Category Archives: Health Food
Food trucks have offered a way for highly trained and gifted chefs to operate a restaurant without the enormous overhead of brick and mortar dining establishments. It is a lot less costly to invest in a specially fitted out truck that meets the food inspector’s standards, plus gas, food and a place to park. An up and coming chef can wow the public with signature dishes that go for a lot less money than when prime real estate, white tablecloths, exquisite service and expensive decor must be paid for.
In the past 5 years, gourmet food trucks have been taking over in cities that offer a welcoming attitude. With help from websites, Twitter accounts, and even smart phone messages, everyone from tourists to workers can track the movements of their favorite trucks and plan their dining adventures.
There is no shortage of articles that list the “best” food trucks in the nation. The cities of Miami, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Portland, Austin and Seattle are rich with highly recognized food trucks. But Michigan, Colorado, Wisconsin, Arizona and other states have their gems, too. The selections in this article were chosen to highlight as many places in the U.S. as possible, and are not in any order of audience favor or critic’s recognition.
The road to finding the best food trucks for 2011 and 2012 begins with FoodTruckTalk which has a list of top food trucks in the U.S.
Santa Rosa, CA: Street-Eatz offers a pulled pork sandwich with Jamaican jerk sauce, plus a wide variety of other dishes to satisfy a wide range of appetites. A Japanese fried tofu dish, a Mexican flauta and a Mediterranean plate are examples of the diversity that can be found at this truck.
San Francisco, CA: 3-Sum Eats is the work of Ryan Scott, who was a contestant on Bravo’s “Top Chef” competition. With offerings like Gnocchi Tater Tots with Dirty Ranch Dressing and pulled pork with poblano aioli, apple cole slaw on Cheddar jalapeno bread. This truck should have no trouble satisfying food cravings.
Atlanta, GA: Yumbii is Yummy! Carries a blend of Asian and Mexican flavors and has a Korean Hot Dog as one of the newer offerings.
Miami, FL: Ms. Cheezious has taken the grilled cheese sandwich to new levels with choices of Cheddar, Swiss, Gruyere, Blue, Brie, Havarti or Provolone. The fillings include crab, bacon, ham, turkey, tomato or even apples! The “Sweet Meltdown” is ricotta cheese, orange marmalade, Texas Toast and a chocolate dipping sauce.
Smithsonian Travel has done some scholarly research, concluding that the following are some of the best trucks in the U.S.
Miami, FL: Gastropod is at the top of the list. The offerings are balanced between a monster burger made of short rib, brisket and sirloin topped with a poached egg and Asian/Mexican fusion dishes like shitaki flan and bahn mi pork tacos.
Portland, OR: Lardo is famous and chef Rick Gencarelli has a thing for pork fatback, calling it “bacon without the meat”. He balances that with hand cut French fries and a grilled sandwich of sloppy mortadella with pickled peppers and gooey provolone.
New York, NY: Schnitzel & Things is the place to go for a crispy fried, super thin pork classic. With a choice of veal, pork, chicken, cod or eggplant, no one should be left hungry. Side dishes include some classic fries and salads.
Cambridge, MA: Vegetarians will thrive at Clover Food Lab which offers a soy B.L.T, whoopie pies, seasonal vegetable preparations and a sweet potato sandwich.
Washington, D.C.: The Fojol Brothers have created an entire set of mythical countries and have invented the street show and cuisines to match! With dishes that incorporate curries, butter chicken and beef berbere. There are lentil and other dishes that remind diners of exotic cuisines.
Phoenix, AZ: Torched goodness specializes in turning creme brulee into something fantastic. With over 30 offerings like basic vanilla, peanut butter and jelly, lavender, and maple bacon, it should not be hard to find a creamy, rich and satisfying delight.
Boulder, CO: Comida is simply good Mexican food that is served from a big pink truck. This is a rare situation where the Comida Cantina serves as a sit down version of the food truck.
Milwaukee, WI: Streetza offers street pizza whole or by the slice. This food truck boasts being named the number one food truck in the U.S. by Bloomberg Businessweek. There are even more accolades from Time Magazine, Food Network and more.
Lansing, MI: The Purple Carrot has a great Michigan “farm to truck” tradition and a Tapas dinner cycle in the Summer.
In summary, the best bet is to try to find one of the above food trucks or to explore the local area for some great surprises and new favorites from the food truck revolution.
Ammonia or “Pink Slime” that is Injected into Ground Meat
There is nothing more frightening then to think that window cleaning chemical is being injected into our beef to kill any e.coli that might be in the ground meat we are purchasing. How scary is this? To get right to the point it is the cheapest type of ground meat consisting of scrapes that is sent through a series of machines, where it is ground into paste like consistency in which the fat is separated and injects an ammonia substance to kill the pathogens.
The chemical product is injected with a substance that has become known as “pink slime” and is marketed mainly to hamburger makers across the country. There are three selling points of the product which are: 1) it is extremely cheap: 2) it carries e.coli, pink slime, including pathogens, and is sterilized by adding ammonia; and 3) it is so full of ammonia thinking will kill any of the pathogens that are mixed with the ground meat.
This has been happening across the country to some of the most well known fast food restaurants that are visited on a regular basis. The fast food restaurants that have been specifically targeted are Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and Burger King, although there are many more. Even the very best of ground meat is probably only 70% pure and that is totally frightening to anyone in this day and age, when it comes to the amount of meat that one eats on an every day basis.
