August 26, 2009

McDonald's Angus Third Pounders

For years I've needed a burger slotting between McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese and Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese. All those times when I'm too hungry for the single and not hungry enough for the double have left me calling for something else ... something like a "Third Pounder with Cheese."

OK, not really.

In fact the first time I saw an ad for a Angus Third Pounder I thought it was the answer to a question no eater asked. Between the Big Mac, Big N' Tasty, Quarter Pounder variants, McDouble and original cheeseburger offerings, I thought the golden arches had stretched all-beef patties to their sesame seed bunned limits.

The house that Ronald built disagrees, it seems. And so we have the Angus Third Pounders, with seem to target a higher class of burger eaters who prefer mushrooms, crisp onions or high quality buns. While I don't like mushrooms, I do like a bolstered bun, so I reached out for the Bacon and Cheese Angus Third Pounder.

Actually, in the interest of "thirds" I reached out for it three times at three different franchises, giving us a little more in-depth look at the item.

My first impression was that the burger is very good but the bun is lacking. All those promotional materials had me ready for a chewy bun that would soak up all the burger grease and still leave me gnawing after each bite. Instead I got a slightly higher class bun that's still overall low in quality.

The meat might be of a slightly higher grade than regular Micky D's, although I have no doubt it isn't actually certified Angus quality. And the bacon is a step up from what I usually expect at the arches.

The red onion garnishing it all is where this burger earns its keep, however. The rings are crispy and full of flavor that will leave you burping for hours after eating -- just what you want out of an onion!

My second Bacon and Cheese Third Pounder was essentially the same, but with a brutally disappointing onion. I don't know if the second McDonald's ran out of onions or if they mistakenly cooked the red onion, but it was neither crisp nor flavorful. Nor was it good, for that matter. A few limp pink strands sat on top of the burger. They might as well have not been there.

Even so, the rest of the burger was still decent, if a little expensive.

My third third pounder was back to the level of the first one, giving me the belief that the poor onion showing was an aberration. I ate just before noon and burped onion until about 7 p.m. Perfect.

If not for price, these would be a quintessential McDonald's food. Unfortunately, though, $3.99 is just a tad too high for an imitation high-class burger that's completely greasy and has a bun that's better to look at than it is to eat. I might accept $3.49 in a pinch if the onion continues to be high class, but for $3.99 I at least want lettuce on my bacon cheeseburger. So it will have to settle for four sporks out of five.

Which is still a pretty good showing considering I wasn't convinced the burger had cause to exist until I'd eaten it. Maybe McDonald's will start rolling out all sorts of fractional burgers to capture market niches I didn't know exist. If that's the case, next year at this time I'll probably be trumpeting the virtues of the "Eight Twenty Sevenths with Cheese."

August 21, 2009

Furlough Friday: Nothing

Welcome young and old the the final of our 10-part bi-weekly money-saving series, Furlough Friday. Hopefully you've learned a little about eating out on a budget this summer. Hopefully you've also learned to laugh a little, even if times are tough. Now, live from Pennsylvania ... it's Furlough Friday!

Today is the final installment of Furlough Friday, and I'm going to change things up a bit. There will be no potshots at the financial industry. No self-depreciating humor. No food, actually.

That's right, nothing is the featured meal of the final Furlough Friday. Because if times are really tough for you, you might be eating nothing.

Maybe it's a few days without food because you're laid off and trying to save enough to make a house payment. Maybe it's a suddenly closed soup kitchen for someone who has no home left. Either way, life is horrible when you have nothing at all to eat.

Have you ever gone a day without eating anything? A few years ago I did to see what it's like. The hunger doesn't stay in your stomach. Every limb on your body has this throbbing yearning for food by the end of the day, weakening you.

Imagine feeling like that day after day.

Far too many people in the world have too little to eat. Keep that in mind if you have a job, or have been laid off and get one. A donation to the local food bank, even if it's just a few cans of Spam, is one of the most simply altruistic things you can do.

It doesn't devolve into the politics of "where's my money going." If you give someone food, they have it to eat. Organizations aren't out there spending food on lobbying or salaries.

Whether or not you've had a bad hunger in your belly because of job troubles, remember that everyone should have something to eat, and try to help people who are down on their luck with a meal.

August 15, 2009


Recently I headed to Chipotle Mexican Grill, which recently made its way into the Harrisburg area with a new restaurant. A few friends talked it up to me and I was psyched to try it.

My love for Mexican food is well-chronicled, as is my appreciation for order-your-own-burritos-in-a-cafeteria-style-line Mexican restaurants. (Moe's anyone?) So going to Chipotle, a Mexican restaurant of the aforementioned style that emphasizes natural, organic ingredients, was a no-brainier.

