For diners who wistfully recall the teacher’s lounge at long-lost John C. Calhoun Junior High, the latest offering from renowned lounger Superintendent Sheldon Kornfahrt is sure to bring back fond memories. Drawing on diverse culinary traditions, including salad-left-over-from-last-night’s-school-board-meeting and the reduced-for-quick-sale aisle at Sam’s Club, the newly reimagined Thurgood Marshall Middle School Lounge is a feast for both the palate and the eyes.
Nearly unrecognizable from its former incarnation as the Robert E. Lee Middle School Break Room, Kornfahrt’s longtime design partners, EZ Kitchen & Bath Contractors, employ their signature eclectic aesthetic. Flickering fluorescent tubes and subtly sticky surfaces welcome diners with morning-after-the-rave vibes. The two tables don’t match and wobble relentlessly, but that’s the whole point. The Marshall Lounge puts the fun in funky.
Upon entering, one’s nose is hit with the unmistakable aroma of slow-brewed Yuban. Think you’ll have a second cup? Think again. The deeply stewed flavor profile of the poly-sourced beans clings to your tongue well beyond sixth period. Kornfahrt is again working with longtime partner-in-pastry William Entenmann. Famed for his pioneering work with preservatives, Entenmann’s coffee cake fairly teases diners with the unspoken question, “Is that the same box that was here last week?” Cherry cheese danish is puckishly presented, casually torn in half by the gym teacher’s possibly washed hands.
Lunch at the Marshall Lounge rewards those with adventurous palates and iron constitutions. Kornfahrt’s signature frittata is back, pairing distinctive notes of last weekend’s church fundraiser with hints of PTA donor fatigue. Like all the homemade items on the menu, it begs diners to ask, “How many times has this been reheated already?” If fresh food tends to activate your ulcer, you’ll be richly rewarded by a host of prepackaged items, perhaps the most intriguing of which is the bowl of Halloween candy on the counter above the mini fridge. Few chefs would be bold enough to offer only Mounds and Almond Joy. This culinary Sophie’s choice invites diners to question the very definition of food.
The beverage program is familiarly curated by PepsiCo. Prediabetic favorites like Dr. Pepper, Sierra Mist, and Mtn Dew are still here, but, in a nod to the district’s new wellness initiative, Brita-filtered tap water will also be offered if anyone bothers to refill the fucking carafe. While rumors persist of a secret menu of Southern Comfort and Canadian Mist stashed behind the unwashed cutting boards, this remains a strictly PG-13 drink slate thanks to the unfortunate events of the 2012 Teacher Appreciation Party.
In a refreshing nod to DEI, first-time Chef du Microwave, Bradley Donovan-Ramirez, has noticeably shaken up the nukeable options. Burritos (both breakfast and traditional), ramen, and rice bowls are sure to satisfy ethnically curious members of the faculty. But fear not, the persistent aroma of Orville Redenbacher is never far off. Donovan-Ramirez is an innovator who isn’t afraid to embrace the classics.
Inevitably, Kornfahrt’s grand ambition produces a few questionable choices. Tuesday’s crockpot turkey chili left us needing, shall we say, an extra long prep period. Frozen Sara Lee bagels on Fridays feel somehow simultaneously inclusive and distinctly anti-Semitic.
Overall, the new Thurgood Marshall Teacher’s Lounge hits far more often than it misses. The superintendent has even held space for those struggling with the school’s name change. That curry is still in the Tupperware in the back of the fridge, the toaster still doesn’t work, and the sink is still filled with someone else’s dishes, because Mr. Kornfahrt knows that some traditions are worth preserving.