Friday, September 20, 2019

Taco Hell

Place: Taco Bell
Lunch: Beef Toasted Cheddar Chalupa (extra meat, light lettuce, no tomato), Nachos Supreme (no tomato, add red sauce), Crunchy Taco (extra meat...ha ha ha ha ha), Pepsi

Oh hey look.  Taco Bell has a new mutant menu item.  They've taken the chalupa and baked some sort of cheese substance into the shell.   Might as well try it, I guess.

I pull into the Taco Bell parking lot and whip out my phone to place the order on the app.  Taco Bell used to have a great app.  Then they switched vendors and made you download a new app and it sucks harder than a Dyson vaccuum cleaner.  It's just awful, and every bad quirk about it is on display today.

First off, it's forgotten who I am.  I have to login again.  This happens roughly 4 out of 5 times I try to use it.  This never happened with the original app.  It never happens with the McDonald's app.  Just this piece of crap.

I login and choose my nachos and taco from my stored favorites.  Then I go to add Pintos & Cheese.  You know, the little bowl of beans with cheese and red sauce?  Guess what...it's NO LONGER AVAILABLE.  WHAT???  There's NOTHING to this that is special to this item.  There's literally NO REASON to not offer it.  Unless they got too cheap to stock the little bowls, I suppose.  Cheap bastards.

I finish the order and the app thanks me and says "We'll see you soon" or something.  Then it shows the address of the store it sent the order to.  Guess what?  It ISN'T THIS STORE.  The app, which normally uses GPS to figure out where you are and assign you to the closest store (you know, like the one I'm sitting in the parking lot of)  sent the order to a store 11 miles away.

You have GOT to be kidding me.

20 minutes later, I'm at the other store picking up my food, which is packed to go because Taco Bell can't even be bothered with offering a "dine in" option on the app.

If people could get prison sentences for gross incompetence, I would hope the Taco Bell app team would be serving life sentences.  There's no hope for them to contribute positively to the human race.

Don't you love what Taco Bell considers to be "extra meat" in their crunchy taco?  They charge $2.79 for this.


  As for the Chalupa, it was underwhelming.  Just a new gimmick to grab attention, I guess.

Taco Bell should split itself into two divisions...Taco Bell, and Taco Mutant.  One with a simple menu of classics...regular tacos, nachos  and burritos made with regular corn shells, chips, and flour tortillas, meat, cheese, lettuce, beans, onions, and red sauce...and the Mutant with all their weird oddball crap.

Or I could just move to Taco Casa territory, where they not only keep to the basics, they do them far better than Taco Bell does anyway.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Bugs

Place: McDonald's
Lunch: 2 McDouble's, fries, Coke

It's National French Fry Day according to the social medias, so that made McDonald's lunch by default.  Unless I was in Wichita, then I would have gone to Freddy's, who has the best fries ever.  McDonald's has the second best fries ever.  The original beef tallow fries were probably REALLY the best fries ever, but who can remember for sure.

Volkswagen rolled the last Beetle off the assembly line in Puebla, Mexico last week.  This was a "Final Edition" of the newer water-cooled version based on the Golf platform.  The original air-cooled Beetle ended production in 2003 at that very same plant, 65 years after initial production and over 21,000,000 vehicles produced.  By that time the "New Beetle" was a few years into production and a phenomenon in its own right, though never even remotely at the level of the original.  The version ending production last week was the second generation of the water cooled version and never really caught on with consumers.

Still, the press found a suitable excuse to cover the event and be all melancholy, as am I, as I have a long history with the model.

My father was a VW service manager, and as such, we owned a few.  An old ivory 60's model that we watched "Herbie Rides Again" in at the Canyon Drive-In.  A '74 "Sun Bug" edition Super Beetle (gold with a sunroof), the only new car we ever owned.  He picked up and restored a second Sun Bug years later.

Dad and his '74 Sun Bug

My first two cars were '74 Super Beetles, a black one with red seats and a red one with white seats.  The black one was picked up for $150 and was tecbnically my third car.  My second intended car was a Subaru that he ended up selling to a family friend who really wanted it.  My first intended car was a late 60's Beetle he'd rebuilt from the ground up and was one of the most bizarre mutant car jobs you've ever seen.

When I first saw it, it was a powder blue Bug somebody had hand painted cute little designs all over in black.  Little "bugs" (flies) and such.  It was in the salvage lot behind the dealership.  He stripped it to the body and asked what color I wanted it to be.  I was reading a book at the time focused around a guy and his sapphire blue Triumph motorcycle, so I suggested "sapphire blue".  "I think I have a can of something like that," he said.  He pulled it into the paint shop and blasted it a haphazard metallic blue.  It looked like a matte finish.

From there, whatever happend to be on hand and available went into the car.  Blue Dasher seats (bolted in place, not adjustable at all).  Wheels and a bumper from a Scirocco, with the fenders flared out to accomodate the wider tires.  The bumper turn indicators even worked...he filled in the holes where the Beetle's old fender turn indicators would have been.  A gas tank from a VW Bus, installed where the back seat would normally be, with a filler drilled into the back side of the car.  He bolted in aluminum panels where a proper dashboard would be and used whatever dials and buttons were available in his spare parts collection for controls and instruments.  Think race car.  That's kind of what it looked like.

The thing was so light, you could lift up the front end and push the car around.  Ir was loud, and it didn't always make sense in the way he put it together.  The wiper motor was of the wrong voltage and the wipers operated at an insanely high speed.  One day, the entire wiper arm went flying off in traffic while he was driving it.

I'm still unclear on how this didn't end up becoming my first car.  It ended up being his daily driver.  My uncle years later told me Dad had told him I put my foot down one day and said I wasn't going to be seen in that thing, that it "just wasn't me".  I have no recollection of this whatsoever.

The black '74 wasn't exactly perfect.  The gas tank had a leak of some sort that made the entire car smell of gas fumes.  Nobody ever wanted to ride in it because of that.  Or because the floorboards had rusted through and splashing through a puddle soaked the inside of the car.  Dad eventually bolted some sheet metal where the floorboards used to be and I drove it until I bought the red Beetle from a former teacher of mine.  That one didn't have a working reverse gear, so I always had to be strategic in where I parked it to make sure I could drive out or at least coast out if backwards were absolutely necessary..

That was the end of my Beetles until I picked up my 2000 New Beetle GLX.  Dark blue with a black leather interior and the 1.8 turbo motor.  Those things had their faults, but it still ranks as one of my favorite cars ever.  It would also prove to be my last VW.  Dad, on one of his rare trips to civilization, got to see it once.

In memory of Richaard Graham 1936-2019
"Well I know they're really just a Golf with a Beetle-shaped body, but they're still pretty neat," he said.  "You've come full-circle."

Yes.  Yes I had.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Old Favorites

Place: Burger King
Lunch: Whopper (no lettuce, no tomato), 2 BK Tacos, Coke

You know how fans of different fast food chains will start social media threads asking the question "What discontinued menu item do you want brought back?"  And then everybody posts damn near everything every fast food chain ever offered, ahd maybe some items they somehow remember but never existed.  You'll even see some idiot bemoan the loss of the McDonald's Arch Deluxe burger line.  Seriously, people.  You're delusional.

I had a bahit of coming up with items nobody else thought of.  In the case of McDonald's, it was the Steak, Egg & Cheese bagel.  I loved that thing.  But the bagel line, let alone the steak version, were probably fringe items in most of the country (you could actually still get them in limited markets), so I never expected to see it again.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I was watching the Wednesday night game show lineup on ABC and a McDonqld's commercial breezed by advertising breakfast bagels.

WHAT?

I couldn't have seen that right.

