December 31, 2012

The Wisconsin White Cheddar Whopper costs a lot of green

New content can be hard to find as the old year draws down and the new one approaches. 'Tis the season for list after recycled list -- it seems like over the past two weeks, I've seen everything from the top 10 sports moments of 2012 to the five best-drying paints released this year. In the past, the food critique has participated in this list-o-mania with the Golden Spork Awards, some of the most prestigious seldom-heard-of honors to ever grace the realm of food blogging.

This year, though, we're bringing you a fresh review for the holidays.

It's not that the Golden Spork Awards have been melted down and slagged forever. It's just that, given the 15-month gap we experienced between new food reviews over the last two years, I thought it wise to cram as many critiques into 2012 as possible. Fear not, trophy trackers, your intrepid blogger will be back early next year with a 2011/2012 Golden Spork Award post. The 24-carat utensils will be back before you know it.

For now, we get to tackle a new take on an old favorite from Burger King. I speak of the Wisconsin White Cheddar Whopper, a burger that's going to give us quite the ... well ... quite the whopper of a review.
Burger King has just the thing for those of you who can't decide whether you'd like paper or a box to package your Whopper: both!

I tried the White Cheddar Whopper a few weeks ago, when BK was running an anniversary promotion giving customers the chance to purchase a classic Whopper for 55 cents when they picked up any other Whopper sandwich at full price. This proved to be a great opportunity, one that allowed me to compare the Wisconsin White Cheddar Whopper against its ancestor without having to apply to the National Science Foundation for a grant.

The NSF might have balked at that grant application, as taking home a Wisconsinite Whopper requires quite the investment. The burger alone listed at $4.99, tough to swallow for a quarter pound of red meat. Yeah, it came dressed with some generous slices of bacon, but we need more beef for our buck!

Things didn't improve immediately after paying. BK served my burger in a white cardboard box that seemed to have been rubbed with animal fat before passage across the counter. I hope that's actually what happened, because if the glossy white box sucked up that much lard from the restaurant's air, I must have inhaled enough cholesterol to fell a small town during my short visit.

Opening the greasy box brought another oddity: My whopper was half wrapped in paper. Paper wrappers can be charming when carried out carefully, ala Red Robin, which nestles a partially wrapped burger in a basket of fries. They're not so endearing when they serve only as redundant packaging. Are we really that hard pressed for ways to top up empty landfills?

Getting down to the business of eating, the Wisconsin White Cheddar Whopper packs some strengths, strengths that are best reveled in contrast with the standard Whopper I ate. Most importantly, you can actually taste the cheese on the Wisconsin version of the burger. It's slightly sharp if a bit waxy, giving each bite a level of interest not always found in fast food. And the Wisconsin burger has red onions instead of the bland white ones on the classic. They stand up to the strength of the cheese, making for good balance.

Two oddities marred my experience with the White Cheddar Whopper, both of them the apparent result of an overly enthusiastic burger assembler. First, I found six pickles on a single sandwich, a glut that would be overkill even for the Vlasic Stork. Somewhat less offensively, every ingredient seemed to be swimming in a gallon of mayonnaise. Restraint would have been greatly appreciated.

For the most part, those are nits to pick with the Wisconsin White Cheddar Whopper, and I found it to be a much tastier alternative to the traditional version. The burger's big drawback is price. And what a drawback it is.

It's a continuation of troubling attempts in fast food to market expensive, higher-margin meals. I'm not against quality, but this move merely results in the consumer getting moderately better-quality ingredients while paying over-inflated dollar amounts. My total BK bill exceeded $7. I can nearly get a full-service meal elsewhere at those prices. So what am I paying for? Convenience that the supermarket can match? A paper wrapper paired with a box?

I just can't get past paying $4.99 for a burger before I've even shelled out for fries and a drink. That's a two-spork deduction right there, and it would be more if the approaching new year didn't have me in a forgiving mood. Let's tally this Whopper worth three sporks out of five and call it a year before I change my mind and decide the King dropped the ball even more with its pricing.

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