Ordering didn't take much of a brain, either. I wanted a burrito, the signature dish of the customizable Mexican food genre. It got a little more complicated when I had to choose between chicken, beef, pork or vegetarian and decide between black and pinto beans, but it's nothing I haven't done at other restaurants -- chicken and pinto beans for me.

To say Chipotle stuffed my burrito is a massive understatement. It was about to burst, there was such a slew of rice, beans and meat packed in there. And it was all delicious.

The white rice was great, the chicken had a nice juicy flavor and a spoonful of sour cream topped things off. Defining the whole burrito experience was the salsa, though.

I chose Chipotle's hottest salsa in my burrito, and it had a good bit of kick to it. Saying it was very hot would be a stretch, but it rose above the heat in most restaurant burritos I've had.

That hot salsa also worked out well on my side of tortilla chips. Working out less well was the fact that chips weren't included in my meal. They were extra. By the time all was said and done, I paid a little over $10 for a drink, massive burrito, chips and salsa.

In reality that isn't too terrible of a price, considering the overwhelming amount of food it bought. I could have easily done without the chips and still walked away full. But who wants to eat just a burrito? No, you have to have chips to go along with your main course.

Price was the main drawback to my Chipotle experience. That and the bursting feeling in my overloaded stomach as I walked away. They combine to pull down what would be an overloaded five spork score.

Instead I talked myself down and Chipotle will have to settle for a less-than massive four sporks out of five.

August 11, 2009

Taco Bell's Volcano Nachos

Taco Bell should pepper all of its meals with jalapenos.

As a general rule, the zesty peppers make everything better. I've been privately extolling their value on subs for a while now (They're particularly good on Subway's Spicy Italian) but have never witnessed them on a Taco Bell creation.

That changed with the Volcano Nachos. They have a bunch of jalapenos, and it's to their benefit.

Loyal readers will remember the lukewarm reception I gave the disappointingly bland Volcano Taco last year. You'll also remember the thrust of my Furlough Friday feature highlighting Triple Layer Nachos -- good, but not overwhelmingly filling or shockingly tasty. Nothing in my experiences with those dishes led me to believe that combining them would result in anything more than continued mediocrity.

That's because they didn't have jalapenos. The Volcano Nachos, which Taco Bell claims have some sort of "lava sauce" on them, wouldn't be spicy without the peppers. Yet because of the peppers, they pack a decent amount of zing. Not enough to force you to take a drink, but enough to make you do a double take and check to make sure you really are eating Taco Bell.

Aside from the peppers, the nachos are also very filling. They have a bit of seasoned beef, some nacho cheese, tortilla strips, a dollop of sour cream and a liberal amount of refried beans. Plus there are plenty of them in Taco Bell's little plastic tray.

My only real criticism of them is that they don't possess the constitution to be buried under so many layers of saturating food. By the time I'd reached the bottom layers of my nachos they were flat out soggy. Let me tell you, it's impossible to dip up any refried beans with a limp nacho chip.

So grab a fork and enjoy all the soggy heat Volcano Nachos have to offer. Four sporks out of five and chalk the good rating up to the peppers.

August 7, 2009

Furlough Friday: Recycling Taco Bell's Grilled Chicken Burrito

Welcome all to Furlough Friday, the biweekly money saving sensation. Today's edition is the second to last in the summer series, so enjoy! Live from Pennsylvania ... it's Furlough Friday!

Here at Furlough Friday we're all about stretching your money as far as it can go. We're also about stretching every other resource as far as it can go. In light of that, it's time for a re-review of Taco Bell's Grilled Chicken Burrito.

You may recall June's review of the burrito and its avocado ranch sauce. The burrito I ate, which was made with plain white rice, snatched four sporks out of five. With some research I've learned Grilled Chicken Burritos typically have Taco Bell's tried-and-true seasoned rice, so it seems I rated a one-off.

On my return visit I was served a normal Grilled Chicken Burrito complete with avocado ranch sauce, some chicken strips and the seasoned rice. And it costs just 89 cents, making it perfect for Furlough Friday and saving me the extra dollar I would have had to spend reviewing another item for this feature. (Whew!)

Sadly, the burrito is just not as good with seasoned rice. The extra flavoring covers up the avocado ranch sauce, which only adds a trace of zest in this iteration. It also makes the burrito less unique among Taco Bell's lineup -- it starts to blend in to the tune of three sporks out of five.

It blends in because The Bell recombines a bunch of its ingredients to form seemingly new products. You get the same rice in all burritos, and the beans in some burritos are the same as the ones on your nachos.

And so the re-usal goes on and on, which brings us back to the point of this Furlough Friday: recycling. Because when you're out of work, you have to use everything you can as many ways as you can.