Friday, August 02, 2013

FAST FOOD FRIDAY: Sometimes Words So Innocent, Cut So Deep

Dear John, so begins a famous old story
Goodbye, au-revoir, thanks for the memory
– "Poison Pen", Hoodoo Gurus

If you've followed this blog over the years then you are well aware of my long-standing allegiance to Burger King. Through all the ups and downs, the Loaded Steakhouse Burgers and the Whiplash Whoppers, the Chicken Fries and Burger Shots, the riblets and the 2012 Summer Menu tragedy – not to mention the almost annual rebooting of their chicken nuggets – I've stubbornly stuck by The King.

Hell, I even liked the "Creepy King" commercials and the spots featuring Ugoff the odd Eurotrashy fashionista.

But I'm here to say that I may be ready to throw in the towel and get a divorce – or at least a trial separation – from the country's #2 fast food burger joint.

Like any relationship that goes sour it's hard to pinpoint just one thing but it's easy to find lots of little things: the way their menu changed on what seemed like a whim; the (infrequent) hit and (largely) miss quality of their limited edition items; the way they gave in and simply made their chicken nuggets taste just like their "rivals" at McDonald's; and headline grabs that smack of desperation like the burger bar, serving (bad) beer or delivery services.

I knew trouble was brewing when the 2013 Summer Menu was announced and I met its arrival with the kind of disinterested "meh" usually reserved for The Pro Bowl. Sure, the Sweet Potato Fries were back, but the Alexa fries I buy in bulk at Costco are just as good (if not the same thing). Their lame attempt at pulled pork had (inexplicably) returned, too, but last year's highlight – The Bacon Sundae – was nowhere to be found.

At least I could take solace in the new Rib Sandwich, even if it did feel like a pathetic attempt to glom on to some of the McRib's cult-like following. (That sound you hear is McDonald's execs cackling.)

Unfortunately, despite surprising praise from some food blog outlets, my experience with the BK Rib Sandwich was disheartening to say the least. Let me put it this way: when the highlight of my meal is finding a fry in my o-rings and shouting "That was my Woodstock!" you know something's amiss.

Sure, I'd had bad burgers and ill-advised menu offerings at Burger King before. But I'd never left feeling so so so... emotionally squashed and unsatisfied.

Maybe it was the sandwich, a visually assaulting conglomeration of tasteless, shaped ground pork topped with pickles and sauce (which provided the only flavor the sandwich had). Maybe it was sneaking a nugget from my daughter's lunch, only to realize they tasted like they'd run down the block to McDonald's because they ran out.

Whatever it was it festered in my belly belly for a few weeks, gnawing at my gut and making me question my aforementioned "long-standing allegiance". And then I did something I haven't done – except out of sheer "I refuse to eat at a Subway or Sbarro" stubbornness – in about 15 or 20 years.

I suggested stopping at a Wendy's.

Clearly something was amiss with the universe. Wendy's – no pun intended – had always been the red-headed stepchild of fast food joints to me. No matter how much they spruced up the facade, updated their logo or rolled out "limited time only" offerings (usually my fast food weakness), I simply drove on by, electing to eat anyplace else.

But positive word-of-mouth regarding the new Pretzel Bun Cheeseburger had definitely made an impact and, well, a man can only eat so many Wawa hoagies in one weekend.

And so that was where we stopped on a recent trip home from LBI. A Wendy's. 

And, no, the Pretzel Bun Cheeseburger wasn't some great fast food revelation. Yes, I liked the bun (surprisingly), the bacon actually tasted like, well, bacon and not dog treats, and the spring mix and other veggies that adorned the top looked and tasted suspiciously fresh. But the meat – sort of a cross between the salty fried slab of McDonald's and the flame-broiled juiciness of, well, you know – fell into a bit of a netherworld in which it was hot, juicy and fresh-tasting, but largely devoid of any actual, um, flavor.

But – and here's the kicker – I didn't hate myself for kinda enjoying it. In fact, all three of us agreed that we'd go back there again.

So, sorry King. I'm moving on. I know we've had some good times and we always made it through the rough patches. But sometimes you just need to know when things aren't working out.

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