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.