Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Top It

Place: Fuddrucker's
Lunch: 1/3 lb bacon cheddar burger, fries (drowned in cheese sauce and mayo), Coke

Back in my Grand Forks days, there was a local restaurant owner who specialized in taking over buildings he could get on the cheap that had repeated failed restaurants over the years and put in an original idea of his that would become a local favorite.  One such place was Topper's, a retro diner-styled burger joint in a fast food format where you topped your burgers yourself at the topping bar.  His advertising smartly pointed out that his prices were comparable to McDonald's for a better product.  This was true...the prices were, and the product was.  Plus they had homemade ice cream made on site.  It was SUCH a great place.  When trying to explain the place to out-of-towners, they woudl often ask "So it's like Fuddrucker's?"  And the answer was always something along the line of "Not really.  For one thing, the food is actually good."

I got to reminiscing about Topper's when I recently overheard three guys conversing about the new B-Bop's going up in our uppity upscale shopping area.  "Are they crazy?  Red Robin is right across the street, and Five Guys and Fuddrucker's are a stone's throw away."  

It's a dumb argument because B-Bops targets a whole different market than those three (and I would argue makes a far better burger for far cheaper).  But their conversation turned to comparing the three future competitors, and the one thing they universally agreed on was that Fuddrucker's is the worst of them, and they don't understand how the place stays in business.

But you know what?  I can make an argument FOR Fuddrucker's.

I don't like Five Guys.  At all.  I don't get the appeal people have for the place.  People think they make a great homemade burger.  I'll agree about the "homemade" in I could make this at home.  There's nothing special about it.  People love their fries.  I HATE their fries.  I don't understand how anyone could like them.

In theory, I should love Red Robin.  It's a Pacific Northwest-born chain that was a part of my teen  years.  It was the first place I discovered the miracle that is strawberry lemonade.  And I've never met a menu item I didn't like.  So what's the problem?  There's nothing on the menu I really love, and it's an overpriced sit-down concept.  I'm also increasingly leery of restaurants where I have to depend on servers.  If your sit-down restaurant doesn't carry the fondness I have for Steak n Shake, Frisch's, or the Peppermill, I'm probably avoiding you anymore.  And with Steak n Shake, I just go through the drive-thru most of the time anyway.

Then there's Fuddrucker's.  I can walk up to the counter without the insane lines you see at Five Guys, order my food, and pay with Apple Pay.  For $11.85 including tax, I get a freshly cooked 1/3 lb burger with real bacon and cheddar on it that I can top myself to the point of ridiculous, fries, and a soda.  Plus I can make Euro-fries with as much cheese sauce and mayo as I want.

It's still not nearly as good as Topper's was...the topping bar isn't nearly as extensive...but it still works.  And I would argue that the food quality has gotten much better than it used to be.

It wasn't always this simple.  When Fuddrucker's opened here, there were servers refilling your drinks and expecting tips.  That worked so poorly that they ended up putting in self-serve drink machines and reformatting to more of a fast casual setup.  Which seems to work much better.

So I guess I've grown more fond of Fuddrucker's over the years.  People who weren't happy with them when they first opened should give them another try.

So there.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Auto Show 2017

Place: White Castle
Lunch: Four Original Sliders, regular Shrimp Nibblers (w/cocktail sauce), Crab Cake Slider, ice water

It's Fast Food Fish Season (or, as my weird Catholic cousin calls it, "Lent") and White Castle has enhanced their menu beyond the always available Fish Nibblers and Fish Slider by bringing back my beloved Shrimp Nibblers and adding something new in the form of a Crab Cake Slider, which waaay exceeded expectations.  It's some mystery battered and fried concoction that has a far better taste than most crab cakes I've had.  And it has a creole sauce.  I can't explain it, but I love it.

Oh hey look. Somebody threw a bunch of cars into the convention center and called it an Auto Show.  Let's have a look, shall we.  It might be a bit abbreviated as I wear down much more easily with my health issues and after losing to the Undertaker in that Hell in a Cell match.  Well played, Undertaker.  Well played.  As usual, this is about cars I'm interested in mostly, so I probably won't even notice the BMW, Honda, and Lexus stands.  It's MY blog, and I'm selfish.


