July 28, 2005

Fowl Follow-Up

After my successful patriotic endeavor into the world of fast-food chicken, my taste buds were left wondering what other delectable birds were served through America’s drive-through gourmets. Having sampled the most respected and more upper-crust offerings of the industry, I decided to try a less expensive offering. This decision led me straight to McDonald’s dollar McChicken.

I have several friends that rave about the McChicken. They have a great love for its combination of price, taste, and power to fill the stomach. Before this past week, I had never ventured to taste this champion of cheap chicken, and I felt that following up on fast-food poultry offered the perfect opportunity.

The culinary contraption known as the McChicken is basically a breaded chicken patty, some lettuce, and some mayonnaise slapped on a bun. While this description sounds as appetizing as the sandwich looks, it actually has quite a bit of enjoyable taste. My taste buds told me that the sandwich had a similar flavor to cafeteria chicken patties.

While I realize that not all individuals like the chicken patty as much as I do, (My liking was explicitly expressed in a column of Rick’s CafĂ© Critique in the Periscope) there is still no argument that it is a classically inoffensive presentation of chicken. I have yet to meet anyone that hates chicken patties. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of people that feel strong enough negative emotion in relation to the sandwich to say that they dislike it. I am certain that this universal inoffensiveness (if it should not be described as nationwide appeal) of chicken patties translates to the McChicken.

The McChicken is not, however, a chicken patty clone. It has a distinct taste of its own. I would hardly say that it tastes more like chicken than a classic chicken patty, but it does have a unique taste of its own. The most effective description would be to say that it has a unique McDonald’s flavor. Those that have eaten under the golden arches will surely understand what this means. It is a combination of salt, grease, chemicals that can actually be appealing if one doesn’t stop to think about why he or she craves it.

Aside from the satisfying chicken patty itself, the McChicken is essentially some mayo, lettuce shreds, and a bun. McDonald’s lettuce is by no means the best in food, but it falls short of being downright “bad”. If anything, the lettuce on the McChicken adds a little crunch, though it hardly touches the flavor department. Again, the bun and mayonnaise do not offend and blend well with the chicken. My sole complaint would be that there is no tomato offered with the sandwich. I am not a fan of tomatoes on my sandwiches at all, but it is a fairly standard offering throughout fast food. A part of me left Ronald’s house feeling that some American tradition had been slaughtered with the McChicken. I suppose sacrifices must be made for the sake of “ballin’ on a budget”.

My final point on the dollar McChicken sandwich is that it does not actually cost a dollar. (At least in my home state of Pennsylvania) The sandwich sits on the dollar menu and a dollar is deposited in McDonald’s coffers with the purchase of the sandwich, but taxes push the sandwich past the convenience of handing the cashier a Washington and being done with payment. I have to pay $1.06, and though this is hardly an enormous point of contention, it does strike me as somewhat annoying that I must pay more than a dollar to buy from the dollar menu. This complaint is, of course, universal to all dollar and 99 cents menus.

When all is said and done, the McChicken sandwich is a budget-minded bird with big taste. Its flavor and quality hardly compare to that of Wendy’s chicken offerings, yet its price puts the expensive fowls of Dave’s burger joint to shame. I give the McChicken a solid three sporks out of five for an enjoyable taste and low price. Aside from its toll on one’s wallet, however, nothing is truly outstanding on this offering, making it a true three spork middle-of-the-pack sandwich. Though birds of a feather must fly together, I would never suggest that the Spicy Chicken Sandwich fly with Rondald McDonald’s budget offering.

July 20, 2005

Perennial Pizza

It can be said that all things should be done in moderation. Subsequently, I, your humble food critic, took a one week vacation from my summer vacation activity of reviewing food. I return with my reviewing batteries recharged and a new need for reviewing delectable inexpensive foods.

I work a long, difficult eight-hour day filled with many trying naps and difficult lounging. Subsequently, I am always hungry come lunchtime. Every Friday, several of my coworkers and I try to sample a different eating establishment. Often, our exploration leads us to all-you-can-eat buffets and other such smorgasbords. Last Friday, we found ourselves at the Pizza Hut lunch buffet.

The interesting Italian icon of pizza has, of course, been translated into many different American versions. We all know that pizza in the United States is hardly an Italian food, and pizza hut pizza is quite possibly the farthest cry from true Italian that one can find in a pizzeria. However, “gatherin’ round the good stuff” is not necessarily a bad thing. Although pizza hut pizza is not my favorite interpretation of the pies from Europe’s most famous boot, I cannot say that I find the pizza offensive. It has a solid blend of cheese, sauce, and golden crust. It is, of course, amazingly greasy and requires either a strong stomach or multiple cloth napkins (for dabbing grease) to eat, but this is an affliction of all pizza chains. It is not simply a Pizza Hut problem. I find the Pizza to be totally inoffensive, although one could make the argument that it is less than memorable.

The lunch buffet operates on a unique principle at “The Hut”. Most buffets have a specific menu that corresponds to a certain time and date. For instance, the Old Country Buffet may have fried chicken on Tuesday at dinner. If the chicken runs out, it will be refilled in the same place on the buffet. Pizza hut operates on a different principle. They rotate their pizzas. There may be a thin crust supreme pizza offered in a spot. After this pizza runs out, it may be replaced by a pan pepperoni pizza. This makes eating at the buffet a dynamic experience. One can approach the bar filled with excitement and anticipation, as he or she does now know what foods to expect. Breadsticks and the salad bar are consistently offered in the same place, as is a dessert pizza, but the other pizzas are rotated, seemingly at random. I find this unique execution to be somewhat charming.

