All posts by Robert - Not Bob

McDonald’s Lone Star Stack Burger

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Probably one of the more successful snack food marketing campaigns in the last few years, despite it having a name that makes me want to punch someone, is the Lay’s “Do Us a Flavor” campaign. Honestly, it really is impressive that they can get as many people as they do all worked up about potato chips. Because, really, they’re potato chips.

In the time since Lay’s first came up with that concept, a lot of other snack and fast food merchants have attempted to replicate it with varying degrees of success, but few of them manage to drum up the hype that Lay’s does.

It was only a matter of time until fast food behemoth McDonald’s decided to give it a crack. The result? The McDonald’s Burger Showdown.

Apparently, back in March, they announced this contest. People could go online and build their burger using a “long list” of “fresh” ingredients. Once you selected your ingredients, chose a name and submitted your virtual burger, you would be on your way to, perhaps, burger fame and a jackpot of $5,000. The submitted burgers would be voted on by the unwashed masses, then judged by a “panel of qualified judges” using a set of criteria including “taste”, “creativity” and “operations feasibility”. Sadly, I missed all the fun, since I only became aware of this after the winner was announced.

Before we GET to the winner, though, we should list all the finalists, shouldn’t we? Because really, there are no losers here. This is the winners circle, right?

McDonald's Lone Star Bronc Burger Promo

First up is the “Lone Star Bronc” consisting of a Premium Bun, two Quarter Pounder Beef Patties, American Cheese, Pepper Jack, Grilled Onions, Crinkle Cut Pickles, Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Shredded Lettuce and Sweet Onion BBQ Sauce.

McDonald's Dobletxmeet Burger Promo

Next is the “DOBLETXMEET”, whose name infuriates me no end, which is made up of an Artisan Roll, two Classic Beef Patties, Swiss, Grilled Mushrooms, Grilled Onions, Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Herb Seasoning, Chipotle Ketchup and Ketchup. I guess “bonus” ketchup. Somebody really likes ketchup.

McDonald's The McSqually Burger Promo

Our next contender is the curiously named McSqually, consisting of Texas Toast, two Quarter Pounder Beef Patties, two American cheese slices, Applewood-Smoked Bacon, and Big Mac Sauce.

McDonald's The Gourd Burger Promo

Then we have the also-curiously named “Gourd”, which sports Texas Toast, Shredded Lettuce, Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Guacamole, ONE! (1!) single, solitary Quarter Pounder Beef Patty, American cheese and Barbecue Sauce (apparently, NOT sweet onion barbecue sauce, but the other kind).

Who are we kidding here? If those aren’t the winner, then they are obviously the losers. As famed NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby says, “If you’re not first, you’re last!”. So now we come, at last, to the real winner. The best burger that Texas, apparently, has to offer.

Cue up its announcement commercial if you like, or just read on….

McDonald's Lone Star Stack Burger Promo

The Lone Star Stack, lovingly crafted out of only the finest of artisan ingredients, including delicious buttery Texas Toast, crispy and tangy Crinkle Cut Pickles, two juicy Quarter Pounder Beef Patties, creamy White Cheddar and American cheese, Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Caramelized Onions and Sweet Onion BBQ Sauce.

At this point, you’re probably thinking what I’m thinking. These are all within one or two ingredients of being the same damn burger. Texas Toast, BBQ sauce and caramelized onions are showing up just way too much here. Either their “long list” of possible ingredients was all like “Please check one: [_] BBQ Sauce, [_] Barbeque Sauce, [_] Chipotle Ketchup (alright, you got us, that’s really just BBQ sauce again), or [_] Sweet Onion Barbecue Sauce” or their “panel of qualified judges” consisted of one fat guy in bib overalls named Billy Joe Jim Bob that just really really likes BBQ sauce on his burgers.

…And therein lies one of the first lessons that McDonald’s did not take away from Lay’s “Do Us a Flavor”, and that’s differentiation. With Lay’s, you’re dealing with potato chips vs. other potato chips, so they’ve got to be different from each other. I don’t think they’d ever pit “BBQ Flavored Chips” against “Also BBQ, But It’s a Different Kind of BBQ Sauce Flavored Chips “. The merit of these burgers aside, I honestly doubt that in a real-life taste test I could easily choose between them, because they all sound so similar.