MDX - Acura has revealed the 2019...yes, 2019...model year MDX.  So how are they supposed to continue selling the existing thing in 2017 and 2018?  If this show is any indication, bring the kids.  Kids were wowed by the older model.  "MOM IT HAS SO MANY CUP HOLDERS BACK HERE!!!"  Not kidding...that really happened.

NSX- Dang this mid-engine sports car looks good.  A 573hp monster using a V6 and multiple electric motors.  0-60 in THREE seconds.  At around $150k it'll drain your bank account at about the same rate.


R8 - Not to be outdone, the redesigned R8 gets a V10 that can get to 60 in LESS than three seconds. And a fancy display monitor instead of a traditional instrument cluster.  Take that, Acura.


LaCrosse - The all-new sedan is all new.  Seems like a lot of effort for a segment almost nobody cares about anymore.

Regal - Rumor has it Regal could be replaced in Buick's lineup with a rebadged Opel hatchback, even though GM just sold Opel.  Buick knows this is how Saturn died, right?


Bolt - Available now in limited markets and staggering out nationwide through the year, though apparently not all Chevy dealerships will be getting it.  Chevy claims a 238-mile range for their pure electric hatchback.  Still not quite enough for a Steak n Shake run for me, unless there's free charging stations around town.  But it would get me to Taco Time and back.

Cruze - There's a hatchback version now.  And a diesel coming.  Somebody at GM a woeful VW fan or something?

Equinox - The all-new third gen is coming this fall as a 2018 model.  There's one here, and it looks updated Equinox.  Nicer lines, but not so different that you wouldn't know what it is.  What you will notice is the engine lineup.  Two gas turbo four-cylinders and a turbo diesel.  No V6.  Good gas mileage, but will they be powerful enough for Chevy buyers?

Sonic - Wow, they still make this?  Yes they do, and they spiffied it up a bit.  Nobody knows why.


Nothing new going on here.  Fiat isn't doing well in the US.  Supposedly there's been meetings with the dealer network discussing ways to "save the brand".  Hopefully the 500x picks up steam.

500e - Fiat offers the pure electric version of the 500 in California and maybe Oregon only, but the original cars from 2013 are starting to come off-lease and are showing up in used car lots across the country for anywhere from $8,000-$10,000. often with low mileage.  They have a fun-to-drive reputation, get about 85 miles on a charge, and can be charged in your standard garage plug (though if you completely drain it, it'll take a full day to top off.)  I am seriously thinking about getting one for the daily work commute and around towning.

500x - I FINALLY got to sit in one.  Not bad.  It has a push-button start, but the button is located on the steering column exactly where a key ignition would be, which is weird.


EcoSport - New to the US but not new to the world, Ford is importing EcoSport from India to handle their subcompact SUV hole.  Like its competitors, it looks like one of those mini shopping carts at Whole Foods.

Expedition - The next gen people hauling beast is finally here.  Or will be in September.  Whatever.  The new model is bigger yet lighter thanks to its aluminum body.  The engine will be an EcoBoost twin turbo V6 that will auto stop/start when idle at traffic lights.  It has a ten-speed transmission.  Remember ten-speed bicycles?  I hated those things.  Never could figure out the gearing.  *pedal pedal KATHUNK KATHUNK*  Some petite little blonde woman was looking at this with her friends and declared "Nope.  I refuse to drive anything shorter than this."


Genesis had their own space at the Auto Show nowhere near the Hyundai stand, but right next to sister brand Kia.  Okay.

G80 - Hyundai's new luxury brand's first vehicle is the existing Hyundai Genesis with a new name.  So...yeah.  They're sold at your local Hyundai dealer.  Sooo...yeah.

G90 - Here's an actual new model, though it's essentially the next gen Hyundai Equus.


Terrain - Terrain is all-new along with it's Chevy sibling Equinox.  Engine options are all four-cylinder turbos, one a diesel.  That seemed questionable with Equinox, but REALLY questionable under the GMC brand.  It does look way better, though.


Elantra - All-new redesign that really stands out in absolutely no way whatsoever.  But Hyundai sells a butt ton of them anyway.

