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The Late Meal grill
Photo Credit: Zack Shevin / The Daily Princetonian

Recently, my mother asked me what I miss most from my incomplete first year as a Princeton student. I immediately wondered how she could expect me to answer such a seemingly impossible question. How could I recall seven of the best months of my life and choose only one favorite memory, person, or place? She was expectant, so I tried. 

I thought back to memories made in Room 227 of 1939 Hall — a dorm room not my own, but one that felt like home all the same, surrounded by faces I’d known since my first days as a Tiger on Community Action and new ones I’d grown to love just as much. I remembered the almost surreal feeling I had when sitting in the Rocky dining hall, secretly letting myself daydream that I had made it to Hogwarts; even though our little town in New Jersey is far from the great castle nestled in the Highlands, Princeton always managed to feel equally as magical. I recalled the late, beautiful nights I had given to 48 University Place, cherishing not a single thing more than setting up camp in my armchair by the window and watching my beloved newspaper come to life alongside the people I already know I will never forget. 

These are the answers I wanted to give, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to properly convey their importance. When remembering began to hurt just a little bit too much, I gave an answer that was true, just not entirely: I missed the California burger from late meal. 

I had watched the chef prepare it more times than I care to admit. Grill the patty, toss on a piece of cheese, fry an egg, toast two buns, and spread some avocado on one. Piece it together — carefully, though, to avoid breaking the yolk — and there you have it: one California burger, made to order Monday through Friday, fries optional. 

You might be thinking, “Caitlin, it’s a hamburger. You just explained how it’s made. Why don’t you stop your nostalgic wallowing and make one yourself?”

Allow me to explain. 

Princeton, N.J., may not be the avocado-growing capital of the world, but the fruit certainly tastes better there than it does in rural East Tennessee. I blame Princeton’s bougieness for this truth.

A bit of necessary background: if I’m going to try something for the first time, I like for it to be of quality. My first experience with avocado was, as it should have been, in California, the land for which my beloved burger is named. It was good. As I’m sure is obvious, I liked it. I went back to Tennessee and ordered an Avocado BLT from the Cheesecake Factory, the pinnacle of small town fine dining. It was not good. As I’m sure is obvious, I did not like it.

So imagine my hesitation when reading the description of the California burger on that pillar — you know the one — between the grill and the action station that makes dumplings. Avocado. In New Jersey. Not quite Tennessee, but not quite California, either.

I had somehow managed to tire of what my friends call the “Princeton-certified drug” that are the late meal chicken tenders, so I took the plunge and ordered one California burger for lunch. The rest — as I’m sure you can tell by this shameless, nearly 700-word love letter — is history.

I believe the situation I’ve described can be applied to my view of Princeton as a whole. Just about everything there was a degree above what I’d known in Appalachia. The people are made of different stuff. The dining halls are otherworldly. The newsrooms (or at least one in particular) are simply incomparable. Even the burgers are worthy of being missed over 600 miles away. 

(My mother didn’t share my enthusiasm about the California burger. She was more struck by the idea that anyone would eat egg on a hamburger.)

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