Blonde: Missing my McNuggets

I’m from suburban South Florida, where like in most suburban areas, I grew up eating at places like Olive Garden and TGI Friday’s. It’s your birthday? Red Lobster. You’re getting together with your ex-boyfriend? Cold Stone. You’re going out on a date? Chili’s. When my family is road tripping and looking for a place to stay the night, we don’t look for new, trendy things; we see an exit with a Steak-n-Shake and start yelling “Nirvana!” These are the cities that make us feel comfortable, at home.

When I realized I was coming to Yale and had to leave my really posh ’98 Ford Taurus dubbed “Hot Wheels” at home, I already felt trapped. Over and over I heard that I had nothing to be nervous about. After all, Yale was a wonderful place, so rich with everything from food to culture to shopping that I would never want to leave. And after two and a half years and a summer spent in New Haven, I’m happy to say that much of this is true. The city does have a number of wonderful museums and I’ve enjoyed most meals that I’ve had at New Haven restaurants. However, the consumer market in all respects, but especially when it comes to food, is extremely limited in a way that has bothered me since my arrival freshman year.

I calmed myself down from my car panic by assuring myself that like the schools I had visited in Florida, surely Yale’s campus would be home to a number of fast food and sit-down chain restaurants in addition to its array of coffee and boutique sandwich shops. I’d imagine myself getting homesick and crawling up in a booth at Wendy’s to do my work. Ridiculous, I know. But I guess among all the things I knew would change, I didn’t think that the places I ate at, the places I’d go on dates on, would change, even in an urban setting.

That said, when I came to Yale and found none of these familiar places at my disposal (WHERE MY CHAINZ AT??), I became an expert on New Haven bus routes. Whenever I felt like I didn’t belong, like I needed to be with something I knew, I’d take the bus to Milford and shop around Target and pick up Johnny Rocket’s at the mall. And even now, when I go out with my boyfriend, I’d much rather eat at Wendy’s in my Zipcar in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart than go to the Union League. Call me trashy and unsophisticated, but for one, I think it tastes better, and I also find processed food to be so wonderfully natural to me.

While I understand that the Yale campus works to maintain its quaint, sophisticated college-town vibe, an $8 smoked turkey sandwich with orange-cranberry chutney (I’m talking to you, Book Trader) is unnatural, kind of gross in my (humble) opinion, and catering to a population that isn’t representative of the entire campus (or at least me). I’m not saying they have to start grilling hotdogs, but can’t we just get a turkey and cheese sandwich? The dining hall makes enough weird shit to keep us occupied. Sometimes I just want an inorganic, not-grass-fed burger from Wendy’s.

I’m not suggesting that Yale start soliciting business from every chain in America, and I understand the appeal of a campus of coffee shops and expensive tapas restaurants. It’s pretty, it’s trendy, and to some extent — let’s be honest here — it keeps the neighborhood predominantly Yalie. But what it doesn’t do is appeal to everyone that comes to Yale. Not everyone that goes to Yale grew up going to chic cafes and not everyone wants to. I feel like if I want to have a casual meeting with someone or get a quick snack, I should be able to get fries and a Coke, not just a scone and tea.

When you think about it, the places and things that you eat become defining parts of your lifestyle over the years. If it means something to you like it does to me, you shouldn’t be forced to alter your habits for a simple lack of variety and transportation. If you are what you eat, I want to be Chili’s Chicken Crispers.

Comments

  • bfa13

    Erica, thank you for this piece that speaks for middle class Yalies. Bring us our Chipotle damn it!

  • Opinionated

    Dear Erica,

    Not to rub it in, but you wudda loved Yale forty years ago. My freshman bedroom window was right above the exhaust fan from the Silliman Butt. It was in the basement, down next to the Master’s House.

    Yes, they cooked grease-burgers. LOTS of grease-burgers. As a bonus, it had a pinball machine (prehistoric electro-mechanical precursor of video games, for you current undergrads). Sometime that fall, ‘Sweehearts’ – that was her name; said so, right on ‘er – was, ahem, ‘liberated’. She ding-dinged 24/7 after that, until she died. I know. I was trying to sleep thirty feet away…

    Jimmie’s of West Haven was just down the road. Gravel parking lot; outside walls made of home garage doors – open in summer. Jimmie’s specialty? Fried clams… grease fries. Uuuummmm!

    Then on to grad school at Georgia Tech. The Varsity (world’s largest drive-in) is (still) right across the Interstate, next to campus.

    Chili dogs. O-rings. Nirvana. You might check it out for grad school, if you’re of a technical bent and looking for a good tech trade school (a.k.a. “North Avenue Trade School”). And, yes, they have some of the standard fast-food chains in the Student Center, offering that well-lubricated culinary experience.

    Yep. We had it good. Sorry for you youngsters, though.

    Good luck to y’all in your search for good grease!

  • babby23

    Erica,

    While I appreciate your sentiment regarding this matter, I think that your article is both misguided and surprisingly unresearched. Have you really been living in New Haven for two and a half years and not noticed the wonderful eateries (yes, chain eateries) at your disposal? It seems that you have not wanted to step outside your claustrophobic self-constructed bubble, and open your eyes to the possibilites that surround you.

    A. Burger King – Whalley ave right next to the Shaw supermarket. Now, granted, it is not one of those dual fast food places where they split a Long John Silvers and Taco Bell in one building, but nonetheless, an accessible Burger King it is.
    B. Poppyeye’s – On Whalley and serves perhaps the best fried food in the area, and also stays open with a walk-up window to all hours of the night. Also, I am pretty sure I have bartered some of the contents of my purse for fries and a drink when I was in a desparate situation (may also need to throw in a phone number to make this work).
    C. Quiznos – This is right at Church and Chapel if I remember correctly. What is better than a toasty sandwhich, drinks and chips for under $8.

    That’s not to mention some of the best cheap places to get food in town that aren’t chains – like Est Est Est and Alpha Delta – that would certainly fill the void that you speak of. I have been out of the New Haven food game for about 3 years now and am certainly forgetting some of the chains I frequented, but you should do a little more research and realize how many great places are at your fingertips.

  • cyalie

    I agree 100%. Not that I would eat at these places all the time, but they are really comforting and remind me of home. I am a regular at Subway on Church, and have become buddies with all of the employees… I often take the bus to the CT post mall to go to Target/Dairy Queen/Panera Bread. At home I pretty much live in Chipotle, In-n-out Burger, Panda Express… my high school job was at a popular ice cream chain… my family always goes to Chilis or Chevys to celebrate.

    New Haven has so much open retail space… it would be great to see some old favorites, and they would surely cater to crowds who are not just Yalies. Especially with the new community college being built on Crown and Church! Those are people who, like me, surely do not want $13 chutney paninis all of the time.

  • Goldie08

    Panda Express, Jack in the Box…SoCal has the best fast food in the country. I’m not a big chaion restaurant or fast food person, but as a lower middle class suburbanite, I identify with the underlying sentiment of this article. Sometimes, we forget that not everyone at Yale is from westchester county.

  • dfsdfs

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. i’m a sophomore now and this is exactly how i feel about yale. the fast food chains, the going shopping at target or going to the mall–i sympathize with absolutely ALL of it. it’s the lack of stuff like that which really catches you off guard once you’re here/ over-priced food that isn’t even really good… god i feel your pain :( thanks for writing this article!

  • Yale12

    PREACH! Food here is wayyyy too expensive! I can’t eat out for less than $10. Nuts.

  • Jaymin

    TACO BELL!!!!!!