But I went down to the local McDonald's in the morning anyway.  And there it was.  My beloved Steak, Egg & Cheese bagel was BACK in my market, and systemwide.  And it was SO GOOD.  From the first bite to the nirvana of the center (where you hit the bagel hole which is filled with cheese and pops a flavor all its own), I savored it all.  And then I went back the next morning.  And the next.  And the next.  I've had close to a dozen of them so far.

In the case of Burger King, my most wanted item was BK Tacos.  You may not be familiar with these.  They've been available regionally since the 1980's.  In fact, the Portland BK's had a whole sidebar Mexican menu back then.  All I remember was the tacos.  They were direct copycats of Jack in the Box tacos at the same 2 for 99 cents price point.  I'd get a pair to side with my Whopper.

The Mexican menu went away, but the tacos stuck around in scattered markets.  They went national once, maybe ten years ago, for about five minutes before disappearing.  Back to a regional favorite, I guess, though I haven't seen a BK selling them in years.

But the other day, people on social media started talking about BK Tacos.  And BK started advertising them.  And I'm like, "Are you kidding me?"  So I headed to my local BK this morning.  And sure enough, there they were.

They're no longer 2 for 99 cents...they're $1 each now.  But they're here, they're real, and I'm eating as many as I can while they're here.

The BK Taco, like Jack in the Box, comes frozen with the meat already in the shell.  They're deep fried at the restaurant, then pinched open to add a little cheese, lettuce, and taco sauce.  They're the ugliest tacos you've ever seen, and they're delicious.  A girl in a WSJ article describing her first experience with Jack in the Box tacos called them "vile and amazing."  That's the perfect description for both brands..

So in just a couple of weeks, two chains brought back items I never expected to see again.  So it seems like a good time to do some fantasy fast food booking.

What else would I like to see come back?

Wisconsin White Cheddar Whooper (Burger King) - While McDonald's was bragging abotu their awful flavorless CBO burger, Burger King rolled out a Whopper that simply had a slice of natural white cheddar on it, and I claimed it may have been the best Whopper ever.  I mean, all you have to do to bring it back is keep around some white cheddar cheese slices in the kitchen...

Western Whopper (Burger King) - The original Western Whopper was a bacon Whopper with a slice of cheddar instead of American cheese and barbecue sauce instead of ketchup.  Pretty simple, right?  So simple, in fact, that I have been known to order a bacon Whopper with no cheese and ketchup and taking it home and making my own original Western Whopper with my own barbecue sauce and a slice of Tillamook cheddar.  Not that hard.  BK later marketed a Western Whopper that had American cheese, making it nothing more than a Bacon Cheese Whopper with barbecue sauce.  No, not ordering that.

Enchrito (Taco Bell) - We're talking the original back from the 80's with a corn shell and three slices of olives on top.  The good news is Taco Casa's Chilada makes an even better substitute.  It has a flour shell, but it's bigger, has better sauce, and unlike Taco Bell's more recent (and also discontinued version), is topped in olives.

Chilito/Chili Cheese Burrito (Taco Bell) - It was a burrito with Taco Bell's mystery chili substance and cheese in it.  Never exactly generous on the portion, but delicious and really a one-of-a-kind item.  Supposedly still available in some markets, or at least was for awhile.

Ultimate Taco (Del Taco) - This was one of the most perfect tacos ever.  It was in a larger shell and included sour cream and a salsa unique to that taco.  Just a perfect balance of flavors.  Del Taco doesn't even offer a supreme taco with sour cream included anymore, though you can add sour cream for an upcharge.  A really ridiculous upcharge if I remember right.  Closest alternatives out there are Taco Bueno's Big Freaking Taco and Taco Casa's Super Taco, but in both cases you're adding sauce yourself.

Bacon & Egg Quesadilla (Del Taco) - I have no idea why Del Taco would pull their breakfast quesadilla from the menu, but they did.  It was bacon, egg, cheese, and green sauce.  It's not like they go rid of the green sauce, they still use it on the chicken quesadilla.

Grilled Cheese Thickburger (Hardee's) - Hardee's has rolled this out as an LTO once in awhile.  It's the Frisco melt with extra cheese and no tomato.  Simple.  So why isn't it just on the menu all the time.  That sandwich drives me to Hardee's.

Bar-B-Que Cheddar (Whataburger) - Greatest Whataburger ever.  A double patty Whataburger with cheddar in between the patties topped with pickles, onions, and barbecue sauce.  Incredible.  Everything on it worked so perfectly together.  I'm not sure I've ever had a BBQ cheddar burger that compared.  I do not understand how this isn't a permanent menu item, especially with Carl's Jr selling a ton of Western Bacon Cheeseburgers in an increasing number of Whataburger markets.

I could probably sit here all day thinking of more.

But I have tacos to eat.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Wawa

Place: Wawa
Lunch: Cheesesteak hoagie (mayo, caramelized onions, pickles), mac and cheese,, meatball, hot dog, water

Wawa has a legendary reputation with a fiercely loyal fan base who consider them the greatest convenience store chain in the world.  I’ve been to one once, and I was inside just long enough to get a receipt for my gas that the pump didn’t provide.  Now, I’m sampling the menu for lunch to see what makes their fans so feverish.

Convenience store chains have been upping their fresh food game in the wake of declining tobacco sales and the decreasing profitability of gas on the retail end.  Full kitchens producing made to order foods are becoming more common.  Wawa and fellow Pennsylvania competitor Sheetz were pioneers here and debates on which chain is better are as common in their core markets as Coke vs Pepsi or even Soda vs Pop are everywhere.  I’ve been to Sheetz a lot.  This is my first time eating something at Wawa, and trips to Wawa markets being extremely rare for me, I took advantage to sample a few things.

Ordering is done from a touch screen, much like Sheetz.  Offerings focus on hoagies and sides...the selection is much more limited from the ridiculous number of offerings at Sheetz.  The hoagies are all anyone ever talks about anyway.  So I order my cheesesteak, a small side of mac and cheese, and small meatballs (you get two in a cup).

I also wander the store.  There’s an area with Wawa-branded snacks and the usual convenience store fare.  The soda fountain is a Coke Freestyle, no Peosi.  There’s a mini staffed coffee station that makes custom coffee drinks.  And there’s a heated glass display case full of hot dogs in plastic containers pre-bunned.  No roller grill.  No way to add chili or cheese.  Condiments are limited to tiny packets.  You’d probably need like ten mustard packets for the bigger hot dogs.  I grab a hot dog anyway.

I pay for everything, my order number is called, and I head to the car to eat in the parking lot.  The first thing I discover is they don’t automatically place any cutlery in the bag when you order things that require it.  Nice.  I have a spare plastic spoon from some other fast food visit on hand anyway.

So how was it?

The cheesesteak was lousy.  The meat and onions were pretty flavorless.  The mayo overwhelmed the thing and tasted odd.  It was also supposed to have cheese on it, but I could find no evidence of it existing.  Thumbs down.

The meatballs were lousy.  Just bland.  I ate one of them.  Thumbs down.

The mac and cheese was the highlight.  Better than you’d expect from a convenience store.  Thumbs up.

The hot dog was a bold flavored all-meat plumper that required all the mustard packets I grabbed and maybe then some.  Too strong without the mustard, fine with it.  Thumbs...up.

Bottom line...I walked into Wawa wondering why they had such a cult following.  I walked out still wondering why they had a cult following, but for all the wrong reasons.

In the debate of which is better, Sheetz wins by a landslide.

But QuikTrip still beats them both.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Bob for the Block

Place: In-N-Out Burger
Lunch: Double Double (no lettuce, no tomato, add pickles and grilled onions), chocolate shake

You know what I never noticed before?  In-N-Out’s grilled onions are reconstituted dehydrated minced onions.

