I felt pretty guilty entering the driveway to my local Carl’s Jr. (or Carsl’s Jr., as it has affectionately come to be known) because kitty-corner to it, mere hundreds of feet away, sits my favorite mom ‘n’ pop sandwich shop, which serves the best cheesesteaks I’ve ever eaten. Given, I haven’t eaten a lot of cheesesteaks in my day, and I’m sure any Philly native would slap me across the face and start raving about Pat’s or Geno’s and how there certainly isn’t enough abuse from the staff when ordering, but all I know is that their cheesesteaks are delicious.
This is why I felt guilty as I drove past them in order to hit the Carl’s drive-thru to pick up their new Philly Cheesesteak Burger. I was eschewing my favorite, locally-owned sandwich shop in order to pick up some short-lived fast food gimmick. But that is my job, a job I don’t actually get paid for, so it had to be done.
The Philly Cheesesteak Burger is pretty self-explanatory. Carl’s Jr.’s website describes it as “Juicy steak, with sautéed green bell peppers and onions, and melted American and Swiss cheeses, all piled on top of a charbroiled beef patty and served between a seeded bun.” Using beef as a topping for beef, or really, a sandwich as a topping for a burger, should strike me as bizarre. But I’ve seen some things lately that have apparently dulled my sense of the absurd, because the Philly Cheesesteak Burger doesn’t really seem that insane. Probably unsatisfying, but not terrifying. So I wasn’t feeling very trepidatious as I grabbed my sandwichburger without incident, avoiding eye contact with the real cheesesteak place as I drove home.
The Philly Cheesesteak Burger looked pretty innocuous on the outside, and actually smelled rather tasty. I decided to open it up to see what was inside…
Oh, come on, it doesn’t look that bad, right? Let’s take a closer look!
Okay it does look that bad. But I’m no food photographer, and I’ll be honest with you, I love how disgusting those pictures look because the Philly Cheesesteak Burger was actually delicious! I know, I’m as surprised as you are. The steak was actually juicy; it was finely chopped and really tender. The peppers and onions were crunchy, which seems quite a feat to pull off, considering fast food restaurants are seemingly incapable of keeping anything from becoming a soggy mess. While the onions didn’t add much flavor, you can distinctly taste the bell peppers. The cheese is impossibly gooey and creamy.
This all reminds me of the cheesesteaks I get from that place that sits in the same parking lot. There, you can watch them make your sandwich, and it is a thing to behold: the steak, peppers, onions and cheese are all mixed together with a giant metal spatula on top of a sizzling flat griddle. Something about throwing them around and mushing them together on that griddle makes the cheese gooey and distributed throughout the sandwich in a wonderful way, and while I hate to compare them to Carl’s Jr., I think Carl sent out a spy to see how they did it, because the taste and technique are remarkably similar.
Is this how all cheesesteaks are made? Maybe so; once again, I don’t have a whole lot of experience with this type of sandwich. But the cheesesteak on top of my burger was like my mom ‘n’ pop sandwich’s sidekick: less experienced, not as polished, and with about a 30% reduction in quality. It’s not your first choice when you’re being mugged in a dark alley, but it’ll satisfy you in a pinch. And save you from the mugger? I don’t know, this analogy fell apart pretty fast.
Oh yeah, and there’s a burger in there somewhere, too. The cheesesteak kind of overwhelms it, which I am perfectly okay with, but you will taste that Carl’s charbroiled flavor at the very end. Personally, I could have done without the burger altogether, but at least it kept the bun from completely falling apart.
Carl’s Jr.’s Philly Cheesesteak Burger is delicious, which I really wasn’t expecting. Tender meat, crunchy veggies, and melty cheese all tie together in a way I didn’t think would be possible from a fast food restaurant. The burger is almost completely extraneous, but I guess Carl’s felt obligated to throw it in there, perhaps because burgers are kind of what they do, or because they felt a burger with a cheesesteak on top if it would be a proper novelty item in this exciting era of “who can make the strangest food?” Either way, I’m a fan, and I’ll keep ordering them as long as they stay on the menu.