On the (caloric) road again
Last April, with my friend and Day colleague Pete Huoppi, I made a day trip to Massachusetts for a story we were working on about the sovereignty of a theretofore nebulous recipe for “New London-style pizza.” It involved us eating slices at restaurants in Acton and then Concord, both of which claimed to serve authentic New London-style pizza.
After we had done so, we headed back. Spying an Arby’s in Auburn, Mass., though, I wheeled off the highway and skidded into the parking lot.
“We just ate. Twice,” Huoppi said, helpfully.
“Yes, but who knows when I’ll be near an Arby’s again? And that makes me sad.” I went inside and bought and happily inhaled a regular roast beef sandwich with Swiss cheese and extra horsey sauce.
I share this perhaps disturbing anecdote because I love fast food and — significantly — because southeastern Connecticut is an area distressingly bereft in fast food variety. There IS no Arby’s here.
Instead, we have choices like Burger King, Taco Bell, Five Guys, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Subway, KFC, Popeyes and DQ, and while that might SEEM like a lot of options … no. Not in the vast and wondrous galaxy of fast food.
If fast food restaurants were fine art — and, indeed, some of them approach it — then McDonalds and Burger King and the ones locally available are typically the equivalent of a souvenir stand selling Bob Ross prints on a corner across the street from The Rijksmuseum.
(And I say that as a proud owner of 16 different Bob Ross original canvases including “Cheeseburger with No Pickles,” “Burrito in the Snow,” “Girl With Pearl Earring Eating Combo Meal” and “Fry Cook Descending a Staircase.”)
Why is it like this? It’s as though there’s some invisible, Stephen King-y barrier that prohibits adventurous fastfood chains from expanding their empires into our part of the world. For the record, the Auburn, Mass., Arby’s is 60 miles away from New London. The nearest Connecticut Arby’s restaurants are 56 miles away in Newington and 54 miles away in North Haven. Sucko.
Now, it’s true that a Popeyes opened in a truck stop in Branford a few years before we had a location in New London — some 40 miles — and more than once I made that commute because, well, I NEEDED to.
And while I’m not going to make these voyages with any regularity, it’s good to know an Arby’s is within an hour — and ditto for a Sonic 48 miles distant in Manchester. These are not insurmountable challenges.
But what about the truly GREAT fast-food restaurants — the Caspar David Freidrichs and Frida Kahlos of drive-thru sustenance? Whataburger. Hardee’s. Zaxby’s. Jack in the Box. Steak ‘n Shake. Wingstop. In-N-Out Burger. White Castle. Torchy’s Tacos. Krystal. Raising Cane’s…
Could I embark on more “road trips”? Sure! But this ain’t hop/skip/jump-type excursions.
The closest Whataburger is 989 miles (Lebanon, Tenn.). There’s a White Castle in Centereach, Long Island (61 miles — but only as the crow flies). There’s a Torchy’s Tacos 464 miles away in Charlottsville, NC. And it’s only 376 miles to Chantilly, VA. and the closest Zaxby’s.
Well, it must be done. I’m filling the tank right now. Headed 236 miles west to Factoryville, Pa., and the closest Steak ‘n Shake!
Can I bring you anything?
What’s your favorite fast-food franchise that’s NOT near us? And how far would you drive to eat there? Email your answers at email@example.com and we’ll print a representative sampling.