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The Oaks Gourmet Market

My house in college was a f*cking mess. No mess was too big (to completely ignore) and no chore to small (for it to be skipped). I had no regard for how my lifestyle might hinder my chances at landing a girlfriend, or even just a casual acquaintance until she leaves for study abroad. There really was no need, if we’re being honest. Because I had the silver bullet. The one thing that made sure every girl who came into my room knew I was a sophisticated, educated gentleman: a copy of the Quran.

“Wait, Mike, are you a Muslim?” they’d ask. “No, no, I’m just interested in learning a bit more about it and understanding the culture.” And like that, I’m in. It was never about the functionality. It was about the signal. That Quran told everyone that I was curious about the world, and willing to learn about things that were not a part of my everyday life. And at an expensive, liberal-leaning state school, that sh*t is VERY cool. The fact that I ended up reading a grand total of about 3 pages of it over the course of college was never important. Signals are important.

The restaurant industry has their fair share of functionless signals too (unfortunately, putting that piece of meat onto a wooden board does not automatically make your menu “rustic”), but there’s one that seems to actually hold to its message: artisan grocery stores in the restaurant space. I can’t explain it. I’d love nothing more than to dismiss it as a gimmick (and plan to do so the exact second I find a counterexample). But as it stands, each of these places serves up simple, flavorful dishes that uses quality ingredients and allows them to shine.

Yes, I’m aware that allowing patrons to buy specialty groceries in the store does not necessarily mean that the dishes they serve will use them, much less use them properly. Yet the food at Oaks Gourmet does just that, and at a lower price than many of its competitors. Perfect for a lunch date, or just some people watching while you eat a sandwich alone, there aren’t many better mid-day options than this.

Food Rundown

The Dry Aged Burger

One of the best in town. This has just enough intrigue to keep you interested (like the jalapēno and pineapple compote), but not enough to overshadow the quality of the ingredients. If I’m looking for a $20 burger, I go here and pay $12.

The Oaks Grilled Cheese

It’s hard to screw up a grilled cheese, but it’s equally hard to dress one up. This has a great mix of fontina and cheddar, with hints of some creamy camembert for a little extra depth. But the star here is the cranberry-walnut bread, adding in some texture and bursts of sweetness that make this thing sing.

Chicken Tortilla Verde Soup

While I generally prefer a tortilla soup to have distinct ingredients (can I get a little corn?) versus the pureed versions, I can’t fault this one. It’s thick, rich, and green, which in the food world means its healthy.

Spicy Sausage Sandwich

There’s an art to constructing a sandwich on a hard baguette, given that the looser ingredients will inevitably end up on the inner edge, while the big stuff will squirt out the open side. While a minor quibble in most cases, it truly affected this sandwich, never allowing for an easy bite with all the ingredients at once. And unfortunately, once I forced the issue, the mix of the Italian and Greek flavors turned out just a little weird. All that work for nothing.

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