They’re fine, it just seems odd for a chain that boasts of “fresh” so much.  And it won’t matter to the In-N-Out faithful, who are as fiercely and blindly behind the brand as Apple fans are to theirs.

This was made apparent in news stories covering the closure of the oldest operating Burgerville.  The Portland chain’s Beaverton outlet was my childhood burger joint and it still retains that classic exterior look.  I’ve stopped in for lunch on every trip home for years.

It’s a big deal to a lot of people to see it go, including to the media, who covered it and posted said stories on Facebook.  Which meant there were lots of comments.  That included lots of snarky negative comments.

“Who cares.  They’re overrated.”

“Their quality has gone down hill and they’re overpriced.”

“The whole chain will be out of business as soon as In-N-Out opens.”

Wait...what?  In-N-Out?  Yes.  In-N-Out is opening a restaurant soon in Salem.

A single location, specifically, that is 40 miles from this Burgerville (and most other Burgervilles), is going to put all 40 Burgervilles out of business.

This isn’t just a Burgerville issue, of course.  The same thing happens with all the major chains.  Everybody loves to dump on McDonald’s and Burger King like it’s a sport.  But no matter how many new and even better competitors grow, they’re still the biggest burger chains.

This happens with any business, news story, musical artist page, you name it.  It was on the official KISS page that I got fed up with the idiots who “like” the page and follow the posts for their big tour just so they can leave comments like “its fake Paul’s lip-synching” and “they’re a cover band without Ace and Peter.”

And that’s when I started blocking people.

When you block a user on Facebook, they can no longer see your posts, you can no longer see theirs, and they can’t send you friend requests.  And if they’re already friends, they’re automatically unfriended.

The KISS feed suddenly became so much more readable.

So I started to do the same with toxic users on other feeds.  Then I started muting the radical firebombing political posters regardless of party affiliation who I am friends with (muting hides their posts from your feed, but they can still read yours) or selectively putting some on 30 day mutes.  And I started hiding all content from meme sources my friends are constantly sharing on their feeds.  (Hiding a source means you’ll no longer see shared posts from that source without completely muting your friend.)

I also started blocking big pharma advertisers so I don’t have to look at their disgusting ads.

You know what?  Facebook has become a lot more tolerable.  My feed is more readable.  It’s not perfect, but it’s better.

So the next time you see that same username posting yet another stupid negative unnecessary comment, click on their profile, find the option to block them, and send them into the abyss.

You’ll feel much better in the morning.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Big Roast Beefy

Place: Hardee's
Lunch: Big Roast Beef, 1/3 lb Original Thickburger (no lettuce, no tomato), orange Hi-C

Years ago, Hardee's was sold to CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Carl's Jr.  CKE's plan was to use the highly damaged chain to springboard the Carl's Jr brand from regional to national.  To convert Hardee's to Carl's Jr, not unlike how Hardee's did the same to Sandy's and Burger Chef.  They were going to keep the Hardee's breakfast line, because that was actually working, but adopt the Carl's Jr lunch/dinner menu.  Seemed like a good idea at the time, because Hardee's had little going on past 10:30am.  Credit the employees and customers of Peoria, one of the initial two test markets, for sabotaging this.

Plan B was what was known as "Star Hardee's", which was basically the same plan but with the Hardee's brand name and curly fries and the Hot Ham & Cheese returning to the menu.  The Carl's Jr burgers stuck around.

Not returning to the menu was the Big Roast Beef.  The popular option featured pressed roast beef much like Arby's, but piled higher on a buttery sesame seed bun.  It's one of the few menu items anyone can remember of pre-CKE Hardee's, and easily the most missed.

Fast forward two decades and change later, and Hardee's has rolled out the Big Roast Beef once again systemwide, and it's return has been...polarizing.  The comments in social media ads have been anywhere from joy to the idea that it's back to anger that it's allegedly not the same as it was to debates about what it used to be in the first place.  A lot of people claimed it was taken from the Roy Rogers menu after Hardee's parent company acquired that chain (it wasn't...Hardee's offered it years before the acquisition and the sandwich bore no resemblance at all to Roy's roast beef).  One guy insisted the original came dressed with mayo, lettuce, and tomato, and no amount of replies telling him that was never true (and it wasn't) will change his mind.  Others complained that the original was shaved from a roast on site (debatable) and was piled way higher (true) and tasted different (also true).

Something else that's true?  It never really completely disappeared.  Some rural market stores have been selling it all along or at least in recent years.  But even that version wasn't comparable to the 80's Hardee's.  It was still delicious.  The bun...more recently the Fresh Baked Bun used on the Thickburgers...was saturated in a buttery sauce that made the whole thing magical.  If I was near a Hardee's that had it, I was getting it.  So I assumed this wuld be what they were rolling out systemwide when I saw the ads.

So is it?  Or is it a true throwback to the original?

It's neither.

The "new" roast beef is soaked in an au jus prior to serving that you can taste in the beef.  And the buttery sauce doesn't exist.  And the combination makes for a vastly different and altogether inferior sandwich.

Highly disappointing.

So I need to go back to one of those rural Hardee's to see if they're now making the sandwich this new way.

If they are, everything is ruined here.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Truffley

Place: Carl’s Jr
Lunch: Bacon Truffle Angus burger, onion rings, Coke

Me: “Bacon truffle Angus burger combo with onion rings...”

Smiling Counter Girl: “One third pound, one half pound, two thirds pound, single, or double?”

Me: “Uh...one third pound.”

Smiling Counter Girl: “Large or medium combo?”

Me: Medium.”

The register monitor indicates I’ve ordered TWO such burgers and an order of fries.  No drink.  Smiling Counter Girl anticipates my confusion.  “I’ll fix it.  MANAGER!”

Some Guy shows up.  “He only wants one,” she says.  He swipes his override card.  The extra sandwich disappears.  Now there’s one burger and fries.

Smiling Counter Girl: “Does that complete your order?”

Me: “I asked for a combo with onion rings.”

Smiling Counter Girl: *looks at menu board* - “It comes with onion rings on it.”

Me: “A side of onion rings instead of fries.”

Smiling Counter Girl becomes Confused Counter Girl.  She scans the menu board.  Looks at the register.  Shouts “MANAGER!”   Two Guys show up.

“He wants...onion rings...instead of fries?”

One of them swipes his override card.  Fries disappear.  She figits with the register.  Onion rings appear, as does my drink.  Transaction complete.  She gives me the table number, but not a drink cup.  I ask for one.

“What did you want to drink?”

Why is she asking me this?  You just give me an empty cup and I fill it with whatever I want.

Despite not asking this out loud, she anticipates my question.  “It’s broken,” she says, pointing to the dining room fountain.  “We have to get it from that one,” pointing to the drive-thru fountain.

Coke eventually achieved.

To quote the press release, “the new Bacon Truffle Angus Burger features a decadent truffle-infused white cheddar sauce, which has a deep, rich and savory flavor including notes of garlic, toasted onion and aged parmesan. The burger includes a charbroiled 100 percent Black Angus beef patty topped with the premium white cheddar truffle sauce, two slices of Applewood smoked bacon, crispy onion strings, Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and mayonnaise on a premium bun.”  The fine print claims “natural and artificial truffle flavor”.  There aint no real truffles in here, baby.  Not at this price point.

Looks great on paper.  And...wow.  TASTES great in mouth.  The press release description absolutely nails what I’m tasting here.  Smoky, maybe jut a bit mushroomy, and a bit garlicy.  A perfect mix in any case.  This may be one of the best burgers Carl’s Jr has ever come up with.  There wasn’t a single bite of this burger I did not enjoy.

Not available at Hardee’s, tragically.

It’s kind of rare that an advertised LTO burger hits an expectation home run.

