June 10, 2007

Taco Bell: Driving Beef into Quesadillas

The Quesadilla is a tremendous concept. Toss assorted cheeses in a soft tortilla and add some meat if it suits your fancy. After a few minutes on a hot metal surface you have a gooey, cheesy source of taste-bud pleasure. Taco Bell has been advertising a new Extreme Cheese and Beef Quesadilla, so I swung through the drive-thru of my local franchise in hopes of tickling their fancy.

The Quesadilla itself is as sloppy and tasty as you would expect from Taco Bell's latest invention. The beef is the messy variety that can be found in every beef taco, gordita, and nacho salad at The Bell. There is a slew of cheeses -- I thought I detected some of The Bell's standard shredded yellow cheese along with some of the creamy Velveeta-style, although it was all melted together in an indistinguishable colloid-like mass.

This concoction is pretty large, and dirt cheap -- $1.29 to be exact. Every item on the Taco Bell value menu is a great deal, but the addition of this much beef and cheese slushed together for this low price is something special. Rest assured, although I compared the price to dirt, the actual meal did nothing to invoke thoughts of Taco Bell's recent flirtations with violations of the health code. I didn't see any evidence of chives or e.coli. In fact, the flavors blend well, and I was spared the stomach-ache that I always anticipate as penance for eating at The Bell.

There are a few drawbacks to this particular Quesadilla. The aforementioned melted cheese mixes with ground beef to become a virtual torrent of mess. Even though I ordered at the drive-thru window, I chose to wait until I arrived home to unwrap my meal. If I had tried to eat while driving, I probably would have ended up shampooing the carpet of my car all weekend in order to keep myself from thinking of the annoying Taco Bell jingle every time I stepped into my car and caught the scent of the cheese/beef mixture that would have splashed everywhere. Eat this at a table. It is not automobile food.

Actually, my entire drive-thru experience seemed determined to persuade me that Taco Bell and cars do not mix. I pulled into a line that was several cars long at 9:10 p.m. on a Friday night, just after I finished work. I pulled out of the drive-thru window with two items at 9:23.

That is quite a bit of time to spend sitting in line. The cars ahead of me had substantially larger orders than my own, but I was under the distinct impression that the staff at The Bell was in no rush to prepare my meal in a timely fashion. While I waited, my car idled, wasting both time and gas.

I don't typically use the drive-thru because going into the restaurant is just as fast, if not faster. Burning $3-a-gallon gas and playing "guess-what-this-is-doing-to-the-Ford-F-15o-sitting-in-front-of-me" did not hold my attention for long. I was left to wonder if I was so lazy that I did not mind effectively increasing the price of a Quesadilla by burning gas while I waited for my order to be filled.

That kind of thought doesn't sit well on an empty stomach, especially when you realize the meal you are ordering is too sloppy to eat in the car, thereby extending the amount of time you have to wait before eating. I ended up swearing off drive-thrus while swearing at myself for wasting time and money. It really hurt a very solid Quesadilla.

And solid is a good way to describe the Extreme Cheese and Beef Quesidilla. Solid use of cheese and solid use of beef makes for nothing less than a solid flavor combination. Taco Bell's nomenclature of "Extreme Cheese and Beef Quesidalla" had me geared up for something a little more colorful, but I ended up finding familiar ingredients mixed in a slightly unfamiliar way. The meal's lack of originality and inherent messiness are its weakest points, but those get outweighed by good taste and a splendid price. It earned four sporks out of five, so I recommend trying one next time you want to eat at The Bell.

Just do yourself a favor, and skip the drive-thru.

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