College Touring in Twelve Bites

By: Bonnie Klein

Though our kid’s high school days are long in the rearview mirror, Liora and I have been out on the road touring colleges this past year as co-founders of Daytripper University. From surprise finds like The Corner Restaurant in small town Tivoli, NY near Bard to inventive Chinese at Tao Yuan after touring Bowdoin, we’ve eaten very well on our travels. So forget eating chicken wings and pizza for days, food near college campuses has improved dramatically over the years.  Here are some of the best things we ate on the tour. 

 
 
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Bialy Sandwich at Gjusta (UCLA)

From the first moment we walked into Gjusta we were smitten—the chic industrial space in Venice, the picture perfect food displayed behind glass cases, the bakers at work. (Gjusta, a bakery/café/gourmet take away, is the younger and more casual sibling of one of my favorite restaurants in LA-- Gjelina.) Sitting on the back patio early morning before the crowds, devouring a bialy loaded with a fried egg, Gruyere, arugula, harissa, and a merguez sausage patty was pretty perfect, and this is coming from someone who usually eats acai bowls for breakfast. Any time of day you can’t go wrong: from turmeric lattes to smoked fish platters to chicken parm, this is an ideal all-day spot.

 
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Collard Green Melt at Turkey and the Wolf (Tulane)

Turkey and the Wolf is the sandwich shop that Bon Appetit named the best restaurant of the year in 2017, so we knew we had to fit it in during our visit. The décor is kitschy yard sale cute, and it’s on an isolated stretch of Jackson Street just south of the lower garden district, but once you go, you’ll be a fan too. Known for their fried bologna sandwich with hot English mustard and potato chips don’t miss the collard green melt, stacked with slow-cooked greens, slaw, swiss cheese, and a pickled cherry peppers spicy dressing on rye bread--it’s a winning and addictive combination. Trust us, and get extra napkins—you’ll need them.

 
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Fatteh at Oleana (Tufts, Harvard, BU, Northeastern)

Chef Ana Sortun has quite the reputation in Boston and we’ve been dreaming of going to Oleana, her Cambridge spot, for years. The space is small and cozy, the food is inspired by the Eastern Mediterranean, and you can make a whole evening out of the mezzes meant for sharing. While everything was delicious, the standout dish of the night was the Fatteh, a toasted flatbread pita layered with caramelized onion, cauliflower, crispy mushrooms, pine nuts, and yogurt—so many flavors and textures, merging into one perfect bite. Yes, we ordered another one after it was gone way too fast.

 

 
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Avocado Lettuce Cup at ABC V (NYU)

Sounds simple—some slices of avocado in a lettuce cup with toasted cumin, serrano and lime, and I think there were some pepitas thrown in as well. Ahhh, but it’s all the dressing –a spicy, citrusy explosion—everyone at our lunch at ABC V agreed. There were lots of oohs and ahhs. But what else do you expect from Jean Georges latest venture at ABC Carpet and Home, a pretty new plant-based, seasonal, sustainable restaurant that makes eating healthy easy. I’ve enjoyed dosa’s, chia bowls, and poached eggs with mushrooms at breakfast; the whole roasted cauliflower, beluga lentils, and market vegetable chopped salad at lunch. But it’s the avocado cup that takes the cake.

 
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Meatballs at Jon and Vinnys (USC or UCLA)

Jon and Vinny's serves excellent pasta and delicious pizzas in the heart of West Hollywood, forget your diet for the night and dig in. We were a hungry group, sharing some veggie-centric salads, the signature “LA Woman” pie, rigatoni cacio e pepe, and spicy fusilli before moving on to two orders of the meatballs. Served with garlic bread and a side of ricotta, it was the star of the night, even for a table of non-meatball fans.

 
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Small Plates at Giant in Chicago (Northwestern ,UChicago)

After a few days eating our way around Chicago’s excellent restaurants, it’s no small statement to say we had our best meal of the trip at tiny Giant. Sure, if you’re staying downtown, it’s a little out of the way on the edge of Logan Square. But that’s not hurting business as the narrow space is perennially packed thanks to fried uni shooters, homemade biscuits with jalapeno butter, crab salad with waffle fries, drool-worthy pasta, and pecan-smoked baby back ribs. Come hungry and order as many small plates as your tablemates will allow. (If you wind up waiting as we did--our table was lingering and who can blame them--head to corner lounge Scofflaw for an artisan cocktail.) Everything was off the charts: it’s impossible to pick a favorite dish.