It just does not seem right that the ground meat which is used so widely in every household around world has to be injected with a product used as glass cleaning product and that even with the use of this product it may not always kill the pathogens (e.coli and salmonella) which is found to be contaminating cow derived products. Just think about the fact that this ground meat is sold and served in the schools in which children attend is more upsetting then anyone can imagine, since nutrition is such an important part of raising healthy children. This might be a way to cut costs to the school systems of America but it is putting the children of America in danger of health risks.
Some of the other concerns are how many calories is one getting, along with amount of saturated fat and sodium is in the product. Next is whether or not the ground meat is being cooked thoroughly and what that entails is 165 degrees in order to kill pathogenic bacteria. The meat should be cooked until brown on the inside or until it is tested with a meat thermometer.
The most appalling aspect of this meat problem with “pink slime” is that the public is just now finding out about the problem while the fast food industry, the USDA, and the school lunch program have known of the situation for quite some time. Hence, the problem cannot be overlooked any longer in today’s society with any hope that the problem may go away.
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A restaurant has no more of a clean environment then you would have at home.
Infact, they have hand washing stations in the back that they have to wash their hands at often. Even if they did wash their hands after using the rest rooms, they would still have to wash their hands at the sanitizing stations. Just because you don’t see it, does not automatically mean that they don’t wash their hands. In this, with having to wash their hands numerous times throughout the day, they probably have cleaner hands then the traditional family style restaurants.
As far as their dirty bathrooms go, they clean them at least twice a day. And the janitor that comes in at night to clean will clean the bathrooms then as well. The mess that accumulates in between cleanings is not due to a lack of cleanliness, but rather from irresponsible, rude customers. The employees didn’t make that mess. Especially knowing that they would have to clean it up.
The same goes for the drinks counter. Usually when someone comes in and sees it is a mess, it’s right after a rush, and the employees are still stocking up behind the counter for the next rush. It’s not because said to themselves, I think that I am going to go out to the drinks counter and make a huge mess of straw wrappers that I cant manage to throw away in the garbage, spilt pop that I am in to big of a rush to wipe up, and lids that I am too lazy to put back in their place so I’ll just lay them on the counter. Who would have thought that about a hundred people all in a rush, trying to get something quick to eat, could make such a mess.
And with the floors, they have on average 400 to 500 people trudging in and out of the building all day. If you have that many people going in and out of your house all day, you too would have a problem keeping it clean. Especially when there are half of those people who don’t seem to know how to pick up after themselves.
If you want a clean environment, pick up after yourselves. Take care of what you use. If you spill, wipe it up. Come on, has America really become that lazy we have placed the blame of the mess on someone who didn’t do it, because we are in to big of a hurry to wipe it up or put it away?
Branches of the British chain of sandwich shops Prêt a Manger (translated from French to ready to eat) can now be found on almost every high street of the United Kingdom. The first of this branch of shops (clearly marked with the infamous maroon and white and red star livery) was opened opposite Hampstead Underground station in London, by Jeffrey Hyman and his college friend in 1986.
Since then the chain has grown to over 230 shops all over the United Kingdom (with 160 of them located in London); there are now also shops in New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Hong Kong and – most recently – three shops in Paris – there are presently 295 Prêt shops worldwide.
Prêt a Manger shops differ from the majority of similar chains by the fact that they support various charities, they also give any food they have left at the end of the day to homeless people; also by adopting an eco friendly approach to their products and shops and by using only natural and organic ingredients. All the sandwiches that are sold in Prêt shops are made on the day of purchase in their own kitchens, and none are pre-packed and are served in ‘paperboard’ rather than plastic.
The ingredients that are used are all fresh and are delivered daily to ensure that everything is of the highest quality and so all their products look and taste delicious. The menu in Prêt a Manger shops consists predominantly of sandwiches (there are twenty different mouth watering options) and baguettes and wraps (including unbelievably a bread free ‘sandwich’), salads (both normal and fruit), delicious soups, their own delectable potato crisps, flapjacks (including a healthier option variety), brownies, cookies, muffins, cakes, croissants, Pain au Chocolate, yogurt and mousse pots and drinks – both hot and cold as well as smoothies. While the produce sold at Prêt tends to be more expensive than from other outlets the wonderful quality and variety, the extremely fresh food, the fact that all the ingredients are organic and chemical-free and the company’s ethical standards all make that higher price well worth paying.
One recent improvement to Prêt stores is the introduction of the ‘Prêt Card’; this is a credit card type card that can be loaded with any amount from £5 to £150 and can be then used in any shop. These make ideal gifts (especially handy for parent to give to their student children so that they know they can get a good nutritious meal when their own funds are low) and make paying for your Prêt goodies quick and easy. Another addition to the shops is the home delivery service that Prêt offer; everything that is sold in the shops can be ordered on line and delivered days a week. It is possible to get same day delivery and delivery is free on all orders over £30.
Eating in a branch of Prêt a Manger is always enjoyable thanks to the friendly, informative and approachable staff; it is quite obvious from the standards of service that all the staff are well trained. These staff are always happy to help and are informative enough to answer any questions that a customer may have, and in the unlikely event of a customer having complaint the staff are always more than happy to offer a freebie! Prêt a Manger are by far the best fast food chain in the UK high street and well worth a visit.
