The Durham foodie scene has arrived at Duke University.
This week, Duke opened its new West Union dining facility, a project five years in the making, funded largely by an $80 million gift. The glass-fronted building at the heart of the campus features 13 dining venues, most of them operated by local chefs and restaurant owners.
This is no fast food court with dollar tacos and greasy cheeseburgers.
Duke students are treated to a wide variety of global dining options, with meals freshly cooked in front them. There’s a crepe station, a sushi bar, a chop grill, Southern delicacies, a vegan line, wood-fired pizzas, Indian food and an Asian venue with Korean, Chinese and Thai dishes.
A fine-dining restaurant occupies the top floor, with an open air balcony with views of Duke Chapel. The Devil’s Krafthouse offers craft brew to those over 21.
Increasingly lavish dining halls are nothing new in American higher education. What makes the Duke food emporium different is its emphasis on local vendors. Most universities contract their dining service to a single large company, with perhaps some national fast-food chains thrown into the mix.
Rick Johnson, associate vice president of student affairs, said the local focus was intentional.
At the Skillet Southern Cookery, students feasted on fried chicken, barbeque, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens. A chef ladled caramel sauce on bread pudding.
“It’s beneficial to Duke, it’s beneficial to Durham, it’s certainly beneficial to local entrepreneurs,” Johnson said. “The Durham reputation as a foodie town in the South definitely played into it, because Durham is attracting innovative chefs and owners. They’re doing a great job downtown and in the surrounding areas, and we wanted to tap into that.”
The place will also offer an education in food. On the second floor, a teaching kitchen with rows of cooking stations will be the site of demonstrations and cooking classes. The space will also be used for specialty “pop-up” restaurants.
“We’re getting rave reviews on the food, rave reviews on the hangout spaces and we’re just very excited to watch it in action after so many years of construction,” said Larry Moneta, vice president of student affairs.
Pooja Mehta, a senior from Cary, said West Union has so far surpassed her expectations. “I really like the diversity of offerings in one place,” she said. A dining companion teased her when she swooned over the tandoori ovens, where a chef baked fresh naan bread to go along with curries.
At the Skillet Southern Cookery, students feasted on fried chicken, barbeque, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens. A chef ladled caramel sauce on bread pudding. Across, the way at the JB’s Roast & Chops, prime rib waited to be sliced, with Bearnaise sauce at the ready. Large pans of paella beckoned.
At the creperie, students waited for Croque Monsieur melts or banana and chocolate crepes. There, Alexandra Uribe, a sophomore from Pittsburgh, stood scanning the menu, smiling and shaking her head at the options.
“I’m overwhelmed,” she said.
Nearby, students studied in living room spaces. Upstairs lounges were dotted with bright green bean bag chairs, perfect for the post-feast nap.
The new food venues in Duke University’s West Union
Chef’s Kitchen – Hands-on environment with teaching kitchen
Devil’s Krafthouse – Craft beers and pub food, operated by Andy Magowan of Durham restaurants Geer Street Garden and The Boot
Cafe – Coffee and pastries, operated by the Ghanems, the family behind Saladelia and the Mad Hatter
The Farmstead – “Farm to fork” food, run by Fares Hannah of Three Seasons Catering
Sprout – Vegetarian and vegan-friendly dishes, also run by Hannah
Ginger + Soy – Asian cuisines, stir fry and noodle bowls, operated by Don Yoo, who owns Maru in Cary and Sushinara in Durham
Gyotaku – Sushi bar, also by Yoo
Il Forno Italian Kitchen – Pasta and wood-fired pizza, run by Scott Morse of Enzo’s Pizza in Durham
Tandoor – Indian dishes, designed by PC Davis of Sitar Indian Cuisine in Durham
The Skillet Southern Cookery – Fried chicken and Southern comfort food, run by Sam Clowney and Chris Holloway of Pitchfork Provisions, and Motorco in Durham
JB’s Roast & Chops – Wood-grilled meats, also run by Clowney and Holloway
The Commons – Fine dining restaurant, by Clowney and Holloway
Au Bon Pain – National chain of baked goods and sandwiches