An analysis of the best comfort food amidst a year of chaos and inconsistency

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Students talk about Tropical Smoothie Cafe, Bliss & Vinegar, burgers, Culver’s, Starbucks, and Chick-fil-A.

I’ve found an unconventional sort of home among the aisles of D&W Fresh Market—especially the version of them with makeshift tape arrows that I shamefully ignore—because my need for the comfort these aisles give me has increased exponentially over the past year. 

It’s the little things that guided me through 2020, like those D&W trips. Partially because retail therapy is my toxic habit and partially because going out for food was really my only excuse to go out. 

I assumed it wasn’t just me who gravitated towards a certain comfort food—or comfort trip—like this, and I decided to indulge myself in answering that question. I discovered I was right, and while a favorite place for food looked a little different for everybody, comfort and safety in the midst of unrest and chaos, whether this year or anytime life has become complicated, was the main theme. 

Emily Smith: the simple luxury of Tropical Smoothie Café

A bad day needs a silver lining, and for junior Emily Smith, that silver lining lends itself to Tropical Smoothie Café. It’s expensive, too expensive to be a regular practice, so Emily really only goes when she needs a boost: a Bahama Mama smoothie, and if she hasn’t had dinner, a Buffalo Chicken Wrap. 

But it’s not just the food, it’s the effect of the whole experience.

“I usually go through the drive-through if it’s not too busy,” Emily explained. “It’s [almost] always busy there; usually I go at night, so it’s not too bad. I know it’s weird, but I really like driving on 28th Street; I think it’s so calming. Sitting [in the line] and listening to music really calms me down, especially when I’m alone in the car.”

At least once or twice a month since getting her license, Emily embarks on mini ventures to TSC. Sometimes she’ll make a Target run first; sometimes she’ll drink her smoothie in the car; sometimes she’ll find another empty parking lot and enjoy a moment of quiet. 

And often, these TSC trips are a rare moment of alone time for her.

“I’m extroverted,” Emily said. “It’s kind of rare to have that [alone time] because I’m usually very outgoing, usually hanging out with all my family members or any of my friends. So it’s kind of weird to have that alone time, but I like it, too.”

With the effect of that alone time playing into it, going to TSC is a semblance of catharsis for Emily. Whether she’s grappling with an unsatisfactory grade or problems within her family and friend group, TSC is a soothing balm, perhaps of the tropical scented sort.

“It’s a luxury, I guess,” Emily said. “It’s like a self-care thing. When you’re having a bad day, you [might] want to go out to eat in a nice restaurant. That’s kind of how I am with [Tropical Smoothie].”

Jack Fitzgibbon: never not in the mood for a burger

As president of FHC’s Burger Club, senior Jack Fitzgibbon can name the burger for the moment. Sometimes it’s just a burger to quell his hunger, sometimes it’s a welcome antidote to the aftermath of a not-so-great day. And as he’s discovered through his hours of burger taste-testing with the Burger Club, Sundance Grill boasts the best option. 

Considering that and their new menu, he thinks a burger craving would send him to Sundance, or perhaps NOCO Provisions with their penchant for putting an egg on their burgers. And even if the Burger Club isn’t there to accompany him, Jack doesn’t mind sitting inside to partake in the full experience. 

“Even if I’m by myself, sometimes I’ll still go inside,” Jack said, “and just dine-in by myself and enjoy people watching and enjoy the atmosphere inside the restaurant.”

Of course, recent pandemic restrictions have affected Jack’s ability to do so and his ability to meet with the Burger Club, but he’s still found ways to let a burger brighten his day, and it always does. Especially now, with his avenues to leave his house severely limited, getting out for something as nominal as a burger can be what it takes to lift Jack’s spirits. 

“When we still had hockey but didn’t have school, that kind of filled in for [school’s social interaction],” Jack said, “and now, since I work, that fills in for it all. But when quarantine first started, there were some days when I went on a ton of hikes. I’d just go for walks because I was just sick of being inside, [and] I think there were a couple of times when restaurants were still open [that] I’d go get a burger.”

As someone who significantly benefits from the social interaction school gives him, Jack has been one of the many who are eager for quarantine restrictions to be lifted. But nonetheless, he hasn’t let the stay-at-home orders keep him down; he keeps his spirits lifted with the little things in life like a burger or something else that can help put life in perspective.

“The hockey season got canceled, and at first I was upset about that,” Jack said. “And then I decided pouting wasn’t going to do much about it. And I’d say there have been points throughout senior year where I’ve been like, ‘This just sucks that it’s not a normal senior year.’ But I mean, I’ve tried to just kind of stay positive.”

While burgers are certainly one of the contributors to Jack’s happy philosophy, they are one of many; what stands as most important is the positive mentality that Jack applies to life, rendering those bad days as minor dull points in the grand scheme of things. 

So with everything that life has tossed his direction within the last year, Jack is especially cognizant of the motto he assigned to the Burger Club, applying it to life on the whole: “FHC’s Burger Club: eating the world’s problems away, one burger at a time.”

Abby Drueke: finding community within Chick-fil-A trips

Junior Abby Drueke is likely one of a mere few who can honestly claim that Chick-fil-A was the vessel for the renewal of one of her friendships. 

“My friend [and I] were in this huge fight,” Abby explained, “and we didn’t talk for, like, two weeks, and it was my birthday. She and my other best friend—the three of us are just great friends—came to my house with Chick-fil-A on my birthday, and they surprised me. And then we were friends again. Chick-fil-A solved everything.” 

While the mending of her friendship could be attributed to a bit more than Chick-fil-A, Abby can tell countless stories of the fond memories she associates with the franchise that claims a monopoly on chicken. 

From joy rides in shopping carts after football games to a reward for any amount of work at dance practice, Abby denotes Chick-fil-A as a catalyst for classic teen moments, complete with occasional awkwardness. 

“My friends [and I], we always park there and just eat and listen to music,” Abby said. “Which is kind of awkward because everyone else is too, so you’re just looking into everyone else’s cars if they’re parked across from you.”

But on the other hand, the human interactions at Chick-fil-A are always memorable. Abby proudly applauds Chick-fil-A’s exemplary customer service and the lengths they’ll go to in fulfilling their goal of efficiently bringing their long line of customers food. 

Abby’s affection for Chick-fil-A can be attributed to this notable customer service, their consistency, and their versatility in pleasing the picky taste buds of her friend group. They’re easily the place she’ll choose if she’s “having a bad day and wants something yummy.”

This fact became particularly apparent to her when the COVID-19 pandemic started to become a prevalent concern. Through trips to Chick-fil-A, Abby watched her relationship with her brother grow stronger.

“Over quarantine, [my brother and I] got a lot closer because we always got food together,” Abby said, “and [Chick-fil-A] was just a place that he and [I] really liked. At first, we would just sit in silence and eat, but we definitely developed a closer relationship through us doing things together. No one saw anyone for so long, and he was the only teenager I had [close] to me for a while.” 

Over quarantine, Abby also learned the ease of Chick-fil-A’s app and developed a liking for their fun cow-patterned masks. On the whole, Chick-fil-A’s true colors have never disappointed her, and through every bump in the road, she’s known where to turn for a smile and a spicy chicken sandwich, or even some grilled nuggets and buffalo sauce. 

Honorable mentions include:

Reed Dixon, who, over quarantine, regularly visited Starbucks with his sister, searching for some fresh air, sunshine, and a break from the monotony of Zoom classes. 

Go-to order: a venti iced coffee and, occasionally, banana bread or a vanilla cake pop

Abby Satterthwaite, who has become known among her friends as a regular patron of Culver’s, opting to post about it on her Snapchat story every time she visits, and can recall loving memories of the times she went with her family.

Go-to order: a Kids’ Meal with a burger, add bacon, and for her free ice cream (the reason for the Kids’ Meal), chocolate with Reese’s

Eden Growney, who loves local restaurants, specifically Bliss & Vinegar with its eco-friendly mentality, variety of homemade dressings, and brightening effect on her day. 

Go-to order: a build-your-own salad that she switches up every time but usually includes chicken, cheese, or croutons. Her favorite dressings tend to be their Balsamic Vinaigrette or unique Ranch Dressing.