The culinary landscape in my little portion of Nortwestern’s campus is bleak. My building is sequestered just far enough away from downtown Evanston and any other outlying restaurants that lunch out can easily become an hour long affair. The venerable university planners surely knew this would be an inconvenience to the community and inserted a handful of express cafes into the left-brained labyrinth I inhabit during working hours. The problem is that they’ve all made me sick. As it turns out, Einstein’s, Tech Express, and even the student center food court are all part of Norris Catering, which sources all the food and trains all the employees. I once saw a guy wipe the counter, then wipe excess cream cheese off the rim of a container with the same rag. It’s hardly a surprise that I was such an ardent devotee of the porcelain god over the winter when I was more laissez-faire about packing a lunch. “Oh I’ll just pick something up on campus.” said self to me.

This past week confounded my usual routine. I knew we were in for the long haul because there was a grant proposal due. What I didn’t quite expect was exactly how late we would be at work. The little Greek grocery where I pick up a few things for dinner was long closed by the time I got out and it was just too darn late to cook once I got home. Since I’d decimated the leftovers by Tuesday, Wednesday’s lunch prospects were the ptomaine-riddled usual. My mouth was watering in anticipation of the coppery spits I’d be hucking into the toilet 9 hours later when Will, my co-worker, blinked into my IM. The initial conversation was probably about industry partners and Year 1 distribution charts, but he revealed a new secret source for decent lunch and coffee on campus after a bit.

“Dude, srsly? Where?”

He described the location. It didn’t register. He then decided to be a cheeky bitch and refused to show me where it was during a coffee break, ever. I tossed some variables around and asked “Is it that place attached to the seminary?” Turns out it was. Officially called “Food for Thought,” Garret Seminary school has renewed my faith in eating on campus.

Food for Thought serves a simple array of hot sandwiches, grill food, soup, salad and, god bless, Intelligensia coffee. Contrary to my cynical first thoughts, Food for Thought does not try to indoctrinate you before giving you your sandwich nor does it employ a bunch of born-again ex-cons who will wish you a “blessed day.” It’s a very secular little cafe that Garret managed to contract outside the nefarious domain of Norris Catering. The food is made fresh daily and on-site, which is evident not only by the presence of a large kitchen, but also by the way the food tastes. There were flavors and textures – roasted red pepper, recognizable chicken and beef, provolone, black beans, onions – instead of the usual salty monochrome signifying “food.” Instead of the odd empty feeling typical after a Norris meal, I actually felt revived. The cooks wear latex gloves, which they change between cleaning and cooking, and are surprisingly pleasant. The eating area’s atmosphere is sunny (so nice when your office has no windows), clean, and spacious. I ate among the murmurs of students happily debating religion, philosophy, and their parents’ concerns about choosing a spiritual life over law school. Most importantly, I did not deposit the $7 I spent on lunch into the toilet or ruin another bathroom trashcan later that night.

Hallelujah!

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