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.

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