The Apple Pan gets my vote as The Best Hamburger in the Known Universe almost by default. For years they were my second favorite burger, living in the shadows of places like the original Sunset Grill and Don’s Place. But over the years the Number Ones have come and gone, and one day I found myself at The Apple Pan, eating one of their relatively modest, yet extraordinarily delicious burgers, and I realized that there were no longer any burgers that could best this one.
The Apple Pan is Los Angeles’ oldest surviving burger joint, dating back to 1927. The menu itself hasn’t changed since 1947, and the date still appears at the top. To talk about The Pan is to talk about the very history of the hamburger in LA. A lot of people argue about the origins of the hamburger, whether it was invented in Hamburg, Germany, or by the Earl of Sandwich, or by that place in Connecticut that still grills the meat with the same weird toaster contraption they’ve been using for a hundred years. But few argue that the hamburger first became big in Los Angeles, its popularity growing in tandem with the burgeoning film industry. And The Apple Pan was part of it all, close to the studios, serving quick lunches so that everyone could get back to the set as soon as possible.
If you could describe the dining experience at The Pan in one word, it would be terse. In fact, I’ve seen that word used at least a couple of other times when people have discussed The Pan. It’s not that anyone is rude, or abusive, it’s just that the place is always crowded, and there are only so many seats at the horseshoe-shaped counter, and there will always be someone waiting behind you, wishing you would hurry up. In fact, eating at The Apple Pan is much easier if you’re by yourself. It’s real pain trying to get more than two or three seats together at the counter, and there are no tables. Just people leaning against the walls along the windows, waiting, tapping their feet, hoping you won’t go ahead and order the pie for dessert.
The service is so unbelievably quick, though, even if there is a wait. Once you sit down, you will probably be getting back up in no more than ten minutes. The guys at the counter are definitely on top of things, giving you a menu before you’ve even sat down, giving you your drink before you’ve decided what to order, giving you your fries less than a minute after you’ve asked for them. Then, they’ll pour your drink for you, throw away your used napkins before you’ve set them on the table anything to hurry you along.
In fact, one of the strange things about The Apple Pan, and my experience with them, is that I’ve been going there about twenty-five years now, and the same guy has served me every single time. I know, it’s weird. I used to call this guy The Hardest Working Man in LA, because he was a model of efficiency, the greatest waiter in the history of the earth. Sure, he never smiled, and barely said a word to you, but he anticipated everything. In the last few years, however, he’s gotten older and greyer and he started wearing glasses, which definitely underlines the passage of time for me. I’ve also noticed that he smiles a little more, and jokes around with the customers. He’s still the best counter guy I’ve ever seen. I don’t feel even a little bit strange when I say that I love this guy, that he has been an important part of my life, and yet he probably doesn’t even remember me when I come in.
Enough of that. I haven’t even talked about the burger yet. Like I said, it’s fairly modest in size, and it doesn’t even get served on a plate. It’s just handed to you, wrapped in wax paper, probably just like they did in 1927. There are basically two burgers at The Apple Pan, the Steakburger and the Hickory Burger. The only difference is that the Hickory Burger is slathered with a red sauce that looks more like ketchup than any sort of barbecue sauce. In fact, that’s pretty much what it is, only spicier. It’s a bit off-putting when you first see it, especially if you don’t particularly like ketchup on a burger, like me. That red sauce is oozing all over the place. There’s a lot of it. But man, does it work with the rest of the burger.
The next thing you may notice about the burgers is that The Apple Pan uses neither tomatoes nor onions. I can’t think of another burger joint where there are no tomatoes anywhere in sight. In fact, I’ve heard the waiters joke about this a few times, and they all have developed quick comeback lines when people ask why. “It’s been eighty years since a tomato saw the light of day inside these four walls” was the quip I heard the last time. I’m not sure why there’s an aversion to tomatoes and onions, but I did read something about the original chef feeling that the burger was perfect the way it was, and there was an emphasis on making the burger slightly “sweeter” than other burgers of the time. Onions can make it too hot, and tomatoes are acidic. Anyways, who needs tomatoes when you have red sauce?
The patty used at The Apple Pan, as I’ve already mentioned, made me rethink cooking times, and the general importance of whether or not a burger should be medium rare. After biting into a Hickory Burger, there is no pink at the center. Yet the meat is more than juicy. In fact, the patty reminds me of Kobe steak a little, mostly in the way that while it still tastes like beef, it seems like so much more, or it seems just a little bit different than everything else. It’s super beef.
And finally, it’s time to mention those fries. I do think they’re the best I’ve ever tasted. They’re not exotic, like Benita’s. They’re just perfect, which means that they’ve been cooked perfectly. They’re crunchy on the outside, potato-y on the inside, and they’re not over-salted like all of the fast food fries.
I’m still waiting for a more ambitious and flamboyant burger to take over the number one spot from The Apple Pan. I’m not holding my breath. There’s something to be said for the old, the original, and the exceedingly simple.
Imagine eating fast food twice a week at, let’s say, $6 a meal. $6 times 2x a week is $12, $12 times 4 weeks in a month equals $48 and $48 times 12 months in year equals $576 a year on fast food. Okay… doesn’t sound too bad because buying groceries every week averages out to about $1,200 for $100 worth of groceries a week. Yet, at the end of the first two years of a life being lived this way you notice yourself getting a little fatter. Not as fat as you thought you should be but fat enough to feel yourself exhausted at the end of the day or just by climbing a flight of stairs.
