By Nate Wood, Daily Food Columnist
Published March 18, 2014
The trek is an investment of time, and even more so today as the smooth ice covering the cracked concrete sidewalks slows our pace. We’re bundled in scarves and earmuffs, complaining relentlessly about the blistering wind attacking our face with its frigid needles. But it’s worth it, without a doubt.
You see, before the real world cruelly sucked away my graduating friends, this was a regular occurrence. Our pot of gold at the end of the wintery weather rainbow? Frita Batidos.
I let my inner self explore the corners of my memory as we navigate back to this Cuban burger promised land. There was the first time I’d tried Frita Batidos: A very confused freshman, I was entirely distracted by the nets full of limes hanging next to the condiments at each table. Were they décor, air fresheners or just waiting to be juiced by citrus-seeking customers? I remember the time that my fellow RAs and I crammed around the picnic tables outside to celebrate/commemorate the closing of South Quad. Only when Mother Nature began pouring down rain were we forced to leave. And finally, I remember the Fritas lunch a close friend and I shared on her last day in Ann Arbor. A casualty to graduate school, she was moving out-of-state and on to bigger and better things. The easiest way for us to say “see you later” was over a burger and milkshake.
And as much as it didn’t feel like it at the time, it really was only a “see you later.” Flash-forward seven months, and here we are again — the same group of friends walking the same blocks in search of the same sandwich. What better way to end the perfect reunion weekend than at our standby rendezvous?
With bright red noses, cheeks and ears, we arrive happy to finally be back in the warmth. Drinks are first, with everyone ordering the usual. The health nut, Sean, asks for “the lighter batido,” which is made with mango and pineapple juice. Neha sips on a mango soda, which she calls “the nectar of the gods,” and Emily and I enjoy our rum-spiked coconut cream batidos (it’s never too cold for a tropical milkshake, ironically). The fritas — essentially Cuban burgers with fries stacked between the buns — are next. Again, no surprises here: chicken for Sean and Neha, black bean for Emily and chorizo for me.
I’ve elected to add avocado spread, Muenster cheese and an over-easy egg to my frita, which always sounds better in theory than it ends up being in reality. Ketchup and avocado force themselves out from between the two halves of the brioche bun as my incisors tear through each layer. Runny egg yolk drips down the back of my hand, and chunks of chorizo drop to the bottom of the basket in which the mess of the meal is served. “Oh, that’s what this fork is for,” I think.
The food here is always impeccable, and the company is even better. My friends and I nosh and chat for the next 30, 60, 90 minutes, feeling “just like the old times” as we reminisce about the year before: how annoyingly unavailable Neha had been during internship recruiting season, how Sean had somehow convinced himself to become a vegetarian, how we had to stage a How I Met Your Mother-style intervention for Emily — who slept on her couch for weeks to avoid putting fitted sheets on her bunk bed — and how I became embarrassingly depressed one night by watching Hoarding: Buried Alive. It felt so casually normal, as if only a matter of days had passed since our last Fritas visit.
I tried to harness this feeling as I worked to console myself of the fact that it would likely be another seven months before this would happen again … if we were lucky. The plane back to reality was on its way to transport Emily — in the same way that it had Chris and Rebecca the day prior (who sadly missed out on our Fritas excursion) — to what seemed like thousands of miles away. Of course, they would actually be many hours closer than that, but still far enough away that trips to Frita Batidos were relegated to being an occasional treat. The real world sucks.
But we make due. Texting groups, Google hangouts and social media keep us all connected. Life updates don’t go unshared, and futons and foldout beds don’t go unused. And every once and awhile, when the stars align, a weekend of fraternizing and Frita Batidos in Ann Arbor recharges our spirits and reminds us of the enduring power of true friendship.
To all the bright-eyed freshmen reading this, enjoy this rare time in your life when you live within walking distance of all of your friends. To the alumni and staff, consider reaching out to that college friend you’ve not contacted nearly recently enough. And to Sean, Neha, Rebecca, Chris and Emily, I’ll see you at Fritas.