Dear Santa, make it fast with the food

Photo courtesy of Jack in the Box If you want the iconic Jack in the Box antenna topper, you'll have to head to Cincinnati, Ohio, the closest franchise location to New London.

There are folks who like fast food and then there are losers.

Just kidding.

Those of you who avoid fast food are likely to live far longer than those of us who frequent such places - unless you are rich and head to a similarly early grave via fois gras and crabmeat sardou.

The point is, New England is a barren source of fast-food comfort and I have no idea why. Compared to every other area in the country, the fast food options in our part are minimal at best - and southeastern Connecticut is really hurting: McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell, Wendy's, Pizza Hut, Popeye's ? what am I missing? And there are Dairy Queens in Niantic, Groton and Pawcatuck, but they're seasonal and burger-free.

Pay attention, then, Mister Santa, and bring us some new fast food for Christmas. Here's a considered and representative wish list, with selected and important data.

WHATABURGER

Closest location: 13880 US Highway 19 South, Thomasville, Ga.

How far away is that? 1,148 miles

Must try: A triple Whataburger with cheese, jalapenos, mustard and pickles only. As one compadre said, "It'll make you go fast; it'll make you see God." Not sure what he meant - but at the same time, I get it.

CHURCH'S FRIED CHICKEN

Closest location: 705 8th Ave., New York, N.Y.

How far away is that? 90 miles

Fine recollection from the author's memory: There's a Church's Fried Chicken in El Campo, Tex. (high school mascot: the Ricebirds!), that's actually an all-you-can-eat buffet. Limitless fried chicken! How great is that?! Take an entire band in there and turn them loose. Big fun!

JACK IN THE BOX

Closest location: 5234 Ridge Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio

How far away is that? 756 miles

Just so's you know: There are many in my acquaintance who suggest the JIB Ultimate Cheeseburger is the definitive fast-food hangover cure.

STEAK 'N SHAKE

Closest location: 1695 Broadway, New York, N.Y.

How far away is that? 126 miles

Is there actually a difference between a steakburger and a hamburger? Yes. Try Steak 'n Shake and you'll know at once. If SNS can make Manhattan, it can make it to New London. (Note: If you're in the Kansas City area, a local outfit called Winstead's operates nine restaurants featuring a very similarly delicious steakburger. If Winstead wants to bring one of his joints to Connecticut, it's fine with us.)

SONIC

Closest location: 1033 North Colony Road, Wallingford, Conn.

How far away is that? 38 miles

Why my vegetarian wife will cheerfully drive 38 miles to Sonic: The tater tots are made by The Lord himself. Meanwhile, I am addicted to their Coney dogs AND Chicago dogs. Oh, and they have 398,929 fountain drink and slush combinations. Literally. Do the math!

DER WIENERSCHNITZEL

Closest location: 2102 W. Springfield Ave., Champaign, Ill

How far away is that? 961 miles

Fine recollection from the author's memory: My old pal/bandmate Kim Herriage would routinely inhale three DW chili-cheesedogs in the time the clerk passed our food in the drive-through until we pulled into traffic at the end of the restaurant driveway. It defied the space/time continuum - and yet this was a frequent occurrence.

FAT BURGER AND/OR IN-N-OUT BURGER

Closest Fat Burger location: Atlantic City/Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, 1 Borgata Way, Atlantic City, N.J.

How far away is that? 248 miles

Closest In-N-Out Burger location: 1106 E. I-30, Rockwall, Texas

How far away is that? 1,651 miles.

Want to start a West Coast war? Get drunken bar patrons to start arguing over whether Fat Burger is better than In-N-Out Burger - both of which originated in California - or vice versa. I can't make up my mind, but they're both pretty great.

ARBY'S

Closest location: 3206 Berlin Turnpike, Newington

How far away is that? 51 miles

Do they still do this? Back in a glorious time, Arby's would run occasional specials where you could get five regular roast beef sandwiches for $5. Is that a deal that persists to this day? I don't know. We don't have an Arby's.

WAHOO'S FISH TACO

Closest location: 333 Park Ave S., N.Y.

How far away is that? 124 miles

Full disclosure: I've never eaten at a Wahoo's - but I trust plenty of West Coast, Denver and Austin pals who love the place and its Mexican/Brazilian/Asian/Hawaiian approach to shrimp, fish, steak, pork and mondo-veggie tacos, enchiladas, rice bowls and burritos. Apparently, this NYC location opened several months ago, and I WILL make a visit soon for that express purpose.

WHITE CASTLE

Closest location: Country Rd. at North Washington, Centerview, N.Y.

How far away is that? This is a crow-flies situation. You take the ferry to Montauk and, ah, grab a ride with the Barefoot Contessa to the heart of Long Island.

Close to my heart: As a kid, I spent summers in Indianapolis, the birthplace of White Castle. We used to take sacks on airplanes back to Texas but we'd eat all of them before we landed. For much of my life, I believed - and still might - that there is no greater food in the whole world than a White Castle hamburger.

Special inclusion: As my colleague Marisa Nadolny observed, while Waffle House is not actually a fast food joint, it sort of fits the definition of providing cheap and frequently greasy food, often at hours when night owls and odd denizens are lurking about.

WAFFLE HOUSE

Closest location: Bethlehem, Penn.

How far away is that? 206 miles

Two wishes, actually: Travel south and Waffle Houses are as common as Mickey D's around these parts. Who doesn't love waffles? Caveat: is it me, or do most Waffle Houses look like the background of many a person's last known photo? The interiors, blocked by a screen of dew and who knows what on the windows? Not great. If Santa does bring us a WH, it would be great if it was the first-ever brightly lit, non-trepidation-inducing store.

A burger and fries from Whataburger. Looks good, right? Closest location? Thomasville, Ga.
Photo courtesy of Whataburger A burger and fries from Whataburger. Looks good, right? Closest location? Thomasville, Ga.
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