According to fatcalories.com the fat content in fast food chains like Burger King range from 350 to 760 calories per serving OF FAT! Not including the total calories in their food that can range from 560 to 1,230 calories. So half a meal of Burger King equals to half the fat; basically, your eating lard for lunch or dinner. Now, try having that food twice a week for two years, imagine what that could be doing your internal organs as well as how it effects how you look on the outside.
Two years has passed and you notice the difference in how you look. You now know that you have gained weight because of how you have been eating. You try to stay on a diet for about 2 weeks but find yourself craving the old fashioned life style of fast food eating. This is where the crisis of losing weight begins. Now, you are addicted to this kind of food. You know that this food is as delicious as it is bad for you but your mind has become accustomed to receiving these sorts of food and the cravings are going to ruin your weight loss progress. We all know how hard it is to get rid of cravings so we have to see a nutritionist which costs as much money to see them as it is to see a regular doctor.
The nutritionist says you have do some exercise. You know you are not going to be able to exercise on your own so you hire a personal trainer which costs around $500 to over $1,000 for a five week program at Bally Total Fitness with one of their trainers. So, now you have spent over $1,000 to $2,000 on trying to lose weight but you find yourself still eating fast food because, well, you can’t help it.
Fast food addiction is hard to overcome because this addiction arranges itself in the same area in the brain as the addictions for drugs, alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. Thus, you are going to feel lots of headaches and body aches because of the withdrawal of these substances from your body; and, you are going to become lazy trying to work out because of these aches and pains.
Living a life this way is an emotional and financial roller coaster ride that will take you years to overcome. Thus, if you don’t need to have fast food don’t; it’ll put these people out of business and out of being the “American Way”, as people say, and we can live more satisfying, long lasting lives without the worry of dying horribly because of the effects of fast food.
Eating at a restaurant with the word “fried” in its name can be a daunting prospect for the weight-conscious diner. Making healthy food choices at fast food restaurants does not have to be a frustrating or difficult task. In fact, with the American obesity epidemic on the rise, many fast food restaurants are redoubling their efforts to offer lighter, more healthful fare on their menus. Gone are the days when Kentucky Fried Chicken only served things that had been battered and fried. The current KFC menu presents several tasty, scale-friendly options so that you won’t feel like you’re missing out by not indulging all the deep-fried naughtiness.
Kentucky Grilled Chicken is an obvious alternative to the typical fried options. Thick and juicy cuts of grilled chicken don’t disappoint and the reduced fat and calorie content make for a much healthier choice. It’s delicious, tender, and flavorful. Who needs a fryer? Choose healthier sides to lower the calorie count of your total meal.
2) Skinless Fried
This option is for those with willpower of steel. Order a typical fried breast, remove the skin, and eat only the chicken. Though higher in calories than grilled, it’s still slightly more healthy than eating the deep-fried crust which packs a large caloric punch. Or, if you’ve gotta have your fried fix, order a single drumstick which weighs in at just 140 calories.
If your local KFC offers a grilled chicken sandwich, then that’s likely the healthiest sandwich option on the menu. However, the KFC Honey BBQ sandwich (not available at all restaurants) offers a lower-calorie alternative to the usual battered-and-fried sandwich stuffers.
4) Sides and Vegetables
KFC mashed potatoes are not a calorie gremlin as some would think. Containing only around 120 calories per serving, these potatoes are a tasty alternative to fried potatoes. Many KFC restaurants also carry corn-on-the-cob or baked beans which are similarly a lower-calorie alternative to fried potato wedges. Consider the cole slaw or the potato salad as well.
4) Drinks and Desserts
This typically goes without saying, but take a pass on the soda or punch with your meal. Though many combinations include a drink in the price, sweet drinks are very high-calorie and unnecessary. Opt for water instead. It’s usually free and always a much healthier option. Desserts are a pretty obvious no-no at most establishments and KFC is no exception. Don’t be lured in by the tempting pictures. Your waistline will thank you!
I’ve written this book many times over the last dozen years or so. In the beginning, I thought of it strictly as a guidebook to all of the hamburgers in Los Angeles, much like a Zagat guide. So I spent the better part of a year writing it, doing the research (and gaining a few pounds doing so), and finally I started putting together the index, and that’s when the trouble started.
By the time I got around to writing down addresses and hours and phone numbers and such, I found out that quite a few places had already gone out of business since I started writing the book. I’m sure most of you have heard how hard it is to run a restaurant (I know, I’ve done it twice), that most fail within the first year, and even more within the first five. So I went back, edited, made a few more phone calls, checked the Internet, and then the next thing you know, I had a whole new batch of leads, a bunch of new burgers to try. It seemed, for a while, that it was never going to end.
Then I thought of starting a website, something that could be updated regularly. I could talk about the latest finds, the unfortunate closures, and all of the emerging trends. I could have people e-mail me with recommendations, and even have an online forum where people could talk about their favorites without me having to sort through and validate their choices. But then I thought of my favorite restaurant guides, such as Zagat, and one of my favorites, a series of books written by a guy in the early 90s who called himself The Itinerate Diner. The great thing about those books was that they fit into the glove compartment of your car. If you drove past a place that looked interesting, you could look it up. If you were out and about and couldn’t think of a good place to eat off the top of your head, you’d open up the glove box. (I do realize, however, that a lot of people these days never go anywhere without their laptop.)