Ioniq - Hyundai's new Stinky Prius fighter shares a platform with Kia's new Niro and has hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and pure electric options out of the box.  Which one should you get?  Even the regular hybrid version gets 55 mpg combined.  Jeepers. The electric has a 124 mile range.  Apparently only California dealers will stock the electric version, but any US dealer can special order you one if you want.  It's a four-door hatch like Stinky Prius, but whereas Stinky Prius looks like somebody mated a Pontiac Aztek with a Batmobile, this doesn't look weird at all.  And it has Hyundai's cool blue dashboard lighting.


HOLY CRAP.  Infiniti ACTUALLY SHOWED UP THIS YEAR!  With multiple cars and everything.  I got to sit in a QX30 and a Q60.

Q60 - The coupe version of the Q50 is finally for sale.  They did a Neiman-Marcus version for their holiday catalog that was positively gorgeous and that none of you could be bothered to buy me for Christmas, you cheap bastards.

QX30 - The beefed up sort of SUV version of the Q30 hatch (which Infiniti's US dealers wisely decided not to sell) is basically a Mercedes in Infiniti guise.  I am not a fan of Mercedes, and I'm not a fan of this. It has that stupid plastic key thingy instead of push-button start.  I did recently drive a couple of Q50's that had the 2.0 turbo four this thing uses.  It wasn't too bad and I got better than advertised gas mileage (about 34 combined) and it had built-in stop/start technology where the engine shuts off at idle.  But if I'm spending this kind of money, I'm getting a V6.

QX50 - Infiniti showed off a next-gen concept version of this at Detroit.  The big news is that it's likely the production version will feature Infiniti's new four-cylinder VC-Turbo, the industry's first variable compression motor, which in theory should be able to perform with the horsepower of a V6 and the torque and efficiency of a diesel.  I would still anticipate at least a Red Sport 400hp twin turbo V6 version as well.  There's been some speculation the new QX50 will replace both the QX50 AND QX70.  Which sucks for those of us who were fans of the FX.  I suppose they might be clearing the 70 name for something bigger to size between the popular QX60 and the behemoth QX80.  I hope they significantly clean up the infotainment beyond the mess in the Q50 and maybe support CarPlay, but I'm probably just wishful thinking.  They seem to think their garbage two-screen system is as super awesome as they thought renaming the entire lineup into something similar to the Jollibee combo menu was.


 Niro - Niro is being marketed as a subcompact SUV, but it's not.  It doesn't have AWD available and it has a standard passenger ride height, so that's dumb.  So what is it really?  It's Kia's Stinky Prius fighter.  It's the Hyundai Ioniq's sister.  Same platform, motor, and transmission.  All trim levels get the hybrid 1.6 four-banger that hits 139hp combined with the electric motor.  Plug-in and full electric versions are supposedly down the road.  EPA average is 46-51 mpg depending on the trim level you get (the more toys you tack on, the heavier the car, thus the loss of mileage.)  It has available driving aids (blind spot, forward collision, etc) on higher end models and pretty much all the infotainment features you want, including support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Soul - Soul fans have long wished for more power, and now they're getting it with a turbo option.  Spool up, hamsters.


Continental - The new Continental has a 30-way adjustable driver's seat that will heat you, cool you, or even massage you.  Try to not follow asleep behind the wheel.  There were a couple of them at the show but I didn't get to sit in one because there was a literal line of elderly men waiting to.


Mitsubishi Motors celebrates its 100th birthday by...essentially becoming a division of Nissan.  Nissan doesn't own Mitsubishi Motors outright, but may as well.  Nissan's brass is insisting Mitsubishi will continue with new models and its own identity, albeit on shared Nissan platforms.  but it's better than the alternative of ceasing to exist.

As usual, Mitsubishi had an absurdly huge display at this show with probably more cars on display than they'll actually sell in the market this year, and furiously engaging reps trying to keep your attention on the brand.

Eclipse Cross - Remember Mitsubishi's killer awesome all-wheel-drive sports coupe?  Well, it's NOT returning next year, but a new crossover using that name is.  What the hell, Mitsubishi.

Mirage G4 - G4 stands for "Gee, it has four doors."  It's a sedan version of the Mirage hatch, which is also available with four doors, but a four-door hatch in the auto industry is technically considered a five-door because the hatch accesses the passenger compartment, so my joke applies.  It looks, feels, and smells like cheap basic transportation.  Basic transportation from ten years ago, specifically.