The second thing that McDonald’s failed to accomplish was to personalize the contest. Who made these burgers? What are their names? Their inspirations? Where’s our Cheesy Bread Karen to carry the torch for starving Olive Garden patrons worldwide? Where’s our Meneko Spigner McBeth to make us jealous of the hand-made sushi rolls she got in her lunchbox instead of Lunchables?

The closest thing that McDonald’s did to giving this so-called contest any personality was to include an infographic on their site that conveyed the following factoids:

  • 2,545 people named their burgers “Mc_SOMETHING_”
    Whelp, it IS McDonald’s and pretty much EVERYTHING is named McSomething. No shocker there.
  • 6,420 people put jalapeños on their burgers
    Also, no big surprise. This is Texas and we do like our jalapeños. The real surprise is that none of these made it to the finals. I’m maintaining that Bill Joe Jim Bob is a big ol’ wuss when it comes to spicy food.
  • 248 burgers had “Alamo” in their name
    HELLO. TEXAS…. AGAIN. I’m surprised that number is so small, honestly.
  • 278 artisans were named “Josh”
    An interesting distinction to make, and the closest to knowing who is behind any of these burgers we’re apparently going to get. Also, I love how these days, the only thing you have to do to be dubbed an “artisan” is make something yourself, even if it’s just by clicking on burger ingredient names on a screen.
  • 708 burgers had no patty at all
    These were immediately disqualified, I am sure.
  • 15,541 people added spicy ingredients to make flaming hot creations
    …And again, not a single spicy burger made it to the finals. Somehow.
  • 497 people put bacon on their burgers, but no beef
    That seems a bit odd. Maybe they were confused and thought that the beef was automatic.
  • 2,522 people put “Texas” in their burgers’ name
    Not to belabor a point, but yup, “TEXAS!” If Texas-shaped buns had been an option, I’m sure they’d have been in the majority.

Another key point that McDonald’s missed in their promotion is the promotion part. I never even heard about this until after this contest was over and the burger was out. Can’t be any buzz if nobody knows about it. On a side note though, as a Texan I do appreciate the nice play on the Gonzales “Come and Take It” flag. Nice touch.

Anyway, so I thought I’d try this thing out, so I headed to my local TEXAS McDonald’s. “Yee-Haw!”

The first thing I saw when I walked in the door was this delightful little display across from the order counter.

McDonald's Lone Star Stack Burger Promotional Display

Other than this unusually “crafty” point-of-purchase signage, the ordering process was uneventful, so I retired to a nearby booth to experience the best burger that Texas has to offer.

McDonald's Lone Star Stack Burger

As is typical, it looked considerably more…. compressed than the burger in pictures. Time to check under the hood.

McDonald's Lone Star Stack Burger Inside

I will say that they did well with their onion and pickle coverage. A generous amount of sauce was splooshed between the patties and the top toast slice. There was no spread at all on the bottom slice. The toast also looked considerably thinner than the Texas Toast pictured, and really didn’t look or feel toasty at all.

I was easily able to taste the onions separate from the burger, since so many had fallen off. This is good, because they did have a pretty solid caramelized taste. Unfortunately, under all that BBQ sauce, their flavor was almost completely lost.

The so-called “Sweet Onion Barbecue Sauce” just tasted like any random generic BBQ sauce. Its purpose there, obviously, was to do little other than keep you from tasting the onions, or the white cheddar, or anything, really, other than BBQ sauce. ….and to make the Texas Toast predictably soggy and fally-aparty. I actually do like Texas Toast on a burger, but it does have to be very toasted to not become a gooey mess. If McDonald’s plans to continue making it available, maybe they can check with Whataburger to see what their secret is.

The pickles, being pickles, did manage to cut through the overwhelming BBQ sauce taste to make their presence known. The bacon was, typically, lost and unnecessary. And that slice of American cheese was likewise unneeded. Why not two white cheddars? Why taint a “premium” burger with crappy American cheese? As I’ve said before, American cheese goes on value-menu items, not on a pricey limited special offering.