So I stuck with putting this all in print. But that didn’t solve the problem of some of my recommendations vanishing overnight. So I started thinking about the truly great burgers, the ones that stood the test of time. I thought of The Apple Pan, the oldest burger joint in Los Angeles, which opened in 1927. I thought of Russell’s, which opened in 1930. I thought of Cassell’s, which started in the late 40s. I thought of Pie N’ Burger and Tommy’s and In-N-Out and a dozen other great places where they’ve been serving burgers since long before I was born. And I knew that I should be concentrating on these places, the ones that aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
Sure, there are new places worth mentioning, such as Tyler’s in Palm Springs, and The Counter in Santa Monica, both of which are fairly new establishments, and have lines going out the door. I feel confident that these two spots will also be around for a long time to come. But for every one of these success stories, there’s a place which slipped by without getting the notice they deserved (Paris’s Grandburger in Pasadena, for instance), or switched ownership and went steadily downhill (Sunset Grill in Hollywood), or simply burned to the ground (Don’s Place in Burbank, or the original Meatty Meat Burger, in West LA). And, once in a while, even one of the greats, a pioneer, a place that’s been around forever, closes its doors for good (Hamburger Henry’s in Long Beach). In other words, you have to be careful about whom you champion.
I also strayed away from the idea of doing a mere guide book. I wanted to put more of me into it. It’s not that I’m such a fabulous human being that I have to tell the world about it, it’s just that I have an interesting story about a fabulous human being who spent a big chunk of his life looking for the perfect burger. He went all over the country, from Virginia to Pennsylvania to Arizona to Tennessee to Colorado to Texas to Florida, and all points in between, but he eventually came back home to Southern California, and one of the reasons was because Los Angeles absolutely, positively has the best burgers in the world.
No, I’m not talking about GM, Ford, and Chrysler, but McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s. I really don’t want to spend too much time talking about burgers I don’t like, but I feel compelled to talk about the state of fast food in America.
I do find it curious which burgers we’ve made popular in America, as if there was no concern for quality, only convenience, and perhaps marketing skills. In fact, “the McDonald’s argument” is a generic term for describing a condition where the product that sells the most is confused with the being the product that’s actually the best. As Frank Zappa used to say, “What stinks sells, and what sells stinks.”
If you talk to most people and ask them about their favorite burger, more often than not you’ll hear about Big Macs and Whoppers. In Los Angeles, it’s a comfort to hear the term “Double-Double” thrown in as well, but still, there’s a lot of schooling that needs to happen in the world of burgers.
McDonald’s: I’m not about to start bashing McDonald’s. That’s already been done a million times by others. Others, by the way, who have had their pants sued off.
Yes, apparently McDonald’s feels that they have a lot to protect, as if people would stop being addicted to their burgers if they found out a little soy or oatmeal was thrown into the mix.
I remember when Johnny Carson had to publicly apologize to McDonald’s for cracking a joke which suggested that “100% beef” was a dubious claim. I remember the mathematician who was sued for allegedly proving that not enough cattle have existed in the history of the world to make the “billions and billions” of hamburgers that McDonald’s has served over the years.
But the real reason why I’m not going to bash McDonald’s is because once in a while I get a Quarter Pounder with Cheese that’s come hot off the grill, and it’s a pretty decent burger. It ain’t The Apple Pan, but it’ll do in a pinch.
I’ll also admit that out of the Big Three, I probably go to McDonald’s the most, more than I care to admit. Like most people, I enjoy the convenience. I also enjoy the consistency, which is perhaps McDonald’s greatest strength. They may be consistently mediocre, but, like Holiday Inn, you always know what you’re going to get when you walk into a McDonald’s.
I’ve been in McDonald’s from San Ysidro to Salamanca, and I’ve pretty much gotten exactly what I expected, and that’s a rare thing in today’s world. Let’s face it, the standards are high. The restaurant is usually pretty clean. The person at the counter usually thanks you and asks you to come again. I know that sounds pretty basic, but compared to some other fast food places, it’s almost a miracle.
That said, I must say that the Big Mac is the worst hamburger I’ve ever eaten. It’s the only hamburger that I’ll actually turn down, although the Whopper is getting close, too. Hamburgers are a lot like pizza, and sex, that even when they’re bad, they’re still pretty good. You can take some ground beef, throw it in a microwave oven and zap it until it’s hard, and put it between a couple of slices of Wonder Bread, and it’s still fairly edible. Not so with the Big Mac.
I’m not sure what disgusts me the most, the high bread-to-meat ratio, the copious amounts of shredded lettuce, the stale taste of the secret sauce (which is really just bad Thousand Island dressing). It’s just that when you eat a burger, the primary flavor should be beef, and everything else should complement that.
With the Big Mac, the flavor of the meat is buried under a host of different, less interesting flavors, which is amazing since they actually put two patties in this beast! I don’t know if putting in a couple of the quarter-pound patties would help, or removing the middle piece of bread. For me, it’s a lettuce-and-pickle sandwich, not a real burger.
Burger King: Burger King’s inclusion in the Big Three has always been a bit of a mystery to me. I think their menu is one of the most uninteresting around; I often stand there at the counter and think, is this all they have? The only reason I really ever go to Burger King is that for some reason my kids love it, and I think that has more to do with the toys in the kids’ meals than with the actual food.