This one did.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Auto Show 2019

Place: Taco Time
Lunch: Crispy Taco (no tomato), crisp chicken burrito, cheddar fries, Pibb XTRA

Pretty much like this all the time now

Our Taco Time, the last in the region that has long been an island outside their core markets, is closing at the end of the month.  So everybody and their mother has been bombarding the place with business since finding out to get their last crispy burrito fix and to stock up the freezer with bulk orders.  The lot at the neighboring abandoned KFC has been acting as overflow parking.  People come in and have their partners grab a table while they stand in line to order food to make sure those who got here ahead of them have no place to sit.  Jerks.  The owner is all like "Well if business had been this good all along, we'd have fixed the place up and stayed open!"  Spiteful little prick.

I did the Auto Show Friday night.  I usually do it on a Saturday or Sunday morning, but I may do evenings from now on.  Smaller crowd, more relaxing atmosphere, and I got to experience "AUTO SHOW AFTER DARK!" as the guy on the PA put it.  They dimmed the lights, replaced the girls modeling the cars with Playboy bunnies, fired up the disco music, and rolled out casino games and a cocaine and caviar buffet.

Okay, most of that isn't true.  They just dimmed the lights slightly.  I have no idea why.


Audi

A6 Sedan, A7 Sportback - Essentially the same car aside from the whole trunk-vs-hatch thing, they're all-new for 2019 with a 3.0 turbo mild hybrid V6 and fancy new dual center console touchscreens with improved everything, plus that configurable digital cockpit instrument cluster.  TIP: Go with the Sportback.  It's way cooler looking and more utilitarian.  Frankly, all of the luxury brands should be looking at sportback designs.

Q8 - Audi calls it a "flagship crossover coupe".  Remember when coupes had two doors?  This doesn't.  But it's the modern-day equivalent of what wealthy sports car buyers of the past want now.  It's built on the same platform as the seven-passenger Q7 (though it's smaller), the Volkswagen Touraeg, the Porsche Cayenne, the Bentley Bentayga, and the Lamborghini Urus.  The design was inspired by the Audi Quattro of the 80's.  It has an aggressive stance with an almost obnoxiously mean look to the face of it.  It has a 335 hp turbo V6 with a mild hybrid system for stop/start and coasting efficiency and a wealth of luxury and tech inside.  This sucker can get from 0 to 60 in 5.6 seconds.  The tuners have already gotten their paws on this and have shown off some really cool custom examples.  Even at close to $100k fully loaded, Audi should have no problem selling these.  I found a comfortable seating position in it faster than any other vehicle on the floor.  Not sold on the two-screen center console, but wow does the dash have a clean look.  If I were rich, I'd look at this.

RS5 Sportback - Four doors, a rear hatch, sexy lines, and 444 hp with 443 lb-ft of torque on an all wheel drive system.  You could do worse.  You could do far, far worse.

Buick

Regal TourX - It's a rebadged Opel Insignia station wagon.  Not a tall station wagon trying to be an SUV, just an old fashioned station wagon, which I believe would be an exclusive to the segment in the GM line.

Cadillac

XT4 - A new small crossover that slots in below the XT5 but isn't like Chevy Trax small.  It'll have a 2.0 turbo four making 237 hp tied to a nine-speed transmission.  The infotainment screen is new with more buttons and less touch screen requirements than the horrible CUE system.  Like every attempt Cadillac has ever made to enter the compact market, it will fail spectacularly.  Girl sitting in it, commenting on the rustic orangeish-brownish metallic color: "It reminds me of a treeee!"  Guy with her: "It reminds me of something I don't want."

Chevrolet

Like Ford, GM is slimming down it's lineup by cutting several traditional cars as buyers shun them in favor of SUV's.  Casualties at the Chevy brand include Cruze, Impala, and Volt.  That leaves Bolt, Camaro, Malibu, Spark, and Sonic.  Which is still way too many cars.  In related news, holy crap..Chevy still had eight cars in its lineup? 

Blazer - Remember these?  For most of its life it was a truck frame two-door SUV before the term SUV was coined.  A video game jobber friend of mine hauled machines to arcades in it.  There was a smaller version based on the S-10 in later years, and a version of that was even available as a four-door.  This new Blazer has nothing to do with those.  This is a two-row "sporty" SUV with Camaro styling cues, especially in the interior. There's even an RS trim available.  Unlike Equinox, you can get a V6 for it.  Pricing starts at $29k, but the version you're really going to want (the AWD RS with Enhanced Convenience and Driver Confidence II package) is closer to $50k.  Traditional Blazer fans are mad about the use of the Blazer name, so buyers can expect the same nitwits who shout "THAT'S NOT REALLY A WOMAN" at trans girls to shout "THAT'S NOT REALLY A BLAZER" at them constantly.

Cruze - Cruze may be done in the US after this model year, but it's still popular abroad and will continue production in other markets.  As such, it's final US year includes an already planned style refresh, mostly noticeable in the grille.  Really, hardly noticeable.  But it's there.  Some car experts are sort of baffled why Chevy didn't keep this in the US lineup and just punt Spark and Sonic.  (HINT: It's not so hard to understand if you have a grasp on union politics.)

Malibu - Malibu gets a style refresh, a CVT transmission on most models, and a new RS package that sports up the appearance of the car without sporting up the performance of the car.  That's a classic Chevy deception move right out of the eighties.

Silverado - The big news with the all-new 2019 Silverado is an available four cylinder turbo engine.  In a full-size pickup.  It's a 2.7 litre that apparently has 310hp.  It has stop/start technology and can cruise on two cylinders when appropriate to save fuel.  Don't worry, there's still a V6 and V8, though Autoweek claims the V6 is actually less powerful than the new four-banger.

Spark - Spark gets a mild style refresh and some new safety aids in an effort to...spark...interest.  HA HA HA HA!  See what I did...oh forget it.

Fiat

500x - 500x gets a style refresh and a new motor.  The updates didn't include a bigger infotainment screen, which is disappointing.

Ford

Ford announced last year that they're going to phase out most of their cars in favor of SUV's and trucks.  No more Taurus.  No more Fusion.  No more Fiesta.  No more Focus. Mustang lives.  Lincoln sedans will not be affected by this change.  If there was anything new on the Ford stand, I didn't notice.

GMC

Sierra - If there's a new Chevy Silverado, there's going to be a new Sierra, because they're basically the same thing in different clothes.  And I don't like Sierra's new wardrobe much.

Honda

HR-V - Honda's baby SUV gets a style refresh and some advanced driver aid upgrades.

Passport - Honda revives a nameplate that once was essentially a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo.  It's now essentially a shorter 5-row version of Pilot.  It's Honda's answer to the new Chevy Blazer, Ford Edge, etc.  You know what it makes me think of?  A revived GMC Envoy.

Hyundai

Elantra - Elantra gets a style refresh that gives it a more aggressive look.

Kona - Hyundai's baby ute gets a full electric version in California and some compliance states.  It was supposed to be available nationally, but according to the Hyundai rep at the show, "demand was so high, they restricted sales to compliance states."  Think about that.  Everybody wants it, so we'll make sure nobody can get it.  Yeah.  It can go an impressive 258 miles on a single charge, which is better than any EV sold in the US today not made by Tesla.  It's front wheel drive only and makes 201hp, which is pretty danged zippy for a tall hatchback.

Palisade - An all-new full-size 8 passenger SUV, basically Hyundai's take on sister brand Kia's new Telluride.  It really says something that there's suddenly all these Chevy Suburban competitors out there.

Santa Fe - For the past few years, Hyundai has sold two Santa Fe's...the larger Santa Fe, and the smaller Santa Fe Sport.  The new Santa Fe is actually the size of the smaller Santa Fe Sport.  The old Santa Fe is now the Santa Fe Plus, but it's only a stopgap model that will be replaced by the previously mentioned Palisade.  The new Santa Fe gets Kona's squinty-eyed front end.  I sat in this and the Kona (again), and frankly, I think I'd prefer the Kona.  At least until you compare back seats.

