
“Very Sazónian,” explained actual, real-life Duke student, junior Jill Chaffee, “Bowls and confused ingredients.”
Yep. Instead of focusing on a single cuisine, It’s Thyme offers a curious sampling of several different cuisines. On a Facebook post, Duke Dining describes the meal offerings, broadly, as “bowls with simple and fresh whole foods.” Hungry WU goers may construct their own bowl or choose from a selection of aforethought Chef’s Suggestions. In fact, the Chef’s Suggestions themselves demonstrate the scope of Thyme — four out of the five choices either name or suggest different cuisines — Tex Mex, Mexican, Caribbean, Mediterranean.
My initial instinct was to be critical. Go big or go home, I thought. This could either be the multicultural culinary reckoning that Duke needed or the Walmart version of Sazón.
But, Robert Coffey, Executive Director of Dining, explained over email: “This venue provides additional variety to the menu mix at the BHC in hopes to offer more opportunities to build community for students over a meal.” And the variety grows from local roots, Coffey continued, as the operator develops “diverse menu offerings that are inspired by his team members who are encouraged to share family recipes and/or favorite cuisines.”
Alright. No more hate from this lowly writer. That’s dope.
I tried all five Chef’s Suggestion meals, and I’m no Anton Ego, but they were — good. And that’s good. Filling and not heavy. Fresh and not overly complex. A good midday venture. And somewhere between $11 and $13 after WU-flation. I’d advise Michelin to hold off just yet, but more good at WU is great.
For my taste buds, the Blue Devil’s Thyme, of the Chef’s Suggestions, scored like Roach with a tween-tween behind-the-back stepback three. The shredded beef mitigates the risk of any dryness and the pickled jalapeños jump in all spunky while the housemade garlic lemon sauce, quite subtly, commands respect. And if you’re not one-with-the-spice, try the Mediterranean Thyme (superior potatoes to the Caribbean) or build your own bowl.
But Thyme’s true magnum opus swirls around in gigantic beverage containers.
“The lemonade is f*********************** fire,” exalts junior Megan Mahoney. “The Lavender’s my favorite.”
Thyme’s lemonade tastes something like nectar and ambrosia after the Minotaur attack of Bayesian Statistics, Organic Chemistry or whatever 10:15 class breaks your soul. All three flavors — Prickly Pear and Hibiscus, Passion Papaya Tea and Lavender — titillate and sparkle. To put it bluntly: they hit different.
The Lavender Lemonade has a superhero-esque origin story. Check out this compelling anecdote from Thyme’s operator Erik Dailey: “Lavender infused foods and beverages are one of my greatest culinary passions. In 2009, we were a vendor at the Duke Farmer's market, and we were introduced to Annie and Dale Baggett, owners of the Sunshine Lavender Farm in Hurdle Mills. We instantly fell in love with this family and their story. Annie invited us to attend their annual lavender harvest and asked us to set up a small booth and provide the food and beverage on their family farm to the visitors they anticipated joining in on the harvest. The first year none of the foods we served included lavender. The following year, in an effort to provide culinary offerings that fit with the theme, I prepared lavender lemonade for the occasion…[and] out of many trials and failures I learned the secret to the best lavender lemonade is found in the brewing process."
Thank you, good sir.
For this sequence of sultry summer… I mean March… days, the lemonade sweetens and refreshes the soul for less than three food points.
My favorite’s the Pear & Hibiscus. The precise sweetness allows the flavor combo the spotlight. But the Lavender Lemonade hits the bloodstream and has me sugar-rushing at 11 AM and writing spastic articles like this one. Life hack: sometimes the ice cubes in their nice tall glasses are kinda big. Ask for no ice, take a few sips, pop by a water dispenser and drop in a few cubes yourself. Get your food point’s worth.
It was about damn thyme. The Chef’s Kitchen no longer sits empty like some relic of a pre-covid-world. The clock on It’s Thyme’s logo reads 2:53, but we know what thyme it is…
It’s our thyme. For some sweet, sweet Lavender Lemonade.
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