For me, the fatal flaw in Burger King’s execution is the preponderance of microwaving. Let me illustrate. Once I was in the drive-thru, and I could clearly hear the guy ahead of me yelling his order into the little speaker. “I want a Whopper, hold the pickles…NOT MICROWAVED! I want a chicken sandwichNOT MICROWAVED! I want a large order of onion ringsNOT MICROWAVED!” Do you think they might have a small PR problem?
Burger King has relied so strongly on microwaving everything that they don’t even hide it anymore. Those microwave ovens are right up front, where everyone can see them. After you’ve ordered a burger, they brazenly throw it in, right in front of you. Frankly, I’m amazed at this.
Microwaving is not a good idea. A hamburger that has been microwaved loses even more of its flavor. Usually, a microwaved burger just tastes of heat and steam, and it usually burns your mouth. A fresh burger patty, seconds off the grill, usually isn’t hot enough to burn your mouth. But a microwaved burger, five minutes later, will.
I think this is abhorrent, considering that BK has made its reputation on their charbroiled burgers, and how they spent so many years saying that flame-broiling burgers was so much more tasty than frying them on the grill. Personally, I don’t think it matters once you throw it in a microwave.
It’s more than the incessant microwaving that has me concerned. I really think that the quality of Burger King has been slipping steadily over the last few years, to the point where I’ve told my children that I simply don’t want to take them there anymore.
For instance, they’ve introduced a series of more upscale burgers at least a couple of times, Back Porch Grillers, Angus burgers, whatever, and so far these have been uniformly awful. It doesn’t really matter if you’re using a superior ground beef if you flame-broil the crap out of it and then stick it in a microwave.
And, like I mentioned before, the Whopper has become my second-least favorite burger over the last few years. It tastes fatty and bland. Like the Big Mac, it is the fast food equivalent of a Greek Burger (see the chapter on the Greek Burger Syndrome coming up ahead).
For me, the only decent burger at Burger King is the little one, the so-called regular hamburger, the one you can get for under a buck. I almost think that this is Burger King’s one saving grace, because of all the regular burgers at all of the fast food joints, I actually think I like this one the best.
The famous little burger at McDonald’s, for instance, has a patty that’s way too small for the bun. And Wendy’s, for some reason, doesn’t seem to care about their 99 cent burgers as much as their bigger burgers; they’re dry and flavorless, surprisingly enough. But the little burger at Burger King, when not zapped in the microwave first, has a lot of flavor.
Once in a while they have specials where the regular little burger is 49 cents, the double is 99 cents, and the triple is a buck forty-nine. That’s usually the only time you’ll catch me at Burger King anymore, because it’s such an outstanding bargain at those prices.
I actually prefer the double, because three patties throws the whole burger a little out of balance. And I like putting bacon on it too, but apparently they use very special pigs for their bacon, because adding it to a double cheeseburger drives the price to almost three bucks, where it is no longer such a bargain.
But they even screwed up the little burger the last time I went, which indeed may be the last time, ever. When I unwrapped it, the outside of the bun was covered in ketchup, making a terrible mess before I even took the first bite. It looked as if they didn’t even care when they made it, they just slapped it together without consulting the BK training manual. It looked like some homeless guy wandered in off the street and made my burger. It was that bad.
Wendy’s: I’ve had a real love-hate relationship with Wendy’s over the years. I had even boycotted them for over five years back in the late eighties. I know that’s surprising, considering how instrumental Wendy’s was in developing my love for hamburgers. Then again, that’s part of the problem.
It’s not so much the burgers themselves that have me disgusted. They’re still pretty good, although I think they’re not as good as they used to be. For me, the infuriating thing about Wendy’s is their service. Compared to a standard-bearer like McDonald’s, Wendy’s is positively rude. They almost never say thank you, and for me, that’s downright foolish. McDonald’s, again, always thanks you. But the real reason I had to stop going to Wendy’s was because I simply got tired of them screwing up my order.
Do you remember Joe Pesci’s diatribe against fast food drive-thru windows in Lethal Weapon 2? He (or more accurately, the screenwriter) was obviously talking about Wendy’s. I’m a little finicky about what I put on my burgers. And that was one of the original things I liked about Wendy’s, that they made it really easy for you to make special orders.
But after a few years (really, after Wendy’s became a big international burger chain in the early eighties), they started to excel at getting my order wrong. In fact, it had gotten to the point where they got it wrong more often than they got it right. And I’m not talking about one particular location, but rather several locations in several different states.
I remember the day I decided to stop going to Wendy’s. Ordinarily, I order a double cheeseburger, no pickle or tomato. So I did thatyes, in the drive-thruand a few miles down the road I discovered that my burger had nothing on it exceptyes, you guessed itpickles and tomatoes. They had even forgotten the cheese.
So basically, after I took off the pickles and tomatoes, I had basically meat and a bun. I thought about going back and angrily heaving the burger back through that evil drive-thru window. (I actually did that once, at Carl’s Jr., but I was really tired and I felt really bad and apologized to everyone afterward.) Instead, I did what most people would do. I quietly ate the burger and vowed never to go back ever again.
So why did I go back eventually? I’m not sure why, but I think it had something to do with the fact that they started serving chicken sandwiches. Several people told me how good they were, and I finally gave in.