Veloster - The all-new second gen car is here.  It's still bratty and has that odd third door on the passenger side.  There's a hot hatch Turbo R-Spec version you can get with a six-speed manual or dual-clutch automatic.  20 year-old me would have loved this.

Infiniti

Infiniti showed off an electric concept at Detroit this year that broke down before they could drive it onto the stage, which is a perfect example of how sad Nissan's luxury division has become.  As for real new cars you can buy?  Not only is there nothing this year, they're discontinuing the Q30/QX30 and pulling out of Western Europe completely.  I could do my usual rant about how some models haven't been updated in a decade or more or the gross missteps they've made in models and technology they HAVE updated, but what's the point.  I swear, I could do a better job of running Infiniti than any of the nitwits who actually have over the past decade.  The most stimulating conversation I heard at the Infiniti stand?  A woman who said to her friend "I like tacos.  I really do."

Jeep

Cherokee - Cherokee gets a new front end that gets rid of those controversial squinty lights that you'd think are headlights but aren't...those are really below in that boxy array of lights you probably thought were fog lights...just as a bunch of other automakers are adopting that very idea.  The standard 2.4 four-banger and optional V6 are joined by a new 2.0 turbo four that is a $500 option above the V6, but returns slightly better gas mileage than either motor, though premium gas is suggested for best performance.  No Jeep fan is going to buy that.  Everybody complains about the transmission in these things, but I drove a rental with the V6 last year and it worked fine for me, and I got really good gas mileage for a V6, averaging 32 on the highway.  The 8.5 inch touchscreen and backup camera were the best I've seen in any car.  The instrument cluster is hard to read in the sun, though.

Gladiator - It's a pickup truck version of Wrangler.  Picture a Jeep Wrangler combined with a Hummer H1 and you sort of get the idea.  Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?  Well we have the vehicle for you.

Kia

Forte - All new for 2019.  It's basic efficient transportation in a dressy package with lots of standard and optional driver aids, comfort, and entertainment tech.

K900 - Ever heard of this before?  No?  Me neither.  Yet there's an all new next generation model for 2019.  It's a luxo-barge of a sedan designed for rich people who want to be chauffeured.  In other words, almost no one in the US, let alone at close to $60k for a Kia-badged vehicle.

Niro - Kia's Prius fighter disguised as an SUV gets a plug-in hybrid that can go about 25 miles on electric before the gas motor kicks in.  I really don;'t get the appeal to PHEV's, but I guess somebody does.

Telluride - Kia adds a Suburban-size SUV to its lineup.  The front end looks like it's designed to make the thing look ridiculously wide.

Land Rover

Range Rover Evoque -  A bit longer, a bit better leg room, LED headlights, and better displays.  I drove one of these, my first ever experience with the brand, earlier this year around Vegas and the Inland Empire.  It tossed around decently and had ample power, but being a British vehicle, I had to read the owner's manual to figure out how a lot of stuff worked (including the door locks) and why a lot of stuff didn't.  Also, being a British vehicle, the check engine light was naturally on by the time I returned it.

Lincoln

Aviator - A new three-row people hauler that Lincoln uses a LOT of aircraft puns to describe.  The teaser ads on Twitter last Spring said "Landing soon."  But the only way you'll ever get this in the air is to drive it over a cliff, and the landing will be anything but graceful.   It will have a twin turbo V6 and a plug-in hybrid option.  Your smartphone will act as the car's keyfob, which is awesome for the elderly people who love Lincolns but carry those Consumer Cellular flip phones because you'll never be able to start the damn thing.  So maybe pushing it over a cliff is the best option after all.  Between this and McDonald's requiring use of their app to get deals on Filet-o-Fish during Fast Food Fish Season, it's clear America just wants the elderly to die off already.

Nautilus - A not so new vehicle with a new name, this is the MKX with a style refresh.  Lincoln has been moving away from those dumb code naming schemes in favor of real words.  That's refreshing.  It competes with vehicles like the Audi Q5, the Infiniti QX50, the Cadillac XT5, and...see what I mean?

Mitsubishi

Mitsubishi actually started television advertising again last year, driven mostly towards selling the Eclipse Cross.  But the Outlander and Outlander Sport are still the big sellers.  Oh, there's nothing new to see here yet.

Nissan

Altima - While Ford and Chevy get rid of most of their sedans, Nissan fields an all new Altima. Good timing...they can take advantage of disenfranchised American buyers.  It's sleeker looking, has sportier handling, and has a ginormous infotainment screen that looks like an iPad you juryrigged onto the top of your dash, a massive improvement over the puny screen on the previous model.  The back-up cam on that was completely useless if you were wearing polarized sunglasses.  The base 2.5 liter motor has been extensively revamped and is more powerful and more efficient than the old model (which was already decent power-wise and absurdly efficient).  The V6 option is gone in favor of the variable compression turbo four that debuted in the Infiniti QX50 last year.  In a new twist, all-wheel drive is an option.  Nissan's semi-autonomous ProPilot is available, and apparently there's tech that can read road signs and warn you of things like if you're speeding., which I'm sure will be as annoying as the "low outside temperature" warning my Altima warned me about ALL THE FREAKING TIME.  YES I KNOW IT'S COLD OUT.  Hey, can we get that VC-Turbo in the next-gen Rogue too?

Thing is, with all the updates, sitting in it still feels like an Altima.  Everything is right where you left it, it's just a bit nicer now.  And that's just fine.  I still maintain that if you want the ideal compromise of size, handling, efficiency, comfort, and performance for long distance driving, Altima is the vehicle to get.

Murano - Murano gets a style refresh and Nissan's Safety Shield 360 is available in all trims (standard on SL).  No ProPilot.  Because why would they on Nissan's snazziest SUV.

Rogue Sport - The smaller Rogue which isn't really the same vehicle but gets called that to make Rogue's selling numbers more impressive (all told, the two Rogues are the second best selling non pickup truck in the US behind...and just barely behind...Toyota's RAV4) gets a style refresh that makes it look more...sporty.  It isn't, though.  It carries over the same motor that Nissan fans thought was a dumb choice when the model was launched.

Rivian

Rivian is an electric startup that hopes to begin deliveries in late 2020 out of the old Mitsubishi plant in Normal, IL. Ever driven around Bloomington-Normal and wonder why there's so many Mitsubishi's?  That's why.  Normal is also where Steak n Shake was founded, so extra cool bonus points.  They're planning to launch with two vehicles that appear to target off-roaders like Jeep fans.  They like to use the phrase "Electric Adventure".  They should cut a deal with Maverik Convenience Stores to put up charging stations, since Maverik is "Adventure's First Stop".

R1S - A three-row SUV that sort of looks like a Ford Flex and a Hummer H2 mated.  It has all wheel drive via an electric motor on each wheel, 230 to 410 mile range depending on how you option it, and up to nearly 800 horsepower.  The "slow" one can go 0-60 in under 5 seconds.  It has off-road capability comparable to a Jeep.  Prices start at $72,500.

R1T - A pickup truck version of the above. The cheap ones will start around $69,000.  Said to have up to 11,000 pounds of towing capacity.  (The R1S "only" has 7,700.)  They are taking deposits if you want one of the first.

Subaru

Ascent - Subie joins the three-row SUV ratpack with a Highlander-sized SUV.  It's the biggest vehicle Subaru has ever made, but it's still a four-cylinder CVT vehicle.  There's no V6 option.

Crosstrek - Crosstrek gets a plug-in hybrid option for 2019 that's borrowed from Toyota.

