Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Throwing Five Chipotle Guys at Fast Food

Five Guys and Chipotle Logo*I have always loved fast food. It was a part of my childhood, and still remains a means to a quick meal. What's not to like about it? The food is predictable, if uninspirational. You know what you are going to get, even if what you get is mediocre. After all, few fast food places actually aspire to anything more.

McDonald's is a classic. To this day, I can order the same thing I ordered as a child--Hamburger, small fries, perhaps a soft drink--and I know that the taste memory from my childhood will come rushing back to me. Heck, I'm over fifty years old, and the food hasn't changed much!

Of course, back then, you could "feed a family of four for under a buck" (or whatever that slogan was back in the sixties). Today, a simple hamburger, small fries, and small soft drink cost considerably more than a buck, and a meal that size would seem as though it were just an appetizer to people today.

I enjoyed watching the documentary "Super Size Me!" which followed filmmaker Morgan Spurlock through his attempt to eat at McDonald's three times a day for a single month, while his doctors and associates watch on in abject horror as he gains significant weight and his health starts to deteriorate. In fact, that one documentary reduced my appetite for fast food from something that happened at least once a week to something that happens much less frequently.

Not all fast food is the same, of course. McDonald's has its signature taste, and I do occasionally seem to crave a Big Mac now and then--their French fries, even more often! I worked for Burger King as a programmer for five or six years, and was able to get free food when I visited some of the company-owned stores up here in New England. Free food is good--although one can have it too often. I started to develop a dislike for Burger King soon after they switched to Pepsi, and while I still love their chicken sandwich (probably the best chicken sandwich in the Fast Food Nation), I don't go there very often nowadays. There are the places that look for a niche outside the burgers and fries as well... Kentucky Fried Chicken for chicken, Long John Silver's for fish filets and (surprisingly!) chicken, and Taco Bell for... well, whatever they call what they serve (it isn't truly Mexican, although their recent and time-limited "Cantina Tacos" are certainly a step in the right direction) are all run from the same company (Yum! Brands).

There have been attempts to dress up fast food into something more than simply fast food, but not quite full-service. Fuddrucker's still serves better-than-average burgers (and rib-eye steaks), and you can put on all the toppings you want for free. With beer available, it's quite a step up from your local McDonald's. You can order your burgers done the way you like (medium, well, etc.), and when your burger is ready, they'll call you.

I've visited a Chipotle Mexican Grill only once, but it seems to do for burritos what Fudrucker's has done for burgers. The one I visited in North Andover, MA didn't (yet!) have a license to sell beer, but the burrito I had was actually quite good; I'll be taking Sandra there some day.

After hearing rave reviews about a new place from Harmony, and seeing that Zagat rated them as "best burger" in their survey of fast food, I've finally tried out Five Guys Burgers and Fries--I had lunch at the FGB&F in Marlborough, MA today, in fact. I ordered ahead, using their convenient web form. Being unprepared at what they call their various sandwiches (Hamburger, Little Hamburger), I simply ordered two (regular) burgers. This turned out to be a gastric mistake on my part; a regular burger consists of two patties, each of which was at least a quarter pound or perhaps a third pound. Ordering two of them meant a whopping pound or more of meat!

Well, while Morgan Spurlock had me worried about my health with regard to fast food, I can tell you that McDonald's has done a lot to offset this since the movie was released. For instance, I believe that Super Size is now a thing of the past (although Burger King seems to continue to offer something insanely large every once in a while). They've offered salads on their menu board, although their dressings are still pretty high in fat. Their new Angus line seems to be getting a half-sized "Angus Wrap" in a tortilla. Who knows where the future lies as far as McDonald's is concerned?

I definitely recommend Five Guys or Chipotle for people that are near either of these. The food is fresh, and a major step up from your typical fast food.

The important thing to remember is not to overdo it. Know what you're purchasing, and how much you should be eating.

Bon Appetit!

* Note: Although I have both logos at the top of my post, they are used without permission and should not be taken to imply that the two companies are related in any way.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


LobstersI know it's corny to write "lobstah," but apparently, there is some unwritten law that says that in New Hampshire... er, I mean, New Hampsha... important words that end in -er should be respelled with a final -ah.

Well, I'm not one to fully honor tradition, so I'll just use the word "lobster" from here on in, if only to soothe my poor spell checker.