I reminded myself, too, about the fries, that they were by far the best of the Big Three, and that it was probably really difficult to screw up a chicken sandwich, fries and a soda. And I found out that their chicken sandwiches are excellent, easily the best of the Big Three. The chicken breasts that they use are large and nicely seasoned, with a little more black pepper in the breading than the other guys. And usually Wendy’s is a little imaginative with their variations on the chicken sandwich, such as the Monterey Jack version, which is very tasty.
So I went back to Wendy’s from time to time, and ordered the chicken sandwiches, never the burgers. And I thought about the irony, that here was a place that prided itself and built a reputation with “hot and juicy burgers,” and here was a guy who was totally addicted to burgers, and preferred getting the chicken sandwich. Even worse, this was a guy who finally realized he loved burgers the very first time he went to Wendy’s.
Yes, I’ll admit that I have had a few burgers from Wendy’s in the last few years. But like I said, they aren’t as good as they used to be, and like with the fries at McDonald’s, I’m not sure why. The meat is a little drier than before, and I don’t think that the condiments are the freshest in the biz.
And I really hate how they still insist on putting mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise on their burgers. In fact, I still, from time to time, order the Wendy’s burger kid-style, that is, mustard, ketchup and cheese. It’s not half-bad that way. I’d really like to order it normal, hold the pickle, tomato and ketchup, add some bacon, but I’m sure that’s too complicated for them, and they’d only mess it up, so I refrain.
The Others: Since we’re in Southern California, I guess when I mention the other big fast food burger joints, I’m talking mainly about Jack-In-The-Box and Carl’s Jr. I think they’re about equal in terms of quality, and I think Carl’s probably has a slight edge in taste. But I go to JITB much more often than Carl’s simply because I have more respect for them.
Why? It’s the advertising.
I know it sounds dumb to pick any product simply because the commercials are better, but then again, why do you think companies spend so much money on the right advertising? Because a funny commercial makes people want to patronize your business.
Frankly, Carl’s Jr. has some of the worst advertising I’ve ever seen. Their commercials lately seem to be shooting for the young guy demographic, you know, all those guys in the beer commercials who just want to party and get laid and who, apparently, have never learned to cook for themselves.
It doesn’t sound that bad, an advertising campaign based upon the idea that “if it wasn’t for us, some guys would starve.” But in execution, these commercials are flat, humorless, and flat-out dumb.
It didn’t even start with that. The previous Carl’s campaigned focused on close-ups of people eating their big, messy food, with lots and lots of sound effects. “Don’t bother me, I’m eating” was the theme of this particular campaign, but they failed to realize that watching other people chewing noisily and smacking their lips and dripping goo down the front of their shirts wasn’t necessarily appetizing, even if it’s a relatively hot chick doing the eating.
But for me, the worst commercial of all, the one that really made me question if I’d ever give Carl’s Jr. another dollar of mine, was the one about the Jalapeno burger and the baby in the sonogram. Yes, you read that right.
Some guy at the ad agency thought it would be a good idea to feature a fetus, communicating via a sonogram monitor, that he was tired of his mother eating all those spicy jalapeno burgers. We even see the baby actually grab a handful of his mother’s uterus and threaten to rip some of it on the way out when he’s born.
MmmmmI’m getting hungry just thinking about it.
Jack-in-the-Box, however, has some of the funniest commercials I’ve seen in a long time. It was sheer genius resurrecting the original clown, calling him Jack, and making him the charming yet sardonic CEO of the company.
The commercials are full of fun little details, too, such as when we are shown Jack’s driver’s license, and see that he’s six-foot-ten. With that huge head, of course he’s that tall! And then fun carries over from the commercials and into the restaurant themselves, where we see pictures of Jack in the seventies, with long hair and sideburns.
But before I paint JITB in too positive of a light, I must say that they did a spectacular job of ruining one of the best fast food burgers of all time, the Ultimate Cheeseburger. For years this was one of my guilty pleasures, one of my favorite burgers despite the fact that the patty itself was one of the most flavorless out there. I think that almost everyone makes a better patty than JITB at this point.
Where JITB excels, however, is in being creative with their menu, and providing interesting ways to mask the fact that their patty is far from the best.
The Ultimate Cheeseburger, in its original form, was a thing of beauty, a carnivore’s dream. Even boxer George Foreman, another self-admitted burger junkie, put it at the top of his list, along with Fatburger.
The UC was a two-patty burger with three kinds of cheese, a special sauce, and a bun. For me, it was the greatest burger for a finicky eater like me since The Big Plain. I ate quite a few UCs over the years, more than I’m willing to admit. And I used to say to myself that there were only two things that it neededbacon, and a fresh, unfrozen patty. That would have made it a truly great burger, as opposed to be just a guilty pleasure.
A little more about that sauceI’m not sure what it is exactly, but it’s not Thousand Island dressing nor ketchup and mayonnaise mixed together, like most secret sauces. It’s definitely mayonnaise-based, with an undercurrent of horseradish.
Part of me thinks it’s a variation on hollandaise sauce. Someone once suggested to me that it’s mostly Miracle Whip, but I’ve never tasted that in my life, so I don’t know. I know that it’s also not just mayo and horseradish, since I’ve tasted Dijonnaise, hoping that it was the JITB sauce in a jar. It wasn’t. Needless to say, I dig that sauce, and the more they use, the better. That sauce helps to alleviate the general dryness of those patties.