Taken as a whole, the Lone Star Stack was not a terrible burger, it was just extremely mediocre and boring. And, like most McDonald’s high-end burgers, it seemed to me to be a tad overpriced. Having two Quarter Pounder patties did make it fairly meaty, but it really didn’t manage to distinguish itself in any other way. It also doesn’t help that I’m really just not a fan of BBQ-sauced burgers.

McDonald’s Lone Star Stack Burger

  • Score: 2 out of 5 Soggy Toast Slices
  • Price: $5.99
  • Size: 1 Burger
  • Purchased at: A McDonald’s in Texas! Yep!
  • Nutritional Quirk: Nearly twice as many calories (960) and fat grams (54) as a Big Mac. Yee-Haw!

McDonald’s Chorizo Burrito

McDonald's Chorizo Burrito

[Please enjoy this guest review from Robert – Not Bob, a valued sometimes-contributor to Junk Food Betty who had the privilege (or curse – read on to determine) of being in a test area for this new product. Thanks, Robert!]

In the five (!) years since Junk Food Betty first graced the information superhighway (Congrats, by the way), I’ve almost certainly read more about, and spared more thought for, fast food than I probably had in all my previous years combined. That’s a bit of a mixed blessing, obviously, but it has amused me, and on occasion, I’ve even learned a few things.

One of the things I’ve learned is that the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas area is a seething hotbed of fast food test-marketing. For that reason, I find myself, once again, submitting a guest review, this time for McDonald’s Chorizo Breakfast Burritos. Well, that and the fact that your JFB host isn’t one to eat an egg, regardless of how it’s gussied up.

For those not in the know, there are actually two very dissimilar food items called “Chorizo”. One is a hard, cured European sausage, made from pork and Spanish paprika. The other is a fresh Mexican sausage made of God only knows what.

Chorizo con Huevos, which is Mexican chorizo and eggs, is a breakfast staple of taquerías, and is commonly rolled into burritos or breakfast tacos. However, it’s long been conspicuously absent from the fast food breakfast lineup. Even nominally “Mexican” fast food chains like Taco Bell, not one to shy away from mystery meat, has kept it out of their breakfast burrito offerings. I’m guessing that this is because chorizo tends to be spicy, and not spicy in a way that’s anything like the pickled jalapeño flavor that pretty much forms the basis of the typical fast food consumer’s idea of “spicy”. It has a pretty unique taste and texture, and is not very similar at all to familiar breakfast meats like bacon or ham.

McDonald's Chorizo Burrito Don't Mess with Breakfast

A quick look at the sign advertising the chorizo burritos also confirms that whoever designed it has little familiarity with chorizo. In the burritos pictured you can clearly see chunks of yellow egg and chunks of something red, which is presumably pretending to be the chorizo. As anyone that’s had it can attest, that’s not the way chorizo and eggs look. When you cook chorizo and eggs together, they basically become one homogenous mass. Perhaps that’s another factor that’s kept it off most breakfast menus. When Americans look at their meat and eggs, they want to see identifiable meat chunks, rather than a pile of eggs that just look like someone got confused with the dye at Easter.

Let’s take a look inside the real burritos.

McDonald's Chorizo Burritos

As I had two burritos to work with, I cross-sectioned one, and unrolled about the other.

McDonald's Chorizo Burrito Halved

McDonald's Chorizo Burrito Open

As you can see, these bear little resemblance to what was pictured, but we all know that that’s the norm with fast food advertising. Anyway, there’s not much to look at here. Chorizo and egg mix, a few red and green pepper bits and a flour tortilla. The strong odor of chorizo seemed pretty promising and, once tasted, I had to admit, these weren’t bad at all. The tortillas themselves left a bit to be desired – the ones you get at taquerías tend to be more flavorful and are typically pan fried before use – but the chorizo y huevos inside tasted exactly like it should. And, for two for $3, seems like a pretty decent breakfast deal.

McDonald's Hot and Mild Picante Sauce Packets

Along with the burritos I received 4 packets of McDonald’s Picante Sauce, two mild and two “hot”. Do not be tempted to put these on your chorizo burritos. Place them in the nearest trash receptacle. I tasted the “hot” and it was thoroughly vile. Putting ketchup on your chorizo burrito would be unforgivable, but would still be a better choice than McDonald’s Picante Sauce. If you do want to put some sauce on your chorizo burritos, that bottle of Tapatío in your file cabinet drawer or those old packets of Taco Bell “Fire Sauce” in your glove box are both much better options.