GT-R - HOLY CRAP.  THERE'S A GT-R HERE.  Can't sit in it, but there it is.  Some almost unnoticeable style updates and more noticeable interior refinements.  They're always tweaking the motor, of course, and this year is no exception, bumping up the ponies to 565.

leaf - Nissan says the next Leaf is coming, and it will have a 200-mile range.  It'll need it to compete with the latest offerings, but I'm somehow not terribly worried about Nissan understanding that.  Sales have fallen off for the current model and it's no wonder with its short range and dated weird look.

Rogue - Rogue gets a new hybrid option, the V-grille treatment Nissan is so danged fond of these days, and a few other style changes.  There's new safety features as well if you're willing to pay for them. The hybrid side doesn't sound all that robust. 

Rogue Sport - You know how Mitsubishi has the Outlander and the shorter Outlander Sport?  Well Nissan is pulling a similar trick by importing an existing nearly identical but slightly smaller European model called the Qashqai and slapping the Rogue brand on it to take on subcompact crossovers like Chevy Trax and Honda HR-V.  You'd think THIS would be the Rogue with the Hybrid option, wouldn't you.  It's said to have sportier handling than Rogue.  It was comfortable to sit in.  Wouldn't mind taking one for a spin.

Sentra SR Turbo - Want s 188 horsepower Sentra with a six speed manual?  Hey, who doesn't.  Well you can get one now.  Hope they retuned and beefed up the suspension too.


Legacy - Subie's Altima-Accord alternative gets a style refresh that makes it look less like a Subaru and more like its competition.  Just blend in and nobody will notice, Legacy.  Good boy.


86 - This is the rebadged Scion FR-S sports coupe, also known as the cousin to Subaru's BR-Z.  It has new tweaks and stuff I didn't quite understand.  Still, it's pretty great.  It's the vehicle Mitsubishi Eclipse fans drive now, and will probably buzz by Mitsubishi dealerships in flipping the bird at their new Eclipse-branded SUV.

Corolla - Hey, this thing is 50 years old.  So it gets a style refresh, some new standard safety features, and a limited edition.  These things are so reliable there's probably some 50 year-old ones still running out there.


After somehow surviving Dieselgate, one has to wonder how VW still exists.  Governments are all like "Just throw us some money and we're good" and consumers are all like "Sure you're an untrustworthy cheating company and even though my VW is practically falling apart thanks to your constant cheap shortcuts, I'll still buy one."  You're all stupidheads.

VW is betting big on electric cars for its future.  It has a dedicated electric platform (dubbed MEB) that cars will soon be rolling out on.  A concept called the "ID" is hoped to revolutionize motoring the way the original Beetle and Golf/Rabbit did when the production version arrives.  And a neat concept that looks like a Microbus showed up at big auto shows this year.  I'd look at that.  VW wants to be a huge player in electric cars.

Beetle - Lackluster sales are being strung along by special editions, and speculation is there probably won't be a next generation version unless they decide to build a pure electric one, which would be awesome, so they probably won't.  But OH GOD did they ever have a beautiful one on display.  It was a metallic brown called "Dark Bronze Metallic" with two-tone cream seats that immediately made me dub it the "Root Beer Float" because I suck at being a diabetic.  It's part of the "Classic Edition" line, which also has a "Bottle Green" color option.  Some Guy walking by said to his girlfriend "Hey look!  A dung Beetle!"  And I punched him in the face.

Atlas - Atlas is VW's new mid-size seven-passenger SUV/minivan/tall station wagon.  VW claims it was "designed for America" on their Atlas webpage.  Which is funny because if VW's proven anything in recent years, it's that VW knows nothing about the US market.  It will be built in their Chattanooga, TN plant.

e-Golf - VW's next-gen pure electric Golf gets a significant range increase to 125 miles per charge and more horsepower.  Local dealer folk are claiming it'll also be sold nationwide when it comes out this fall (the current one is a California-Oregon only car).

Golf Alltrack - Remember the Subaru Outback?  This new beefed up AWD version of the Golf SportWagen targets that market.  Because VW felt the need to field a competitor to a fringe model that was a fad twenty years ago.  It might sell well in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, I guess.

Tiguan - The new US-spec Tig is finally coming, and it has a stretched version to seat seven passengers...wait, what?  Isn't that what the Atlas is for?


XC60 - Volvo's smaller SUV is all-new for 2018 (just announced, but not actually here yet).   The new one looks sharp.  It's a very important car for Volvo.