 
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Mashed Potato Pizza at BAR New Haven (Yale, Quinnipiac)

We went to Frank Pepe, we went to Sally’s Apizza, and we went to Modern Apizza …but it was the mashed potato pie that had us swooning at BAR. Not quite as much of a staple as New Haven’s white clam pizza, this potato pie has become something of a quiet legend around town. At BAR, you pick the base of your pie and add the toppings. And be sure to order it right—a white pie with mozzarella, garlic and crispy bacon for the full effect, the way it’s meant to be eaten. Does mashed potato on a pizza sounds weird? We thought so too, but then again so did white clams on a pizza at one time. Sound heavy? Surprisingly, thanks to a thin crust and a light layering of potatoes, it’s not going to put you to sleep for the day. Yes, mashed potatoes on a pizza—doubters dig in, you will be thinking of this one for days.

 
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The Matador at Saison (University of Richmond)

Can we talk about how welcome a stellar cocktail is after a long day touring. The mood and vibe might read casual at Saison in Richmond, Virginia, but this corner laid back tiny spot (just ten tables) serves reimagined southern food with a chef’s expert touch. The seasonal Matador was our favorite cocktail of the year, a sweet, sour, smoky combination of Mezcal, Cocchi Torino, Cherry Heering, Lime, Passionfruit, and Hellfire Bitters. We left with the recipe, bought some bitters at their market shop next door with plans to create it at home—all summer long! 

 
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Ricotta Dumplings at Estela (NYU)

The small second-floor space on a quiet stretch of Houston Street is home to one of the world’s top 50 restaurants this year—Estela.  Some rave about the beef tartare with sunchokes as some of the best in the world, and the burrata, Arroz negro and lamb ribs have their fans as well. But to me, there’s nothing that compares to Estela’s ricotta dumplings. Like much of Ignacio Mattos’ food, it doesn’t look like much, but once you bite into the light-as-air dumplings, which sit under shaved mushrooms in a subtle mushroom broth, all conversation at the table pauses. Well, it actually stops. Savor a glass of wine from co-owner and wine director Thomas Carter’s well-curated list. 

 
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BBQ at Franklin Barbecue (UT Austin)

If you can brave the wait—and to some, that’s half the fun, just ask the UT frat boys playing cards in front of us—the reward is some of the best BBQ in the state and maybe the country. The line often starts forming well before 8 am, till the doors open at 11. Franklin’s stays open till everything sells out, and with friends picking up orders for those at home, it sells out quickly! (usually by early afternoon around 1 or 2) Anthony Bourdain may have claimed it's the best brisket he ever had, but don’t skip the excellent smoked turkey and sausage too –then throw in some ribs, add some vinegar slaw and some pinto beans--don’t hold back. After all, you’ve been waiting for hours.  

 
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Hot Chicken at Hattie B’s (Vanderbilt)

Touring is exhausting, and sometimes you are too tired for a full-blown meal (but never too tired to eat). Mention to friends you’re headed to Nashville and pretty soon you’ll hear you must go to Hattie B’s for insanely good hot chicken. Be warned that when they say hot, they mean hot, so order cautiously your first time. Brave souls may consider ordering the “damn hot” or “shut the cluck up,” but locals who like spice warned us, and the most we dared was “hot.” Insider tip: avoid the constant long lines by calling in your order in advance. Then you can go straight to the pickup line when you arrive, and still eat in the small screened in porch area.

 
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Chaat at Lantern (UNC)

When chef/co-owner Andrea Reusing opened her farm-to-table Chapel Hill restaurant Lantern, it got a lot of press for its fusion of Asian-inspired recipes with Southern ingredients, much of it locally sourced. Long a hot spot in town, if you can’t secure a reservation don’t worry: Lantern has a very cool, hidden bar in the back that serves the same menu alongside killer cocktails. The tea-smoked chicken might be the restaurants signature dish, but it’s the chaat appetizer that had us swaying: an Indian-influenced blend of roasted carrots, crispy black lentils, cauliflower, basil, pickled red onions, cashews, and mint chutney.