Forester - All-new for 2019.  You could place pictures of the 2018 and 2019 next to each other and play a game of "spot the differences" and it would be a challenge.  But inside there's a bigger screen and nicer interior.  The engine and driver aids have also advanced.

Toyota 

Toyota had a giant plastic asterisk in their area that said "*Boring is not an option" on it.  That's true.  Boring comes standard on EVERY Toyota.

Corolla Hatchback - This new model evolved from the Scion iM (sold last year as Corolla iM).  It's now faster and sharper but not quite on a GTI level.  But it's also quite a bit cheaper.  It sure feels cheap inside.

Corolla Hybrid - Corolla gets a new hybrid version that rides on the Prius platform.  Actually, it sounds like it's basically a Prius disguised as a Corolla.

RAV4 - The best selling non pickup truck in the US is redesigned for 2019.  It has an aggressive new style.  The front end looks REALLY angry.  Like Frownie the Brownie angry. The professional car reviewers are all saying you should go with the hybrid version, which has a more composed ride and waaay better gas mileage with 41 mpg city and 37 mpg highway estimates.  It sits nice and I liked the control layout.

Supra - Toyota revives this sports car badge for an all-new...sports car.  Which is impressive in an era where car companies are using legendary sports car names on SUV's.  The bad news is speculation on the future of the 86, the much cheaper sports car co-built with Subaru, who sells their version as the BRZ.  If I were in the coupe market, I'd prefer the 86 over the Supra.


Volkswagen

I almost bought an old Tiguan this year.  A cheap 2009 model with just north of 100k on the clock.  Why?  It had a six-speed manual and looked really nice.  Thought it might make a fun project car.  Something that could be morphed into being more GTI-like.  Then I went through the VW forums to see what issues I should look for and found out about VW's epic fail in timing chain design and the class action that ensued.  And I laughed and laughed and laughed and that ended that.  If you must own a Volkswagen, buy it new and plan on selling it the day before the warranty expires.  By the way, if you want a reminder of how flimsy cars in the eighties were built, close the door on a new Tiguan with the window rolled down.  There's that classic rattle.

Beetle - The current generation Beetle will end production this year without a replacement.  The follow-up to the "New Beetle", which was a sensation when it was introduced in 1998 (I had a 2000 New Beetle GLX and it ranks as one of my favorite cars ever) never really caught on in an era where car buyers are all but abandoning passenger cars...let alone coupes...in favor of SUV's.  However, there's talk of a new Beetle EV coming eventually.  I would love to see that.  I also have a vision in my head of an SUV-sized Beetle that would be completely ridiculous and amazing.

Golf - Golf gets a motor demotion with the 1.4 turbo from the new Jetta moving into this model, replacing a more powerful but less efficient 1.8.  The next gen Golf should debut next year.

GTI - The hot hatch legend gets a "Rabbit Edition", paying tribute to the brand VW marketed the first generation Golf under in the US.  It's basically a trim package.  Hop along, bunny.

Jetta GLI - The sport version of VW's best seller is here and is really the Jetta you want with its 228 hp four and standard six-speed manual.  A dual clutch auto is optional.  It gets similar performance upgrades to the GTI, a honeycomb grille, cool wheels, and painted brake calipers.  It will not be mistaken for the ordinary Jetta, but they had a prototype GLI here, and it's not as impressive looking in person as it is in pictures.

Passat - The American Passat, which is different than the European and Chinese Passats, gets a style refresh to make it look like the new Jetta.  Since it's not a full redesign and staying on an outdated platform, it doesn't have the ability to have a lot of advanced tech you see in other models because VW still believes the US is a third-world country.  The Euro and Chinese Passats ride on VW's newer platforms and have no such limitations.  I suggest you go look at Nissan's new Altima instead.

Touareg - VW's original SUV which was big, inefficient, and super expensive, is all new for 2019.  It's bigger, nicer, and even more super expensive.  And because of that and the fact VW has the Atlas in the US now, the US isn't even getting the new Touareg.  That model is done here.  Sorry kids.  You'll just have to make do with platform mates Audi Q7, the new Q8, or Porsche Cayenne.  Honestly, for that kind of money, you may as well get an Audi badge out of the deal.

Volvo

S60 - All new US-built sedan from Volvo's shiny new plant in South Carolina.  I don't care how many foreign manufacturers have built cars here for decades, this idea just seems a bit odd.

V60 - All new for 2019, the most modern take on the classic Volvo wagon.  Not as boxy, has a lower,
sportier profile.  My dad used to like the old Volvos because they were "easy to fix on the road when they broke down."  Not that that happened much.

Zotye

You know when you go to the Chinese buffet and they have a skill crane machine by the entrance full of cheap Chinese iPod knockoffs?  Zotye is the car equivalent of that.  They build cheap vehicles that borrow or just outright copy other car designs.  Their big seller seems to be the T600, a compact SUV that looks exactly like a WW Tiguan up front and an Audi Q5 from the A-pillar back.  Which, frankly, makes it look better overall than either of the German cars.  They use a Mitsubishi-sourced 2-litre four-cylinder motor, which by default probably makes them way more reliable too.

Zotye plans to be selling cars in the US by the end of next year, starting with a slightly more vaguely designed version of the T600.  They expect to be priced about 20% below similar competitors.  They've already named initial dealers and apparently plan to have an online sales presence too.  I went through a bunch of owner reviews which appeared to mostly come from ex-Soviet countries and they all liked theirs, referring to them as cheap dependable transportation with a lot of features for the money.

Friday, March 08, 2019

End of the Road

Place: Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers
Lunch: Fish sandwich, cheese fries, Pepsi

Smiling Counter Girl: "How are you today?"

Me: "Fine!  How are you?"

"Smiling Counter Girl: "I wish Spring would get here already."

Me: "Yeah."

Smiling Counter Girl: "At least it's rain this weekend, not snow."

Me: "Yeah. Maybe we'll get a little melting done."

Smiling Counter Girl: "Yeah."

Me: "..."

Smiling Counter Girl: "..."

Smiling Counter Girl: "So, did you want to order some food?"

Saw my first and probably last show of KISS's "End of the Road" tour last night.  I'm really lacking the stamina for these arena shows anymore.  I have good days and I have bad days since my health issues a couple years back.  I can't stand up for long stretches of time in any case, and you jerks won't sit down and watch the show even though you paid for perfectly good SEATS.  I don't want to stare at your butts.  I am not a butt person.  Don't even get me started on thongs.  So I really need to retire from going to arena shows.

The girl next to me was having a blast.  I was up and air guitaring and singing along to "Deuce" and she was right there with me screaming every lyric and even getting a little physical.  It was her fourth ever KISS show, my sixteenth, which impressed the hell out of her.  I hated being such a bore the rest of the time.

My personal KISStory dates back to the summer of 1978.  We didn't have much access to rock music on that remote island in middle of nowhere.  There was no such thing as rock on television aside from maybe Burt Sugarman's Midnight Special then.  There were two local radio stations.  One was a public station that played snotty classical and new age nonsense.  The commercial station on the AM dial played a current adult contemporary hit, then a catalog adult contemporary or country crossover hit, then an ancient beautiful music selection.  They rotated those three categories all day.  It was as surreal as it was ridiculous.  (Yes, that's where I started my radio career.)  At night, you could pick up AM hit stations out of Vancouver and Victoria, and KEX out of my beloved hometown of Portland (also KISS guitarist Tommy Thayer’s hometown...in fact he graduated from the same high school my mother did).  But even there it was the hits, and no hard rock.  And my brain was craving something harder.  Something I didn't even really know for sure existed, but I wanted to find anyway.

I found it by browsing the racks at the local record store (and we had a surprisingly good one).  I bought records and tapes based on nothing but album cover art.  And that's how I came to buy my first KISS album, "Love Gun".  That album cover was the literal visual description of what I'd hoped to find.