My family had lobster infrequently when I was growing up. I guess that was because it was seen as a "luxury" item. I remember going crabbing during the early 1970s (I should write more about that in another entry) and during that time, I developed a fondness for crab meat, but I usually only saw lobster as some sort of shellfish that was just expensive.

I recall ordering lobster during one of my first dates with Sandra when I was in high school. Actually, I ordered the "surf and turf," which was steak and lobster. I truly believe that this was the first time I ever ate a lobster. It wasn't an entire lobster; it was a lobster tail, and I think it was already split for me. However, it was still served in its shell.

About halfway through the meal, Sandra asked me, "Where's the rest of your shell?"

I looked at her confused. "What are you talking about?"

"You're not supposed to eat the shell!"

From that inauspicious start, my attitude toward lobster has been and remains neutral. I really don't dislike it as a food, but I really prefer crab.

When I was living in South Florida, lobsters were plentiful, but they (usually) weren't the traditional "Maine" lobster, but rather the "Florida Lobster," which is also known as a "Spiny Lobster." This lobster doesn't have the notable large claws of the Maine variety, and I think the Spiny Lobster's meat tastes a bit more like crab to me. There were places where you could get Maine lobster, but they were expensive.

Living up here in New Hampshire, I am lucky (??) enough to be able to get lobster at better prices than anywhere else I have lived. I remember seeing twin lobsters being offered as low as $12.95, although I don't see twin lobsters being offered much at all nowadays, and when I do see them, they start at about $20 for the pair.

Cooking a lobster is easy. Simply fill a lobster pot with water, add salt, and wait for it to come to a boil. Insert the lobster, face down, and boil for 10-15 minutes, depending on the weight. Of course, just mentioning that much can get me into hot water myself: there is a long-running controversy as to whether or not lobsters can feel pain, and whether it is humane to throw a live animal into boiling water. I'll leave it to the moral ethicists, zoologists, scientists, and chefs to throw the arguments around; I haven't heard anything definitive on either side, although Wikipedia seems to have a pretty good rundown on the issue.

Over the last few years, I've noticed at least one grocer in town (Market Basket) tends to have the best prices for lobsters, with them usually available from $4.99/pound to $6.99. Usually, these are soft shell lobsters; lobsters tend to shed their skin, and when they have just replaced them, they start growing new, larger shells. Some people prefer the sweeter meat of the soft shell lobsters, while others dislike the relatively smaller proportion of meat to shell and prefer the hard shell lobsters instead.

I remember a visit to Gilford, NH, that Sandra, the kids, and I took. It was the Saturday at the start of Motorcycle week, and for some strange reason, we were not only able to get a reservation at a motel in the lakes region, we were also able to get a suite. With the restaurants in town catering to the motorcycle crowd, I decided to go to a local grocer to see what I could make in the kitchen in the suite. I found lobsters at a good price (about $5.99/pound, but my recollection could be off; it was relatively cheap, though). I purchased one each for Sandra and the kids, and then paid a bit more for a pound or so of Jonah claws (I mentioned that I preferred crab meat!). I then stopped at a nearby WalMart, and picked up a lobster pot. Even including the price of the pot, the meal we had was much less than going out to eat and having an equivalent meal at any restaurant!

I travel to Maine quite a lot, and have found some really wonderful lobster restaurants there. I remember visiting a place called the "Lobsterman's Coop" (now called "Boothbay Lobster Wharf"), in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. More often, we go to the Cape Neddick Lobster Pound in Cape Neddick, Maine, and the Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier in Kittery Point, Maine. We prefer Cape Neddick because it's a more formal restaurant with a bar, lounge, and is open year round. However, Chauncey Creek offers a more informal setting with picnic tables and a "B.Y.O." policy so that you can bring in your own beer, although it's only open during the warmer months.

Here in New Hampshire, there are quite a few places to get lobster. One of Sandra's favorite places is Weathervane, which has a restaurant in Salem, NH, as well as many other places in New England. Unfortunately, unlike Maine, I haven't really seen as many places that are simply dedicated to lobster as the many lobster pounds in Maine. I think this is because New Hampshire only has about fourteen miles of shoreline...!

As I said, I don't really dislike lobster, but until I find a good enough excuse to actually start eating them and (hopefully) eventually start enjoying them, I think I'll stick with my crab meat and leave the lobsters to my wife and kids!

Bon Apetit!