I do know of at least two taquerías in the path of my morning commute that offer chorizo and egg burritos that are about the same size, and are slightly better, and are slightly cheaper, so I probably wouldn’t make McDonald’s version a regular purchase. However, if I found myself in a taquerías-free zone (yes, even in Texas that can happen) and wanted a breakfast fix, I could definitely see getting them again.

McDonald’s Chorizo Burrito

  • Score: 4 out of 5 pork salivary glands
  • Price: $3.00
  • Size: 2 burritos
  • Purchased at:McDonald’s #35172

Sonic Texas Brisket Cheeseburger

Sonic Texas Brisket Cheeseburger[Editor’s Note: Please enjoy this special review by guest writer Robert – Not Bob. The Sonic Texas Brisket Cheeseburger is currently only available at test market locations in Texas, and he just so happens to live in one of those areas, so he graciously provided JFB with a sneak peek!]

What’s the most Texas thing you can think of? Ok, besides a dead armadillo propped up clutching a Lone Star Beer…. It’s barbeque brisket, right? Maybe…. It’s not even our official state dish, an honor reserved for chili, but BBQ is pretty high up on the Texas scale of things.

Fast food places certainly seem to think so. Every couple of years one will trot out a limited edition “Texas” burger, which invariably has BBQ sauce on it, perhaps some jalapeños, maybe they’ll throw an onion ring into it. I will admit that the Sonic Texas Brisket Cheeseburger is the first time I’ve seen a fast food place actually put BBQ brisket and a hamburger patty in the same bun.

Don’t look for information on this particular burger online – there’s almost none to be had. It appears to be either a Texas exclusive or a test-market offering, and apparently in some areas, they’re printing an edible local college sports team logo on the bun, which just seems stupid. Anyway, since the JFB staff is a long, long way from Texas, I bravely volunteered to try it out for them.

Now an admission. I’ve never eaten AT a Sonic. Oh, I’ve had food from Sonic before, but I’ve always eschewed the whole carhop thing and gone through the drive-through. Generally speaking, if I’m eating in my car, I’m in a big, big hurry, so that means grab something and go. If I’m going to be somewhere long enough to sit and eat, then I’m damn sure going to go in and use up some of their air-conditioning while I do it.

Also, for a place that wants to force you to use your car as a restaurant booth, Sonic sure has historically sold a lot of potential lap-stainers. From the Frito-pie wrap to the Tex Mex Footlong Quarter Pound Coney, their menu always seems to be laden with stuff you would not want to eat in your car. Or perhaps, not want to eat unless you were wearing one of those ponchos they give you when you see the Blue Man Group.

I’ve often wondered if Sonic isn’t partnered somehow with some company that specializes in cleaning stains out of upholstery and clothes. Considering that my target burger was topped with chopped BBQ brisket, I was expecting a bit of a mess, but I thought I’d give the whole Sonic experience a shot this time, and pulled into the drive-in stall.

Sonic Texas Brisket Cheeseburger Texas Drive-In View
Editor’s Note: Visit Beautiful Texas!

The first thing I noticed when I was ordering my Brisket Cheeseburger was a sign that said “Try it with jalapeños!” So that is how I ordered it. I know you’re not supposed to modify a review burger, but hey, the suggestion was right there on the menu, so that should be allowed.

Sonic Texas Brisket Cheeseburger Menu

Instead of a cute carhop girl on roller skates, I was served by the squeaky-voiced, pimply teenager from the Simpsons. I still have no idea if you’re supposed to tip them or not, and he started running back to the building so fast I had to holler after him to come back and handed him a dollar. He gave me a look like I was crazy but accepted it and ran off as I made ready to turn my truck’s dashboard into a dining room table.

Sonic Texas Brisket Cheeseburger Dashboard

At first glance it didn’t look anywhere near as messy as I’d expected. Also, thankfully, instead of a stupid college team imprinted bun, it sported a handsome onion roll.