Wade, the older kid who lived next door, was not impressed.  "You bought WHAT?  Gross!  They spit ketchup on stage!"

Yeah, whatever.

I put the tape in my portable cassette player.  I hit play.  And the first thing I heard was the scorching opening guitar riffs to "I Stole Your Love".  And that's all it took.  It was exactly what I was looking for.  It was exactly what I needed.

The second KISS album I got was "Hotter Than Hell", purchased at a Musicland in Butte, Montana during that last great road trip my family took.  It is to this day my favorite KISS album.

KISS, of course, was known more for their outlandish shows and visuals than music.  So that led me to magazines that featured pictures of the band and their shows, which in turn gave me another outlet to discover other bands.  But none of them carried the infatuation I had with KISS.  My bedroom walls were covered in KISS posters.  And by the end of that first summer, that neighbor kid Wade's bedroom was too.

I couldn't actually have the ultimate KISS experience and go to any shows, of course.  We didn't have any such thing on any level up there.  And the band was in turmoil by the time I found them.  There were the solo albums.  Then the two poppy discoey albums.  Then the mother of all disasters known as "The Elder", which was so poorly received they didn't even bother trying to support with a tour.  It was like finding the ultimate party where you’d finally found your people and the place where you fit in just as everyone was going home.

I still didn't abandon the band as so many did, though it was a complete surprise to see "Creatures of the Night" on the new release shelf.  And that was a great album.  To this day, I probably listen to it more than any other KISS record.  KISS got a new groove and really created a new legacy in the unmasked era of the eighties.

It was May 26, 1990 when I finally got to see a KISS show.  The "Hot in the Shade" tour, Red River Fairgrounds, Fargo, North Dakota.  An outdoor show the radio station I worked for at the time was involved in promoting, so we were all there for free.  Knowing the limitations of the stage there, I didn't feel like I'd get to see the whole experience (and what an experience it was, the stage set had a massive sphinx...cleverly nicknamed Leon...as its backdrop), so I also got tickets for the next show in Duluth the following night.

What did they open those shows with?  What was the first thing I got to hear KISS play live?

"I Stole Your Love".

The story had come full circle.

What is it that makes a KISS show so unforgettable?  Sure you've got the trademark fireworks and theatrics, but you also have a lot of great party songs.  Who's released more timeless anthems than KISS?  "Shout It Out Loud."  "Detroit Rock City."  "God of Thunder."  "I Love It Loud."  "Heaven's on Fire."  "Lick It Up."  And, of course, "Rock and Roll All Night."  That music is built to thrill a live audience.  How can you not sing along?  No band can give an audience a rock and roll high like KISS can, and nobody works harder to do so.  Yeah, the vocals are a little frazzled now, but they still bring it.  And the new stage show and the amount of pyro used is just ridiculous.



It would have been impossible for that kid back in 1978 to comprehend being able to see KISS live 40 years later.

But I'm thrilled that I did.

All sixteen of my KISS shows:

Date City ST Venue
5/26/1990 Fargo ND Red River Valley Speedway
5/27/1990 Duluth MN Duluth Entertainment Convention Center
12/10/1992 Portland OR Memorial Coliseum
7/12/1996 Moline IL MARK of the Quad Cities
10/23/1996 Omaha NE Omaha Civic Auditorium
4/19/1997 Ames IA Hilton Coliseum
4/26/1997 Fargo ND Fargodome
12/19/1998 Cedar Rapids IA Five Seasons Center
4/4/2000 Oklahoma City OK Myriad Convention Center
5/16/2000 Moline IL MARK of the Quad Cities
8/30/2000 Ames IA Hilton Coliseum
6/2/2000 Cedar Rapids IA US Cellular Arena
8/11/2012 Las Vegas NV Mandalay Bay Events Center
6/23/2014 West Valley City UT USANA Amphitheatre
8/20/2014 Des Moines IA Wells Fargo Arena
3/7/2019 Omaha NE CHI Health Center

Friday, February 22, 2019

Fake Burgers

Place: White Castle
Lunch (for Breakfast): Four original Sliders, one Impossible Slider, one Sausage, Egg and Cheese Slider, Orange Hi-C Fanta Orange

I navigate the menu on the Coke Freestyle to Hi-C Orange.  I push the button.  A little bit comes out, then it quits and the whole line of Hi-C everything goes to "out of stock" mode.

*sigh*

So I keep what it poured and filled the rest of the cup with Fanta Orange instead.

This is an increasingly rare example of a company manufactured White Castle.  PSB (Porcelain Steel Buildings) Company was a White Castle division that manufactured everything from the building structure to the kitchen equipment to the fixtures you found in a White Castle from 1934 until maybe the last decade or two.  Truck it all to the site and assemble.  PSB was sold off just a few years ago, along with a spinoff that made fertilizer spreaders.  White Castle wasn't PSB's exclusive client...they built lots of non-associated restaurants and those metal gas stations you remember from the mid 20th century.

I used to know someone who's brother was a vegetarian.  One day, he ordered a cheese quesadilla and was given a ground beef and cheese quesadilla.  He decided to just make it vegetarian himself by scraping off the ground beef.  This, of course, doesn't really work because the whole thing is still contaminated by the animal fat.  So naturally, he found the resulting quesadilla to be the greatest thing he'd ever tasted.

We'll get back to that.

There are meat lovers, and there are meat haters.  The meat lovers love a good burger.  The meat haters love to eat something that looks like a burger to...I don't know...fit in?  But what they're eating is a mashed up glob of vegetable and potato starches that tastes awful and has the texture of cardboard.  It's no wonder they seem so angry when they yell at you for having the audacity of enjoying your delicious, juicy slab of ground up dead cow.

But there’s two new players in the game said to improve on the non-meat burger experience, and they’ve gotten themselves in the door of some familiar fast food chains.  Their approach is referred to "plant-based meat".

Colorado-based Beyond Meat uses a patty that is primarily pea protein. It has beet juice to give it its red color and sort of its ability to “bleed” like meat.  Critics claim there's too much sodium and too many highly processed ingredients.  Among its many ingredients is coconut oil. You know, that crap they use in theatre popcorn that, depending on who you ask, is either the healthiest stuff in the world or is killing us all at an alarming rate.  Beyond claims their product differs from traditional veggie burgers by looking, cooking, and “satisfying” like a beef burger.

Carl’s Jr has started selling the “Beyond Famous Star”, a version of their signature burger with a Beyond Meat patty. I recently ordered one of each, dressed identically, to do a side-by-side taste test.

One of these is not like the other
Well, they look the same. They don’t quite smell the same. I take a bite of the Beyond version.

Well, it’s doesn’t feel like cardboard. The texture has improved, but it’s still not beef-like.

But does it taste like beef?

No. No it doesn’t.

Okay, but does it taste good?

No. No it doesn’t. It’s sort of a bean-tofu type taste that lingers. It’s still no more edible than older veggie patties. If you made me choose between Beyond and a traditional veggie patty, I would say make which ever one you wish because I am just going to remove the patty and eat the rest.

Actually, make it the veggie burger.  The aftertaste of the Beyond patty still lingered ten minutes after leaving despite the fact I only ate a couple bites and then ate a whole regular Famous Star after and drank two Cokes. Even my hands smelled like it. And after washing them a half hour later, they still smelled kind of like wet dog.  I don't recall that problem with any regular veggie burger (though it's been years).

If you really hate life, you can substitute the Beyond patty on any burger in their lineup for a $2 upcharge.  Del Taco is also selling a Beyond Meat version of their taco.  What are the chances I’ll be trying that?  Literally ZERO.

A similar product is creating a similar buzz.  The Impossible Meats people claim their stuff "delivers all the flavor, aroma and beefiness of meat from cows."

