I’ve been a student at Queen’s University for a long time, and I mean long. In September, I began my ninth year as a Queen’s student, and I like to think that much of campus has changed for the better since my own frosh week in 2004. The university has built The Isabel, the new medical school building, and the Athletics and Recreation Centre. In terms of new food outlets, the ARC is now home to a Tim Horton’s, pizza and teriyaki fast fooderies, a juice joint, and the bright, spacious Common Ground, a student-run coffee shop. The real gem, however, is quietly nestled into the Earl Street entrance on the first floor, unassuming but filled to the brim with potential: Grocery Checkout Fresh Market.
Do you ever find yourself on campus, racking your brains for a food outlet that sells something healthier than chocolate chip muffins and poutine? Does it take even longer to think of healthy eats that won’t cost extortionate prices, like the $4 plastic containers of sliced fruit at The Lazy Scholar? Or, have you ever dreaded the Friday afternoon line-ups at Metro, when you only need to buy three things? This store is the solution to all of these problems. At Grocery Checkout, student food has been updated to the healthier, or at least more epicurean, tastes of those who work and study at Queen’s. Long gone are the days when student food was Kraft Dinner and microwave popcorn! In their place: organic, gluten-free mac and cheese, and the highest-end kettle corn, in multiple flavours! I know that might sound sarcastic, but can you think of anything better after a long day than throwing on sweats and relaxing with a bag of kettle corn and Netflix? Let’s not fool ourselves.
Seriously, though, Grocery Checkout has excellent healthy options for both snacking and mealtime. My favourite too-busy-for-lunch substitute (aka, the I-feel-guilty-about-bringing-pizza-for-lunch addition) is the veggie tray, which gives way more bang for your buck than the crudités Sodexho outlets offer, and they never forget the ranch dressing! Other healthier options include spinach and strawberry salads, hummus and crackers, and “Paleo plates,” for those following the latest dietary trend. During the summer, they stocked Ontario strawberries, and local favourite Sushi Ya! shuttles in their sushi daily. The cherry on top: unlike many food establishments on campus, Grocery Checkout accepts debit!
Aside from on-campus snacking, Grocery Checkout is the best place to get high quality, affordable, and quick groceries on your way home from campus. It’s a small store, so I wouldn’t suggest doing your weekly order there, but there have been nights that I feel like a steak, yam, and veggies (…and kettle corn), and I can find all of that there, within a couple of short strides. I give special kudos to the great minds running Grocery Checkout, because they’ve nabbed the excellent Pig and Olive butchers to provide their meat. You can get a single, stuffed chicken breast for a solo meal; a couple of steaks for a fancy night in; or maybe some gluten free sausages for an impromptu barbeque. Other favourites include bags of smoothie-ready frozen fruit, frozen cookie dough balls, and enough Sriracha to satisfy the hot sauce-obsessed Queen’s population.
Opened in 2012, the ARC is Grocery Checkout’s second location: it started in London at the university’s eternal rival, Western. A Gael at heart, I’ll forgive this time, but only because this store holds so much promise. Staffed by students, they are perpetually making slight changes and improvements, working a step ahead of its customers to give them what they want before they know they want it… like Chicago Mix kettle corn! My only hope is that the Kingston location follows London’s lead: could grocery delivery be resuscitated back into the next big thing? Thinking back to last year’s frosty winter, I can only hope!