Happiness is a Buttered Biscuit

Last month, I ventured to my favorite restaurant in the greater Norton area for a little St. Patrick’s Day brunch. I’m going to withhold from mentioning their name for two reasons: One, it’s hard enough to get a table at 10:30 on a Sunday without the sweaty, hungry hordes of Wheaton College students swarming the place, and two, I just don’t want to see you people there while I’m enjoying my breakfast. I just want a life of peace, and the general populous of Wheaton College has an incredible talent for preventing that.

If you want to find this place, I urge you to get out of your dorm and explore. Drive if you can, walk if you must, and if all else fails, steal a car and live life in the fast lane.

This restaurant, which we’ll call Paradise, is, hands-down, the best restaurant in the area. Tucked away at the end of an unassuming strip of shops, Paradise feels like you’re entering a completely different world, a home away from home. Even on the busiest of mornings, the atmosphere is warm and comfortable. Local art populates the walls, all for sale with new pieces rotating through. It’s clear a great deal of time was spent picking out the silverware and the dishes, with light blue swirled ceramic plates and dark red mugs that feel like they were pulled out of your aunt’s cabinet (in the best way possible). And the food? Forget about it. I’ve eaten at every restaurant in the area, a product of both my curiosity and boredom over the past four years, and this is the best spot around. I’ve eaten at Paradise upwards of fifteen times, always getting something different, and I’ve yet to have
a meal that was anything less than stellar. Never before in this Pilgrimass state have I had food filled with such flavor and made with such love that I’ve been compelled to write about it and recommend it to everyone I know (Except y’all). This brings us back to St. Patrick’s Day.

When I pulled into the parking lot outside Paradise, I was delighted to see that they had two specials, one of which was Birria Biscuits and White Cheddar Gravy. Now, I’m a simple man, and sure as God made green apples, I’ll order some Biscuits and Gravy. They’re the best breakfast food. Sorry. Bacon and Eggs? Get a personality. Pancakes? Grow up. Bagels? Unless they were boiled in some New York City sewer sludge, I don’t want that anywhere near my morning. But Biscuits and Gravy? Warm, fluffy, buttery biscuits covered in rich, creamy, homemade sausage gravy? I’ll worship at that altar any day of the week.

“No country for Veg men” collage.
“No country for Veg men” collage.
Photo courtesy of Carlos Schongut

I immediately ordered the Biscuits and Gravy. I didn’t even bother to look at the menu, which features the stunning Breakfast Burrito, a killer plate of Chilaquiles, and hands-down the best Cubano I’ve ever had.

I mean, what kind of crazy person puts pineapple on a Cubano? Let me tell you folks, it’s life-changing. I could write endlessly about the wonders of Paradise’s menu, but I’m trying to arrive at a larger point here.

The Biscuits and Gravy were, and I mean this, transcendent. Delicate, fluffy homemade biscuits smothered in rich, cheesy gravy, piled high with slow-roasted birria pork and a scattershot of cilantro and onion on top. They’re the best Biscuits and Gravy I have ever had. When I cut into them, I was floored to discover that they had cut the biscuits open and buttered them before putting the gravy on top. Are you fucking kidding me? Do you know how much love and respect goes into a step like that? In a restaurant setting, every second counts, so the fact that the chef took the time to make the meal that much more enjoyable shows that a tremendous amount of love was put into making that food. I’m not ashamed to admit that I teared up as I was eating it. It simply dawned on me that I didn’t know the last time I had eaten a meal made with such love. I haven’t been home in months so I can’t say I’ve had one of my mother’s tremendous home-cooked meals, and most of the home-cooked meals I’ve eaten recently have been made by me, and it’s impossible to taste the love in your own cooking.

I don’t exactly believe in all that “love language” nonsense, but if my love had a language,
it would have a lot to do with food. I feel as though my time spent watching my mother cook dinner has taught me the value and importance of a homecooked meal, and that a meal doesn’t have to be intricate and extravagant to be made with love. Something as simple as a grilled cheese sandwich has the ability to satisfy all your earthly and spiritual needs if it’s made with love. And, believe me, you can taste the love in food. Anyone who says otherwise has not had a good meal in a while, and I urge you to find one as soon as possible. Honestly, I can’t blame people who have forgotten how wonderful food can be. Living in Norton, where the only options for dinner are often either Chase or fast food, it’s hard to remember that food is meant to nourish us, not just fuel us.

Fast food joints especially are responsible for this mindset shift. Cheap ingredients, awful conditions, preservatives and additives galore, and processed foods are all combined to make something that barely resembles real food. This is, of course, not

surprising. The very nature of fast food is that it’s quick and, ideally, cheap. Anyone who has labored over anything for someone they love will tell you that the words “quick and cheap” do not exist in those recipes. The problem is that these fast food chains are often the only options in small towns, and even if local wonders like Paradise exist, they’re often closed long before people end their work day and are looking for something to eat.