Uh huh.

Impossible is made primarily of wheat and potato protein, colored by heme.  ("What's heme?"  "Here, watch a video.")  There's some other stuff related to binders and fats (yes, including coconut oil.)

Which is why we're at White Castle this morning.  White Castle has made available an Impossible Slider. 

Original Slider, Impossible Slider, Sausage, Egg & Cheese Breakfast Slider

The first thing you'll notice is the Impossible Slider is way more impressive looking with a patty twice as thick as the Original Slider and lacking the five holes in the patty.  It's also topped with a slice of cheddar.  Nice.

But does it taste good?

*bites in, chews, spits out almost immediately*...OH GOD!  EW EW EW EW EW EW EW EW EW EW EW EW EW EW EW EW EW!!!!  THAT'S DISGUSTING!  *guzzles Fanta*

But does it taste like beef?

Are you kidding?  It tastes like an indescribable horror.  Having said that, it actually did have a beef-like texture.

Here's the thing...it's clear to me vegetarians who claim this stuff tastes like meat have no idea what meat tastes like in the first place.  It goes back to the guy who fell in love with the animal fat saturated cheese quesadilla.  He had no idea what he'd been missing.

The real question, however, is why do vegetarians want to look like they’re eating a burger to the point of putting themselves through this nonsense?  Just order the burger without the burger patty.  Have a condiment and veggie sandwich.  Even I could eat that.  I have a friend who orders her tacos with beans substituting for beef at Taco Bell all the time.  She's not even vegetarian...she just prefers them that way.

So what's next?  Lab meat (or "clean meat") is essentially meat grown in a lab using animal cells.  That's right...they're growing burger patties.  It's not commercialized yet, but it's coming.  They've even attracted investors who are in the real meat business.

Yes, I'll probably try it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Bacon Mac

Place: McDonald's
Lunch: Bacon Big Mac, Bacon Quarter Pounder with Cheese, Bacon Cheddar Fries, Hawaiian Punch

We're on the tail end of the Polar Vortex in the upper Midwest.  I spent it in bed re-watching Season 1 of "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" and being disappointed in myself for not inventing a cheesy video game called "Polar Vortex" back in the eighties.  I probably could have retired on that and spent my life traveling, eating all sorts of regional fast food cheeseburgers  and chili dogs and making other poor life choices.  As opposed to me now, which is basically the same person but under the title of "unemployed".

I decided to emerge from the Townhouse of Solitude for the first time this week and run some errands.  The cats were all like "WHAT?  NO!  YOURE NOT SUPPOSED TO LEAVE THE HOUSE ANYMORE! THIS IS YOUR LIFE NOW!"  A couple of stops and a conversation with the Trader Joe's cashier later (commenting on me running around in an open jacket and T-shirt in these temperatures), I arrived at McDonald's for lunch.

McDonald's is on a bacon kick.  They're currently promoting "McDonald's Classics with Bacon", bacon-enhanced Big Macs and Quarter Pounders.  Bacon on a Quarter Pounder?  Yeah, I could see that.  On a Big Mac?  Hmmm, I don't know.  But they're just incidental promotions for the real reason you're going to check this out...McDonald's is also offering bacon cheddar fries.

Bacon cheeseburgers are nothing new.  I've been a regular consumer since I first saw such a thing at Hardee's back in the eighties.  Cheese fries and bacon cheese fries aren't really new either.  But they are new to McDonald's.   For a lot of people, adding bacon and soupy fake cheddar to McDonald's fries has been the holy grail of food fantasy.

Let's give it a go, shall we.

As of this writing, you have to go into the store and order these items from a counter person.  They're not listed on the McDonald's app.  Because why would they be.

On a clear day you can see BACON



Quarter Pounder with Cheese

You could actually get bacon as an option prior to this promotion.  The option is available in the Customize section of their app (under "Condiments" of all things).  You couldn't do this with the Big Mac.

There's really no surprise here.  If you've had a bacon cheeseburger at any other chain that fries burgers on a regular grill, you know what to expect here.  And you won't be disappointed.  It's exactly what you're expecting.

Bacon Cheddar Fries

There's three places where I will always order fries...Freddy's, Steak n Shake, and McDonald's.  They're as good as fries get.  Most other chains, I can't stand them.  But I love the skinny shoestrings at Freddy's and Steak n Shake.  And nobody makes fries like McDonald's.  I even like them cold and soggy.
 
If I'm dining in, my fries at Freddy's and Steak n Shake are covered in cheese.  This has never been an option at McDonald's...until now.  It's a wonder why it took this long.

They're served in a box and come with a knife (?) and fork.  There's a nice thick liquid cheese with bits of what appears to be freshly cooked bacon in it.  The flavor of the cheese and the bacon are distinct and work well together.  And they completely overwhelm the classic taste of McDonald's fries.

Which is to say...this is a fail.

There are some fries in the box that are dry.  When I eat them separately for comparison, I find I actually prefer them.

I used to hate mashed potatoes.  I liked baked potatoes, but not mashed.  My grandmother used to insist this made no sense.  "They're the same thing," she would say.

"No, you put milk in them," I would respond.

"But you like milk too."

"But when you put them together, it's gross," I would reply.

This is a similar situation.  I mean, it's not gross at all, but these three things just don't belong together.  I guess McDonald's knew what they were doing all along.

You know what I would like to try?  A bacon cheddar version of the Filet-O-Fish.  The same bacon cheddar mix they put on the fries atop the fish filet instead of tartar sauce.  That would be interesting.

Big Mac

I am not expecting much here.  The Big Mac is a delicate balance of the perfect mix of flavors.  That's what makes it the best selling burger that it is.  There's nothing quite like it.

The bacon is nestled between the top patty and the middle bun.  I rotate the burger to find a spot where bacon is peeking out and take a bite.

Holy crap.

This totally works.

What I expected to be the biggest disappointment turned out to be the most pleasant surprise.  The bacon provides a perfect smoky accent to the classic Big Mac taste.  It isn't invasive at all.  It compliments the overall flavor.  THIS is the thing they should have been doing years ago.

Wow.

Burger King's Big King XL

Burger King has always encouraged adding bacon to any sandwich on the menu.  You'll usually find a card promoting that right by the register.  You have to do this in-store though,as their not-ready-for-prime-time app doesn't give you the option on any sandwich.  They don't let you add extra anything through the app, actually.  Have it your way?  Screw you, app users.

Since BK is currently offering a new take on their Big Mac copycat, why not.

The Big King has been presented in a number of formats over the years, from a proper three-bun double decker to a standard double cheeseburger with the special sauce to...well...this.  The XL version is a double cheeseburger using the Whopper patties and bun with Big Mac toppings.  That's a full half pound plus of beef vs 3.2 ounces in a Big Mac (or as BK puts it, "175 percent more beef.").  It's honestly way too much beef and ruins that magical mixture of flavors.   But it makes for good manly testosterone boasting in their commercials, I guess.

Me (last week): "Big King XL combo with onion rings, add bacon to the burger."

Frowning Counter Girl: "Um, it already comes with bacon."

Me: *looks at register, sees she actually inputted a Bacon King*

Me: "No, not the Bacon King, the Big King XL."

Frowning Counter Girl: "Oh."  *looks at register confused, grabs manager*

"Where's that XL thing?"

He points at it.

"Oh," she says, and enters the order.

The bacon peeks out over the mountain of beef.  And it ultimately provides no flavor enhancement to the burger.  It's overwhelmed by the charbroiled beef, just like most of the toppings.

Oh well.

Bottom line...if you love bacon and want the best bacon cheeseburger, the champion is still Wendy's Baconator.  That and Wendy's chili are the only reasons I ever go there.  I'm certainly not there for their fries.

But definitely try the Bacon Big Mac.