Sonic Texas Brisket Cheeseburger

Under the hood it had a nice-sized pile of chopped BBQ brisket sitting on top of a sticky-looking slice of American cheese. Surprisingly, the brisket was not soaked in BBQ sauce.

Sonic Texas Brisket Cheeseburger Brisket

Flipped over, you see the grievously overdone hamburger patty, the obligatory tiny diced onions, some pickles and pickled jalapeño slices, and under them, a healthy dollop of BBQ sauce.

Sonic Texas Brisket Cheeseburger Open

Cross-sectioned, you can see that the patty to chopped brisket ratio is about the same.

Sonic Texas Brisket Cheeseburger Inside

And how did it taste? Well, the quality of the chopped BBQ brisket was actually not too bad. Not as good as you’d get at a real Texas BBQ joint, of course, but much better than I expected. It had the consistency and texture of actual chopped BBQ brisket and a decent smoky flavor.

The decision to separate the sauce from chopped brisket was a solid one, because you tasted more of the brisket that way, and it helped make the hamburger patty taste more like an extension of the BBQ and hide the fact that it was seriously overcooked. In fact, the hamburger patty really did little other than protect the chopped brisket from the sauce.

Adding jalapeños was also the right choice, since they helped mask the flavor of the pickles. Sliced red onions would have been a better addition than the diced white ones, which seemed to have zero flavor. The gooey American cheese dragged the overall quality down. They should have gone with cheddar instead. People ordering this with the stupid college team logo are also missing out, because the onion roll was one of the burger’s better features.

Would I order it again? Not likely. I live in Texas, so I know where to get a real BBQ sammich.

Sonic Texas Brisket Cheeseburger Bailey's Bar-B-Que

Sonic Texas Brisket Cheeseburger

  • Score: 3 out of 5 dead, beer-swilling armadillos
  • Price: $4.49, plus an additional dollar used to surprise a teenager
  • Size: 1 sandwich
  • Purchased at: Sonic, Burleson #3, Texas
  • Nutritional Quirks: Hamburger patty-shaped BBQ sauce force field

Wendy’s Spicy Chipotle Crispy Chicken Sandwich, Spicy Chipotle Jr. Cheeseburger and Natural-Cut French Fries with Sea Salt

Please welcome special guest reviewer Robert (Not Bob).  A little while back, GrubGrade broke the news that Wendy’s had some new items in test markets. One of these items was being tested in the Dallas area. My friend Robert lives around there, so I asked him if he would try it out and write a review for me. To my astonishment, he actually did! Enjoy this sneak peak of what may someday come to a Wendy’s near you!

To me, Wendy’s seems to be the “Red Haired Step-Child” of fast food chains. They’ve even acknowledged this by choosing a red haired, and presumably gap-toothed, hayseedish-looking child as their mascot.

Unlike your usual reviewers, I’m not a habitual frequenter of fast food restaurants. But the 3 or 6 times a year I do consent to go to one, I never even consider Wendy’s. Hell, they can’t even make their hamburger patties the right shape.

A quick look at the Wikipedia page for Wendy’s tells me that it’s the third largest hamburger chain after McDonald’s and Burger King, which surprises me, because I personally can’t find anyone that’ll admit to frequenting their establishment. As for myself, I honestly think that the last time I visited one was about 20 years ago, when I was dirt-poor and in college, and discovered their cheap-and-surprisingly-good chili. Most of the people I talked to about Wendy’s seemed to share the same opinion, which is “They have a couple of things that are pretty good, but when I want a burger, I go elsewhere.”

At this point, I’ll pause to point out that the sole qualification I have for writing this review is that I live in North-Central Texas, where Wendy’s is test marketing a couple of new menu items.

Like every other chain, Wendy’s is rolling out a spicy chicken sandwich. Since chipotle is the “go-to” spicy of fast food, they’ve jumped on that bandwagon too, resulting in the “Spicy Chipotle Crispy Chicken Sandwich”.

The first thing I noticed when I stepped into a local Wendy’s is that the average age of their patrons appears to be hovering around the 65~70 mark. Maybe that’s the secret of their success. The geezers don’t want to dodge the kids at McDonalds and they don’t want to associate with the potheads at Taco Bell, so they’ve made Wendy’s their destination restaurant. Hey, they actually have “Old Fashioned” as part of their subtitle, so that may actually be the market they’re playing for.

