Tuesday, April 27, 2010

REVIEW: KFC Double Down Sandwich

If I remember correctly, I first heard about the KFC Double Down Sandwich a year or so ago when the item was being tested in a few select, oh so lucky, markets. With my penchant for "limited time" menu items crashing headlong into my love of using meat in a revolutionary manner (like a condiment or, in this case, bread), it was inevitable that I'd be breathlessly awaiting its official roll-out the way I once waited for new Replacements albums.

Once the release date was announced my brain went into full Double Down Mode, carefully calculating when I'd be able to sample this breakthrough menu offering and debating if I could trust my 2.5 year-old to work the video camera while Daddy did his "research".

Though I'm assuming that anyone reading something called The Hungover Gourmet is well aware of the Double Down let me remind you what I'm talking about... it's a cheese and bacon sandwich featuring pepperjack sauce and two pieces of chicken breast as the bread. 'Nuff said.

Unfortunately, my first attempt at scoring the sandwich – available in fried and grilled varieties – was scuttled. Venturing up York Road during a Wednesday lunch date with my daughter I discovered that to my horror the local KFC/A&W Root Beer joint was no longer and had been turned into (gasp! ack! erp!) an Arby's. I have no idea when this happened, which just goes to show you how often I even consider eating at a KFC.

Luckily, my wife knew exactly where an existing KFC was located and I immediately made plans to hit it up after Ryan and I went to her play class at the local YMCA the following week. And no, the irony of leaving a gym and driving directly to a KFC for a nutritional nightmare like The Double Down is not lost on me.

Arriving slightly before 11 AM we pulled into the drive-thru and ordered up two Double Down sandwiches, one grilled and one fried (I'm a completist, you know). I'm not positive, but the early arrival time may have worked to my advantage because we actually had to wait for a few minutes before the order was up. In other words, I may have received the first Double Downs of the day.

Once back at THG Test Kitchens, I unpacked the sandwiches and was frankly a little surprised at how small they appeared upon initial inspection. Having read a handful of reviews of the sandwiches on the web I wasn't sure how big they actually were but the way they were hiding in the paper wrappers made me think even they were a bit embarrassed at all the attention they were receiving.

After a quick stop onto the stupid weigh machine (Grilled: 7 oz., Fried: 8 oz.) it was time for the moment of truth. It was time for the Double Down to get in my belly.

The fried version of the sandwich definitely had a lower Cheese To Wrapper (CTW) ratio than its grilled counterpart, but I found this version of the sandwich to be somewhat underwhelming. Admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of KFC's signature fried bird and like many folks probably wouldn't even be eating this if not for the sheer curiosity value. Sure, I love the fact that it looks like something I would have eaten circa 1989 on a dare at the Golden Eagle Diner (or a hoedown), but I have to admit I wasn't blown away.

Despite the fact that it held together better than the grilled version – whose chicken breast slices were sliding away from each other along cheesy-bacony fault lines – neither the bacon slices (always a crap shoot at fast food joints) nor the peppery "Colonel's Sauce" were coming through. I can't help but chalk this up to being a byproduct of the fast food giant's trademark and frequently overwhelming blend of herbs and spices.

Admittedly, I only ordered the grilled version of the sandwich purely for purely journalistic reasons. "If I don't like their trademark fried version," I wondered aloud as my daughter asked who I was talking to, "what are the odds I'll like their new thing?"

Well, shiver me timbers! As it turns out, the grilled variety of the sandwich featured two perfectly cooked (though a bit salty) breasts that had a nice charcoal flavor and just enough spice to let the pepperjack sauce come shining through.

Like most fast food offerings featuring bacon strips, the bacon used on the Double Down doesn't really show up in either the grilled or fried version, but I'm used to that. Frankly, I'd rather it show up faintly or not all than those rare cases where it tastes like some of my dog's Beggin' Strips have shown up on my burger.

For me, few sights are as welcome in my fridge as leftover chicken. After eating half of each sandwich for the initial test I put the containers in the fridge for a late night raid to see how they held up. Again, the grilled version easily outdistanced the fried piece, which simply tasted like cold, overly-spiced chicken. The charcoal flavor of the grilled chicken – which is chemically-achieved for all I know – was even more prominent in its cold state and the breast meat retained the lion's share of its moistness.

I'm thinking that if KFC plans to roll this out again or even add it to their regular menu they may want to give golfer Phil Mickelson a call. First off, the eatery's association with the Susan G Komen foundation would seem like a good fit given the health problems faced by his wife and mother. Second, this is a guy who reportedly was eating a club sandwich (!) before the final round of the Masters, which he aced in bogey-free fashion. Are you telling me he wouldn't look like a natural standing on the practice tee wolfing down a Double Down or three?

The Double Down is one of those rare "limited time" offerings that I would love to see become a regular menu item. Things like the Angry Whopper, Steakhouse Burger, McRib Sandwich, etc. always leave me feeling deflated (yet curiously bloated at the same time), but the Double Down did neither. No, I wasn't crazy about the fried version but as I've already admitted I don't like and have never liked the Colonel's secret blend.

Maybe it was the lack of a roll, maybe it was whatever space age seasoning/chemical that's injected into the meat, but eating the Double Down didn't leave me with that lethargic, loagy post-fast food feeling I usually get from a burger. Not that I felt like running a marathon, but I certainly didn't feel like curling up on the couch for a marathon of THE DEADLIEST CATCH either.

If I didn't feel so ridiculous eating a cheese and bacon sandwich made out of chicken breast "bread" I could see the Double Down entering THG's regular rotation for as long as it's available. Kudos to KFC for creating a food item that, like Baconnaise, has become a part of our pop culture lexicon.

And for those of you who think that KFC took things too far with this assault on our nation's collective waistline, check out The Krispy Kreme Double Down and its evil (good?) twin, the Arugala Double Down.

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