Well, JITB listened on the first score. They added baconfour pieces of it!and called it The Colossus. I loved it! Every one I ate took a half an hour off my life, I’m sure, but it was arguably worth it. And the crazy thing about The Colossus was that when it first came out, it was only 4 cents more than the regular Ultimate Cheeseburger! That’s a penny per strip of bacon! Take that, Burger King, and your expensive pigs!
Well, I knew that my second request would never be granted, because it’s a big thing to ask a restaurant to commit to never freezing their beef. But I didn’t expect JITB to go in the opposite direction. It wasn’t really their fault, though.
Back in the early 90s, JITB locations in the Pacific Northwest were hit with a strain of E. Coli that nearly ruined them. After that, JITB made sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that every patty was burnt to a crisp in an effort to squash all those nasty bacterial critters. But those were rough days for Ultimate Cheeseburger lovers. If you thought that Jack-in-the-Box’s burgers were bland and dry before, then that little nightmare in Washington State surely drove you away for good.
But it gets worse. After a while, things calmed down, and JITB stopped cooking their patties in the mouth of an active volcano. And then, Jack started talking about his new, improved burgers with better meats, and better sauces. Well, I was all excited about the meat claim, hoping they finally came up with a patty that was as good as the rest of the sandwich. And, wellit was okay.
Perhaps it was as least as good as it was before the food poisoning scare. But what about this improved sauce? Nervously, I tried it, and realized, with utter frustration, that new sauces meant mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise instead of the old white sauce. I was outraged!
Fortunately, I discovered a trick. I found out that you could order the Ultimate Cheeseburger, with and without bacon (they stopped calling it The Colossus after a while and just started calling it the Ultimate Cheeseburger with Bacon), and a few other of their burgers (such as the also formerly yummy Sourdough Bacon Burger) with the white sauce. They call it “old-style.”
One counterperson told me that quite a few people were doing this, and a lot of people were complaining about the new, better sauces. I’m glad it wasn’t just me. Maybe Jack will listen and change it back.
What are “fast foods”? Are they foods we prepare ouselves? Are they foods we buy ready made? Are they foods which take very little time to cook? Are they foods which take very little time to eat? Whatever they are should we be eating them?
However we choose to describe them there is no doubt in my mind the best fast foods are ones we prepare ourselves. We get to select the ingredients and, if we have any sense, will be choosing the very best we can afford. Claiming we are “time poor” is no excuse for opting out of responsibility for what we eat. There are thousands of recipes available in hundreds of cookery books that show you exactly to prepare and cook nutritious food very quickly. My own breakfast, the recipe for which is given later, is ready to eat in three minutes.
The list of totally disgusting things to eat masquerading as “fast food” is substantial and the topic of another article. Let us concentrate on food that is nutritious and free from artificial flavour enhancers (why would nutritious food need flavour enhancers?), excessive amounts of salt, saturated fats and transfats.
The original fast food was probably the humble sandwich. Have you seen the contents list for some sandwiches sold in supermarkets and the like? Unbelievable. Chemicals, salt and fats galore – and that’s just the bread. They have to include lots of these to extend the shelf life and avoid wastage but price them up with big margins. Why not make your own bread? Can’t be bothered? “Time poor”? Rubbish. Maximum of ten minutes to put ingredients in bread maker, press appropriate buttons, remove bread when baked and wipe machine clean. Do you honestly have an excuse for not doing this? Not only that you get to choose the flour which is readily available minus the additives that are used by professional bakers. Wholemeal is best but a mix of wholemeal and brown – some machines cannot do 100% wholemeal – is fine. Your machine can make a lot of other things too.
What to put in your sandwich? It is up to you of course but you are free to choose your own quality ingredients. As there is a certain amount of salt and fat in bread these should be avoided in the filling if possible and certainly kept to a minimum. The sandwich remains one of the best fast foods for sure.
Other good fast foods include soups made in advance, portioned and frozen; ideal with your home-made bread. Stir fried vegetables in olive or sunflower oil, ready in minutes with cold or grilled chicken (minus the skin). Or choose a salad with all sorts of leaves, berries, nuts, seeds and fruit drizzled with good olive oil. The list is limited only by your imagination and your perception of “fast”. Is twenty minutes cooking rice or pasta too long – given that you can do a lot of other things whilst they are cooking? There is no need to add salt to any cooking water by the way. Steaming is a quick way to cook vegetables and rice and limits the loss of nutrients; much preferred to boiling.
Despite all these lovely things you can rustle up in minutes the ultimate fast food is fruit. No other foodstuff packs so much nutrition in such a small package and limited preparation is needed. You could argue long into the night which is the best but for me the banana comes out on top just ahead of the apple.
So, for me the best fast food is fruit. Sandwiches made with home-baked bread and any combination of vegetables with grilled meat or fish then salads follow on. Absolutely nothing bought pre-cooked or “ready to eat” in a shop qualifies.
Finally my breakfast recipe. Half a cup of whole grain oats with same volume semi-skimmed milk in a bowl and microwaved for two minutes. Add a handful of seasonal berries, handful of raisins, handful of assorted nuts (almonds, walnuts), two dessert spoons of mixed seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame). That is it. No added sugar or salt. Nutritious and filling.