You know, I didn't really wear down all that much.


Thursday, March 09, 2017

Meat Mountain

Place: Arby's
Lunch: Meat Mountain, loaded curly fries, Mint Chocolate Swirl shake

There was an abandoned drive-in theatre in rural Wisconsin a guy re-opened around 15 years ago.  He put a small grill in the snack bar to make hamburgers, planning to offer single and double patty burgers.  As a joke, he decided to offer a three-patty burger called the "Gutbuster".  Why didn't require adding any ingredient to the kitchen.  It cost nothing to put it on the menu.

It is, to this day, their best selling burger.

So it goes with Arby's, who have taken their "WE HAVE THE MEATS" slogan to new extremes with the all-inclusive Meat Mountain sandwich. It has nearly every meat in the kitchen piled on it.  Roast beef, Angus steak, ham, brisket, turkey, corned beef, pepper bacon, and even deep fried chicken tenders.  There's quote their website..."cheddar and Swiss cheese somewhere in there."  Ask for it Denali-style through this month and they'll even put a fish fillet on it.  For FREE.

It's here because it can be.  It's all stuff that was already in the kitchen anyway.  And it gets people talking.

You can't call it a best-seller...yet.  Meat Mountain has been an officially sanctioned "secret" menu item for a couple of years.  But now they've started promoting the thing with in-store signage, which is how I found out about it.

Smiling Counter Girl: "I'll be with you in a minute!"  *runs off, arms flailing*

Someone in Back: "She'll be with you in a minute!"

Smiling Counter Girl runs back: "Hi!"

Me: "Meat Mountain, Denali-Style."

Smiling Counter Girl: "Oooh!"  She seems legit excited that somebody's ordering this.

Smiling Counter Girl, staring at screen: "I can't find the button.  Oh!  There it is.  What size fry and drink do you want?"

Me: "I actually want loaded curly fries and the Mint Chocolate Swirl shake, so however that works."

Smiling Counter Girl: "Oh!"

Smiling Counter Girl: "We're just getting the shake machine working.  It might be awhile, but we'll bring it out to you.  Is that okay?"

Me: "Sure."

I'm willing to bet any amount of money in the world they'll forget about the shake completely.

Smiling Counter Girl: "Anything else?"

Me: "That's not enough food?"

Smiling Counter Girl: "We have to ask."

Somebody in Back: "DOES HE WANT IT HOT?"

Smiling Counter Girl: "Do you want that hot?"

Me: "The shake?"

Smiling Counter Girl: "Noooo, the sandwich."

Me: "Yes."

Smiling Counter Girl: "HE WANTS IT HOT!"

I'm assuming a cold Meat Mountain would mean the deli meats weren't heated, but the chicken tenders and fish fillet would be, right?  I'm not going to find out.

The food arrives.  The Meat Mountain is about five inches tall and could never fit in a conventional human bite, yet while very intimidating looking, I have to wonder if there's really more deli meat on the thing than, say, a Jimmy John's Gargantuan.  It's just piled up on a conventional bun in this case.

First bite is across the lower half of the sandwich.  The fish is overwhelming.

Second bite towards the top.  A lot of distinct deli meat flavor profiles.

Ultimately, I decide the way to go is to remove the fish and the chicken tenders and eat those as sides. That leaves me with a perfectly manageable deli sandwich that doesn't seem much taller than a Beef & Cheddar Max.  It could use mayo, though.  Inexplicably, mayo is not one of the condiments Arby's keeps on hand.

Ultimately, I ate about half the sandwich, half the curly fries, and half the fish fillet.  Arby's fish fillet is kind of nasty.  It was luke warm at best and the breading wasn't really crispy.  I did eat the chicken tenders.  Arby's deli meats have strong and distinct flavors that I'm not sure really work together like this.

About twenty minutes after receiving my food, I walked back up to the counter.  "Are we still waiting on shakes?"

Sure enough, they had completely forgotten.  They make my shake immediately.

The Mint Chocolate Swirl shake is the highlight here.  It's minty green, but it also tastes quite chocolaty.  It's really good.

It's SUPPOSED to be Auto Show weekend coming up, but the forecast calls for possibly lots of snow, so I've rescheduled that trip for next weekend.

The cats are due a home weekend anyway.