The second thing I noticed was that my target sandwich is a 99-cent item and has a companion menu item, the 99-cent Spicy Chipotle Jr. Cheeseburger. I decided to take one for the team and try them both. I also decided to give their much-hyped Natural-Cut French Fries with Sea Salt a shot, so you get a bonus review, even though it’s a review of something that’s been around for six months.

Let’s take a look under the hood of the Spicy Chipotle Crispy Chicken.

As expected, there’s the orange-y chipotle sauce that shows up so often on “spicy chipotle” fast food items. A quick by-itself taste test reveals that it’s not as spicy or tangy as most. In fact, it appears that the main thing it brings to the party is “orange”. The chicken looks to be a standard, un-spicy pre-formed patty and the cheese is maybe white American or Swiss.

The real surprise is the jalapeños. Didn’t see that one coming. As a food item billed as “chipotle”, it’s supposed to get it’s spicy from a sauce or seasoning from dried, smoked jalapeños, not from fresh or pickled ones.

After tasting the sandwich, I can say that it’s a good thing they’re there. The chicken patty itself is fine, although you’d never mistake it for the vastly superior chicken of Chik-Fil-A. As expected, the sauce really didn’t add much spice, just kept the overall sandwich from being overly dry. Even in that function it didn’t do very well, since its application was a little sparse for my taste. The jalapeños, however, held up their end of the bargain and added a decent amount of bite. Much like the presence of Patrick Warburton in a substandard kiddie movie, they made a mediocre offering palatable, even mildly enjoyable.

Ok, time to look at the Spicy Chipotle Jr. Cheeseburger, which features the exact same ingredients, but with the weird square patty instead of the chicken.

After only one bite I finally, instantly understood why Wendy’s hamburger patties are square.

It’s a warning. Like the brilliant colors on a poison dart frog, it’s nature’s way of saying “Don’t Touch”. The meat had an unhealthy, “off” taste that seriously made me unable to even taste the jalapeños, let alone the bland chipotle sauce.

Shuddering at the memory, I cleansed my palate and moved on to the Natural-Cut French Fries with Sea Salt.

I’m not a big french-fry eater. I honestly think they’re an over-rated side, and that their success is mostly due to their portability and America’s love affair with salt and dipping food into other food.

However, I must say, these were some pretty tasty fries. The left-on skin gave them a hardier, more potato-y flavor than you usually get out of a fast food fry, and the use of sea salt instead of table salt was noticeable, if only slightly. Wendy’s got it about right on these.

In conclusion, I’ll say that the Spicy Chipotle Crispy Chicken is a fairly decent offering for a 99-cent value-meal item (even if it’s name is a lie) and the Natural-Cut French Fries with Sea Salt live up to their name. However, the Spicy Chipotle Jr. Cheeseburger is literally uneatable, due to the nasty-tasting beef that Wendy’s apparently uses. However, if you decide to try any of them, I recommend bringing along this if you actually want to taste anything that even vaguely resembles chipotle.

Spicy Chipotle Crispy Chicken Sandwich

  • Score: 3 out of 5 surprise jalapeños
  • Price: 99-cents
  • Size: 1 sandwich
  • Purchased at: Wendy’s, Fort Worth, Texas
  • Nutritional Quirks: Sauce apparently more ornamental than functional.

Spicy Chipotle Jr. Cheeseburger

  • Score: 1 out of 5 poisonous amphibians
  • Price: 99-cents
  • Size:1 burger
  • Purchased at: Wendy’s, Fort Worth, Texas
  • Nutritional Quirks: Square hamburger patties preferred by the geriatric.

Natural-Cut French Fries with Sea Salt

  • Score: 4 out of 5 Lot’s wives
  • Price: 99-cents
  • Size: 1 value-size container
  • Purchased at: Wendy’s, Fort Worth, Texas
  • Nutritional Quirks: Sprayed with sodium acid pyrophosphate, dusted with dextrose corn sugar and boiled in oil containing dimethylpolysiloxane.  Oh, and there’s presumably some sea salt in there somewhere.