Monday, January 6, 2014

fast food follies, part 2

(part 1)

My mind refuses to accept this spelling as the intended "chick-filet" pronunciation, and insists on "chick-fil-uh."* Until recently, this chain was unheard-of around here, so I knew it only for its neanderthal politics. Last fall, after much controversy, a branch opened locally. For the first week, the line of cars went down two blocks. I decided to put my moral revulsion aside long enough to try a chicken sandwich. Impressive, actually. They've mastered the art of cooking a chicken breast in a fast-food environment so that it's not dried out, which nobody else on this list except Boston Market can do consistently. And, unless you ask for it, they don't put any crap on the sandwich except pickles. Like Paula Deen, they know how to cook something even if they're also awful people. You just have to decide where you're going to draw the line.

This used to stand for "Kentucky Fried Chicken," but they no longer want you to know that they once had "Fried" in their name. I was tickled to discover on my trip to Quebec that, despite the deracination of the name, the KFCs there are still labeled PFK. Chicken-on-the-bone is my favorite kind of fast food, because there's only so far that processing can ruin it. Accordingly, I still eat here, because it's ubiquitous and the chicken is tolerable, but even the original recipe, by far their best product, is only a pale shadow of what I remember from my childhood, when the Colonel was still connected with the company and they still cooked with his genuine recipe. (It seems necessary these days to affirm that yes, he was a real person.) The only chicken I've had in recent years that reminded me of the old KFC was at the family-style restaurants in the Amish countries in Pennsylvania and Indiana.

Panera Bread
Yuppie fast food, definitely a cut above most of the others. I don't go here on my own, because sandwiches are not my preferred food, but when I'm with others who want to go here, I can always find something I want, and it's good.

Jack in the Box
Down there with Taco Bell, this resides at the absolute bottom of the barrel, the nether effluence of fast food. I've eaten here twice. Both times the food looked good and didn't initially taste bad, but I felt nauseous for the rest of the day. These occasions were both well over thirty years ago, but never, ever, ever again. If there's a Jack in the Box, there might as well be nothing.

I liked their roast beef sandwich when I was a child, but I tried one again maybe 15 years ago and it was terrible. There's not many around here, and I'm not going back.

Chipotle Mexican Grill
First off, I can never remember whether it's pronounced chi-poe-tul or chi-pot-lee. Secondly, it's yuppie, and, while that means it's no Taco Bell, yuppie and Mexican don't mix in my book. I went here once, and had a burrito that tasted more like a wrap, and I'd far rather have a burrito than a wrap.

Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen
As there's no apostrophe in its name, I choose to pronounce it pope-yes, which is just as valid as pop-eyes.* I discovered this chain on a trip to Florida in the late 80s, and then it followed me home. At first there were just a few outlets in far corners of the region, but since it became more common hereabouts, their chicken has been my top choice in fast food, especially on Tuesdays when they offer a dark-meat special for almost as cheap as the inferior fried chicken from the supermarket. I cannot tell the difference between the spicy and mild varieties. I don't care for their shrimp.

Panda Express
I have a love-hate relationship with this chain. What I love is that the food is about as good as you can expect steam-table Chinese to be, miles above any other chain of the kind and equal to the better stand-alone places. I also love that you can get steamed veggies in place of the usual chow mein/fried rice choice. What I hate is that the menu is limited, that they keep dropping my favorite entrees (gone are the bbq pork, the Mandarin chicken, the peppercorn shrimp - there's only about three left that I like), that every single outlet has exactly the same dishes and changes the offerings at exactly the same time, and that it's an invasive species that is conquering all the habitats. Where is the Chinese counter at the Stanford student union that offered those scrumptious salt-and-pepper chicken wings? Gone, replaced by a Panda Express, which offers nothing of the sort. Where is the weird Chinese-Cajun fusion place at Hillsdale mall which had such interesting fish dishes? Gone, replaced by Panda Express, which has no fish.

Carl's Jr.
Mark hates this place, but I find it OK. My adult taste actually likes a couple of their elaborate burgers, so long as I can substitute for that yucky American cheese a slice of pepper jack, which they're always willing to do and always get right. And they have fried zucchini, otherwise unknown in fast food and fairly tasty. When I was driving the isolated back-country roads to LA and crossed the freeway at a big fast-food pit stop, the only food I would see for hours in either direction, it was at Carl's Jr. that I had lunch.

Five Guys Burgers & Fries
Now this is a good burger, and now that it's nearby this is where I go when I want one. Like the Wendy's of yore, it's always cooked fresh and a la carte, so I can get what I want on it. (On both counts - quality of the meat and flexibility of the menu - it scores far above In & Out.) And those bins full of free roasted peanuts are the bomb.

*Why do I take these liberties with corporate names, when I would never be so rude as to intentionally mispronounce a person's name? Because corporations aren't people.

(to be concluded)

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