Unfortunately, there are also drawbacks to this style of “buffeting”. One cannot always find the pizza that they wish to eat. For instance, I have a true penchant for pepperoni, yet I was confronted with the inability to grab a slice of pepperoni pizza at several critical eating junctures. Although the pizza rotation allows for obscure pizzas such as the buffalo chicken pizza to be offered in greater variety, it also limits one’s ability to continue to eat a favorite type of pizza.

One other unfortunate drawback to the buffet is a fallacy of every all-you-can-eat offering around the country. Simply put, it is far too tempting to overeat. In addition to the fact that chronic overeating can cause obesity, isolated incidents can cause discomfort, nausea, indigestion, and every other ailment that Pepto-Bismol claims to remedy. (Interesting factoid: Pepto-Bismol is listed in my spellchecker)

I must say that I enjoyed my experience at the Pizza Hut lunch buffet. Although the pizza will not satisfy the true “Italian Stallions” in America, it is a solid offering. The pizza rotation has its own unique advantages and drawbacks, and I enjoyed sampling many different types of pizzas. Based on this information, the buffet earns a commendable three and a half sporks out of a possible five. I may even return to the buffet afterwards. I shall just have to pack some Tums as I gather round the good stuff.

July 4, 2005

The (All-American) Spicy Chicken Sandwich

The great holiday of Independence Day brings many great thoughts into the minds of the eating public. Grilled hot dogs, charcoal-scorched hamburgers, potato salad, and patriotic Jell-o seem to jump into the front of one’s mind when he or she thinks of the fourth of July. A great spirit of picnicking seizes me on this national holiday. However, Fourth of July picnics have food that is priceless, so I was forced to review another American tradition over my fireworks filled patriotically inspired four-day weekend. I turned to Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich, a concoction that is as basic to Wendy’s survival as the 1812 Overture is to A Capitol Fourth.

The Spicy Chicken Sandwich is, of course, the food that sets Wendy’s apart from other fast-food restaurants. Though square hamburgers and the famous Frosty are unique traits of the house that Dave Thomas built, the Spicy Chicken Sandwich is Wendy’s proverbial “bread and butter”. Although I was tempted to review a cheeseburger in the American spirit, I can seldom resist the calling of a crisp, spicy chicken fillet when inside the hallowed doors of Wendy’s.

Eating the sandwich is not an inexpensive proposition, as is eating almost anything at Wendy’s. The Spicy Chicken meal is $4.99, and buying the sandwich alone saves little more than a few Roosevelts. However, if one is in the mood to splurge on his or her fast food, he or she can do little better than Dave’s flagship sandwich. I have always admired the spicy chicken for its delicious flavor and crispy outside. The chicken itself is a substantial piece of meat; it is not thin or floppy like a McChicken Sandwich and is not ground and grainy like Burger King’s feather-brained offerings. It is a true piece of chicken, complete with firm tasty white meat and dashed with a delicious amount of spice. A few years ago, Wendy’s made the chicken patty even crispier, a move that delighted my taste buds. The old sandwich was sufficiently crispy, but the new patty truly crunches upon the impact of one’s incisors, and leaves the eater feeling excited and rewarded. Additionally, Wendy’s sandwiches the tasty patty between a high-quality buns. I have never seen such a doughy, delicious wonder in any fast food offerings outside of Wendy’s chicken sandwich family, but the competition should take some notes. The bun very nearly makes the sandwich.

However, when many Americans think of a Spicy Chicken Sandwich, they do not think of the bun, the breading, or even the chicken of the sandwich. The word “spicy” hangs like a storm cloud over many individual’s impressions of a meal. Some do not like hot foods. Others have not tried them but avoid them at all costs. Personally, I believe that everyone should try spicy food once. It should be noted, though, that I am an advocate of spicy food. Wings cannot be too hot for me, and I love a good dash of hot sauce on nearly any meal. Having said this, I would rate the spicy chicken’s level of hot as “zingy”. One can definitely sense the spiciness, but it wears off after a drink of lemonade or spoonful of Frosty. It is, however, a pleasant and flavorful addition to an often-dull selection of fast food sandwiches that confronts our nation’s workers when they decide which restaurant to frequent for lunch.

I understand that many do not think of “chicken” when they think of America and the Fourth of July. However, in the same way that Uncle Sam championed Liberty Bonds, the late Dave Thomas used to feature his Spicy Chicken Sandwich. Though it is a definite stretch, I feel vindicated in reviewing the Spicy Chicken Sandwich on America’s Birthday. However, though the parallels between the spicy chicken and the Fourth of July are somewhat dubious, I have no doubt in giving the Spicy Chicken Sandwich four and a half (red white and blue) sporks out of a possible five. A high price keeps this otherwise-perfect sandwich from receiving a perfect rating. However, Wendy’s deserves commendation for this excellent, if not patriotic, effort. Happy clucking, Wendy’s, and happy birthday, America.