Sloppy joes and fried mac 'n cheese bites are available...

Sloppy joes and fried mac 'n cheese bites are available at White Castle for a limited time. Credit: White Castle

During the long, frigid winter to come, we will all doubtless be searching for strategies to, as a recent news release put it, "cope with cold weather, short days and quarantines." Complicating matters, however, said release came from White Castle, whose aid efforts involve adding sloppy joe sliders to its menu for a limited time. Do these mini-sandwiches, along with the burger chain’s Mac & Cheese Nibblers, another menu addition, deserve inclusion in your arsenal of coping mechanisms, or might they somehow make things even worse?

Experts say there’s a reason why, during times of social isolation, we reach for "comfort foods," as the fast food chain calls its latest fare. These are things we'd ordinarily enjoy while in the company of others, and the pleasant taste memories generated by eating them now can instantly teleport you to those bygone gatherings, even if all you’re actually doing is inhaling sliders alone on a couch in your bathrobe. This will not work for everyone, of course.

White Castle is charging 99 cents for its sloppy Joes, or $1.19 for the Smoky Joe (differing only in a thin sliver of Cheddar). For that price, you get little more than a tablespoon of filling, a major disappointment for those who like their joes truly sloppy. On the plus side, they taste exactly as you remember them, with minimal risk of stained sweatpants.

Now, about the Mac & Cheese Nibblers, which may be purchased by the bagful for $6.99 (or in smaller sizes, but really, where’s the comfort in that?) and whose triangular shape recalls many boring hours spent flicking paper footballs through makeshift goalposts during America’s pre-smartphone era. Each bolus of pasta elbowlets — shaped, battered and plunged into the french fryer — is an undeniable piece of Kraftsmanship, not to mention a timely reminder that while science has solved many of humanity’s greatest problems, food science has created many more. The bet here, as elsewhere, was that a forced marriage of guilty pleasures would spawn a super race of foodstuffs composed of equal parts salt, fat, mouthfeel and nostalgia. What White Castle has produced instead is a grease-logged sack of shame, an invitation to dyspepsia, a discomfort food.

"What we’ve all been aching for is a warm hug, even if it’s emotional and not physical," said a winking company executive about the menu additions. So true. Eat too many of these nibblers, though, and you might find yourself hugging something else.

Sloppy Joe Sliders, Smoky Joe Sliders and Mac & Cheese Nibblers are available at Island White Castle locations through Feb. 14. Info: whitecastle.com

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