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Before we get started on this, you have to understand the difference between gourmet and gourmand. A gourmet is heavily into unique foods which most of us have never heard of and wouldn't like if we did, such as Rumanian Goat Cheese-Stuffed Mutant Mushrooms or Baby Squid Cutlets Marinated in Serbian White Wine and Truffles. Gourmands like to eat a lot, and occasionally read the restaurant critic's column in the paper for a good laugh. Gourmets talk a lot about ambience, what chef is working where, and what wine goes with which meat. Gourmands are firm believers in the Plastic Chair Theory of ethnic restaurant quality and look askance at any place charging $20+ for an entree unless it either feeds at least 2 or involves a full rack of ribs. I, ladies and gentlemen, am a gourmand, as are most God-fearing rednecks.

We'll start with the fast food that made America famous: GUTBOMBS.

Wendy's: A-minus
Square deals with square burger patties; pioneers of the 99-cent menu, a seriously flaming spicy chicken sandwich, and recent converts to the One True Soda Pop (i.e. Coke). Points off for lack of a breakfast menu, lack of a downtown location, and because the gang at the York Avenue Wendy's either forget to provide straws or bury them at the bottom of the bag where you can't find the damn things.

McDonald's: C-plus
Appears to have won the Burger Wars against Burger King (q.v.) through management quality as opposed to food quality. Thumbs up for the seminal Big Mac, mediocre food served quickly at reasonable prices, and the Egg McMuffin, to say nothing of the EMM's progeny. (Sausage McGriddle, mmmmm.) Thumbs down for general mediocrity of the food, lack of bacon outside breakfast hours, and a ridiculously lean Dollar Value Menu.

Burger King: C
The Whopper is indeed the King of Burgers, though his throne would be a lot more secure if they'd stop using that damn shredded lettuce and get some decent fries to keep him company. Onion rings finally a point in their favor after BK stopped frying them in floor wax or axle grease or whatever made them taste so awful. Bonus points for char-broiled taste offset by confusing menu with constantly-rotating array of trendy burgers, sub sandwiches and chicken sandwiches; new Angus burgers afflicted with vile BBQ sauce. Many franchises have belly-warping Pepsi fluids instead of wholesome Coke products.

Hardees: B
Home of the Monsterburger and curly fries, more recently the Thickburger and Six Dollar Burger. A one-time minor power in the Burger Wars, now only found in Greater Minnesota and one store on the Midway. Regular fries every bit as bad as BK's, very likely from same supplier; curly fries much better. Some Hardee's offer fried chicken, which is okay but not great. Outpoints BK on the strength of the Monsterburger (not for the weak of artery) and the Thickburger, which has all the delicious beefy goodness of the Angus Burger but without the disgusting sauce. Appears to be running new TV ad that reminds many folks of rival West Coast chain.

White Castle: F
Given the choice between White Castle sliders and SuperAmerica styroburgers I'd eat the styroburgers. Foul, tiny, and most likely to contain beef parts you'd rather not think about as being in your burger. Fries are below mediocre; this chain's success is a tribute to how well Americans can destroy their own brains while drinking adult beverages. Sells burgers by the case in the frozen section of supermarkets, which tells you more than you need to know.

Checkers/Rally's: B
All the good points of BK and Wendy's combined except burgers are the traditional round, not square, patties. Retro drive-in appearance a plus, as are peppered fries and spicy chicken sandwich. Points off since there aren't any of them closer than Chicagoland.

Culver's: A
The idiot at Forbes who lumped this chain of temples to the twin pillars of Wisconsin Death Cuisine (butterburgers & frozen custard) in with "fast casual" joints like Chipotle needs to get his head examined. Has best burgers of all chains, 1/3 pound or 1/3 pound broiled patties served on toasted, buttered buns, though accompanying fries are mediocre. Walleye sandwich is numero uno, also offers fried chicken, soups and salads. Major selling point is frozen custard, like soft-serve ice cream only creamier, more seductive, and deadly to the pancreas/waistline/arteries. You only live once, so chow down.

Next: Submarine sandwiches - threat, menace, or just cheap eats?



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 21st, 2004 08:00 pm (UTC)
What, No ARBY'S?
Seriously, my next relationship is going to be with a Big Montana Sandwich...Mmmmm.

(Didn't Arby's used to be Roy Roger's?)
Oct. 21st, 2004 08:35 pm (UTC)
Re: What, No ARBY'S?
Since there's no Rax or Uncle Roy's in this part of the world, Arby's is going into the "Miscellaneous" category at the end. Roy Rogers and Arby's were always separate chains; we had some of each out in the DC area and the RRs were always part of Marriott, IIRC.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )