One of life's most rarefied pleasures is spinning the continually bittersweet Fortuna's wheel of limited-time-only promotional fast-food items. I love going to a burger place and having the opportunity to order me up an all-new, unknown-to-nature sandwich concoction that the marketing suits at the home office decided to slop the hogs with for a month or so.
I've heard that lots of these limited-time menu alterations are more the result of pragmatic economic conditions than asking, "Hmm, what can we do to let our customers know how extra-special they are this month?" Like, McDonald's will luck into a dirt-cheap tonnage of McRib "meat" from Guadalajara which will all go bad in a month, so presto, the McRib is back! Or Burger King discovers that they're wasting too much ham from unsold Crossan'wiches, so they slap the surplus on a BK Broiler, and shazam, it's the BK Cordon Bleu! Limited time only!
Regardless of any shady origins, I like trying these ephemeral delicacies, and usually they ain't too bad. The most reliable restaurant in this regard in Wendy's, which prides itself on always having some temporary burger or chicken sandwich for Dave Thomas to do wacky commercials about. Last month he had the Pepper Jack Bacon hamburger, which was mighty tasty, and currently it's some "French" chicken thing that Dave has learned to "speak French" in support of.
And whenever the planets are in proper alignment for the Bacon Monterey Ranch chicken sandwich to rematerialize, my attendance at Wendy's increases twentyfold. I have to keep going back, even if I'm starting to get sick of it, because God a Mighty, the Bacon Monterey Ranch might be gone tomorrow! You ever seen a dog who keeps eating his food long after he's full, because there's another dog around that might eat it instead? Dave's evil plan has succeeded, annihilating my free will and turning me into that mindlessly eating dog.
The pizza guys have also gotten into the limited-time novelties, big time. Pizza Slut started this current "enhanced crust" travesty with the ring of cheese in the outer crust. Now, being a cheese enthusiast till cholesterol does my arteries clog, I cannot fault this idea. It tasted pretty good unless you let the cheese inside get cold, when it became a sort of giant bread-covered eraser. Then Pizza Slut started to get silly when they stuffed pepperonis in there with the cheese. "What next?" I asked, "Load the entire body of the crust up with cheese?"
And lo, that's what they done. It's called the Triple Decker Pizza. It is composed like this: a thin crust, four or six kinds of cheese, another thin crust, then sauce and upper cheese and your other toppings.
My first problem is, how does this qualify as "triple decker"? As I reckon it, crust-stuff plus crust-stuff makes it a double decker pizza. But let's be a little more liberal with our terms and let each layer be called a "deck."1. Bottom crust
2. Hidden cheese
3. Upper crust
4. Upper cheese and topping shit
Then, I say, it should be a quadruple-decker pizza, or if you count the toppings as an additional layer, it's a quintuple-decker.
Semantics aside, let me state that the Triple Decker Pizza was a gross disappointment. The secret hidden cheese, when the pizza was hot, was slip-sliding around like molten magma beneath some really unstable tectonic plates, so you were very likely to take a bite with no cheese present in the secret pocket. This contributed to an overall feeling that this was not a super-cheesy pizza, but a super-crusty pizza. The Double Cruster is what they should have called it. It was a lot of work just to chew the thing, with my teeth and saliva protesting, "Bread... bread... bread... damn, this pizza's got more bread than a motherfucker!"
Pizza Slut just doesn't get it. If they hired me as a consultant, I'd have them introduce the "Inch-o-Cheese Delight." We take a regular crust, sauce it, then lay on a mound of cheese so enormous that it will be at least one inch thick in every bite. That's not including the crust and toppings: an inch of cheese. Then I'd complete the one-two punch by shocking the world with the wonder known as Crustless Pizza! It's everybody's least favorite part of the pizza, you waste all those crust bones you don't eat, so why not get rid of it altogether? Crustless Pizza comes in your choice of a bowl, a plastic roll like frozen cookie dough, or I.V. bag. I'm telling you, we could have that Domino's outfit shut down inside six weeks.
The most successful of the limited-time fast food items go on to new incarnations, sometimes as permanent fixtures, or sometimes as imitations from competitors. I see that Little Caesar's now has some kind of stuffed crust pizza of their own. There was that trend toward offering salads and other "lite" menu items a while back, and that fad when every fast foot place was trying to jump in with "breakfast biscuits," even if they didn't have any business doing so. (Trull's Tip: Always be cautious of any place whose menu boasts "biscuit sandwiches." Such a term is a cultural affront on a par with the ham and cheese bagel.)
Then there is the McNugget. All-time world heavyweight champion of the inexplicably ubiquitous fast food item. And I don't mean the tired old Johnny Carson conundrum of "What part of the chicken is the McNugget, anyway?" I'm talking about the sauces.
When, in the course of human events, prior to McDonald's, was it ever a culinary custom to eat small fried bits of chicken by dipping them in your choice of barbecue sauce, sweet-and-sour, honey or spicy mustard? Never! It was not done!
But how many fast food places can you walk into and not find McNugget clones? Complete with those sauces? And why those particular, rather arbitrary sauces? Why didn't one of these incestuous copycats say, "The hell with this, we'll knock off the McNuggets but we ain't using their dumb-ass sauces!" KFC, for example. The grandmasters of fast food chicken, theirs is the Colonel's enduring legacy of serving up fried chicken unadulterated by weird-flavored sauces, save perhaps gravy. But they left poor ol' Harlan to roll in his grave like a rotisserie chicken when they loosed the floodgates of barbecue sauce and its lesser comrades. Why? Because that's what the people want. And why do they want it? Because McDonald's told them so.
Which brings me at last to the most bizarre novelty burger/competitor ripoff ever produced to date: Burger King's Double Cheeseburger Supreme.
Introduced around January, this special burger had commercials in which these guys are eating some on their lunch break, and then it's revealed that the guys are traitorous McDonald's employees. What I didn't notice at first was the specific nature of the Double Cheeseburger Supreme. Later I noticed them saying, almost as an aside, that this burger has the same stuff as a Big Mac, only better.
A four-alarm full-scale tactical lard alert went off in my head. Duplicate the Big Mac? Such temerity! Such balls! Such a good damn idea!
When you think about it, the Big Mac is a pretty fucking weird amalgamation. No ketchup, no mustard, no mayo--just... special sauce. And what's with that third bun, anyhow? But it's a combination that works, and even though I hold McDonald's to be an evil and loathsome entity whose food mostly sucks, I have to admit that the Big Mac has a unique and pleasing taste that you can find nowhere else.
Until the BK Double Cheeseburger Supreme.
I've eaten about seven of them now, and by God, not only does it capture the Big Mac taste, it improves it. It had the distinct sweet, almost tropical flavor, but with the benefit of flame-broiled beef. The only thing missing was sesame seeds and the third bun. (BK's ads trumpeted that it had "less bread" -- see there, Pizza Slut?) The sensation reminded me of when Alan Moore wrote superheroes in a serious, real-world setting in Watchmen, and it made us all realize how badly Superman and Spider-Man have sucked all this time. Truly a mind-blowing victory for BK, to take the competition's signature item and go, "Look, pinheads, HERE's how it's done."
I use the past tense because sadly, the Double Cheeseburger Supreme's time has expired. The other night I went in to order a couple, because the sign was still up in the front window, but they had already stopped serving them. Assholes. Hopefully, if enough people liked it liked as I did, it'll be back. Because ultimately it's us that decide who lives and who dies in the limited-time burger rallies, as McDonald's has learned the hard way:NEW YORK, Feb 5 (Reuter) - McDonald's Corp soon will not be frying any more of its low-fat, McLean Deluxe hamburgers anymore.
The McLean Deluxe, which had 10 grams of fat or half that of a McDonald's Quarter Pounder, will be phased out over the next few weeks as stock of patties run out, the paper said.
The burger was introduced five years ago to counter criticism about the lack of low-fat offerings at fast food restaurants, the paper said.
McDonald's told the paper that the fast-food chain is planning to streamline its menu, including the elimination of two of the four salads on its menu and fewer promotional items.
Some restaurants were making McLean sandwiches with the higher fat hamburger patties because of slim sales, the paper said, citing a report by ABC's "Primetime Live."
In the McLean's place, Mickey D's announced, they will add to the menu a new burger featuring bacon.
(Insert your own lard-related cheer of triumph here.)
(Originally published in The Lard Letter, March 1996.)