Food from real restaurants, from cheap mom-and-pop shops to swanky high-end establishments, is made with purpose and respect for the consumer. When you buy a sandwich from a restaurant,
you can almost always be sure of what you’re eating, of what you are exposing your body and mind to. Of course, you won’t be as sure as you would be if you made the meal yourself, but it’s unreasonable to assume that everyone has the time and money to cook food for themselves every night. This is where fast food steps in, providing people with an irresistibly easy option that is sure to satisfy their pleasure centers. Due to the very nature of their existence, the underpaid teenager making your Filet-o-Fish (which is gas, btw) is not making it with love, and no one is expecting them to. And the food they’re serving you is aloof and shrouded in mystery. As Dissent Columnist Arun Gupta puts it, “A McDonald’s burger can range over the planet, with meat from more than 100 different cattle reared in Brazil, Poland, Canada, and Australia compressed into a single patty.” The food delivery systems created by these awful empires of grub and gruel have traded love for efficiency and have convinced us, much like a sketchy drug dealer you meet your freshman year, to put something in your body without knowing exactly what it is.

Speaking of awful empires of grub and gruel, let’s talk about the dining at Wheaton. Not that the wonderful staff of Wheaton’s dining halls do not try to make a nice meal for us each and every day, because God knows they work hard to feed us to our fullest. It’s hard to make good, enriching food for 1,500 kids every day, and speaking as someone who makes the baked goods for Chase twice a week (with The Wheaton Wire puzzlemaster Lily Maguire), it’s hard to find the enthusiasm to make some- thing fun and exciting every- day. Oftentimes, the easiest and most cost-effective option is not going to be the most satisfying or exciting, and that’s just a reality of producing food for over a thousand people every single day. To quote Elsie Carson ‘24, it’s “possible to find nourishment but doesn’t facilitate it. You can’t make mass amounts of food with care.”

People love to complain about the food here at Wheaton, which is understandable. People are, by-and-large, picky eaters. It’s
a hard thing to reckon with, and people often don’t want to admit to themselves that they are, in fact, fussy when it comes to what they eat. Students walk into Chase and expect something akin to a home-cooked meal for three meals a day, seven days a week, and that’s just never going to happen. The Wheaton College dining staff works their damndest to make sure that everyone is fed and at least moderately happy with what they’re given, and most people are too busy complaining about the food to acknowledge that. The undeniable truth of the matter is that people will complain about the food no matter how good it is. You can’t please everybody. It’s impossible to make food that satisfies everyone’s cravings, dietary restrictions, and personal taste, so often, the simplistic and blandest option is the only feasible one. If you don’t like the food at Chase, fine. It’s not great. But you can do lots of things to make it better. Go to a few different stations, combine some shit, add some spices, and eat more than simply what is given to you. Unless you’re a vegan or a vegetarian, you can really make Chase a worthwhile experience if you put in a little work.

However, I don’t want to make it seem like I think the dining experience at Wheaton is flawless. I think an aspect of Wheaton’s dining plan worth complaining about is how it differentiates between what food is able to be paid for by a meal swipe versus Lyons Bucks, which hold about as much value as monopoly money the second you step off campus. It’s undeniable that the best food at Wheaton is hidden behind a Ly- ons Buck paywall, which makes sense. It’s a lot harder to make a grilled-to-order cheeseburger from Balfour than it is to shovel out 50 steamed hamburger patties at Chase, so it makes sense that Wheaton would try and make a little money from that extra work. Wheaton, like all colleges, is a business, and Ara- mark, which provides Wheaton with its food, is, to put it politely, ravenously hungry for profit. But the best businesses respect their customers, and it seems like Wheaton and Aramark have forgotten that tried-and-true business practice over the past couple of years.

Making people pay for nicer food means that you can make the food you give out for a meal swipe as cheap as possible. There’s no economic incentive to make the food at Chase better because people, especially underclassmen, are reliant upon it and are essentially forced to eat what is given to them. This problem is much more evident for people with dietary restrictions, who are often restricted
to one option. And if that option sucks? So be it. If places like Balfour and Emerson, which feature more diverse and flavorful food options, remained open for longer hours or were able to be paid for with a meal swipe, students would have more agency over what they can eat, and would probably be more satisfied. Given that we are paying for the food here, it would make sense to provide students with as many options as possible. Again, all of this is not meant

to imply that the food at Chase, or at any of the dining halls, is not made with love. The care and effort put into making the food by the staff is evident and should be noted, but it’s hard to notice when the tools and ingredients they’re given to make the food with are, to be frank, sub-par. The dining administration, like all administrations, likes to cut corners to increase profits and save money. This makes sense. All businesses like money. That’s their whole deal. But maybe we could keep the dining halls open later and provide better food to all students on all meal plans instead of spending $12,000 on lobster every year? I’m not a business major (thank god), but that seems like a better use of our money.

I urge you to be conscious of what you consume. If you don’t like Chase? Experiment. Throw some shit together and see what sticks. Put some spices in a to-go box and cook with them back at your dorm. Tell the administration what food you like and what dining halls you like and beg them to listen. And please, for your own sake, find Paradise. I’ll tell you where and what it is if you ask, but not un- til I graduate next month. Then it’s all yours.

Photo courtesy of “Paradise” Yelp reviews.

A dish from the “Paradise” restaurant.