I recently found myself sitting alone in a booth at Denny’s. This is unusual for me; I can’t even remember the last time I was in a restaurant by myself. I wasn’t there for the food; I was there to meet the private investigator I hired to sleuth out what the next crazy fast food trends would be. I also had him researching the best way to sneak the Chilito back onto Taco Bell’s menu.
Okay, that’s obviously a lie. (Or is it? Some people will go to great lengths to find a Chilito.) I was there because my car was across the street at the mechanic’s, and I figured it would be more comfortable to wait somewhere where I could sit in a comfy booth and have some food and coffee, rather than sitting on a hard chair in the repair waiting room that smelled like rubber tires and man sweat.
Out of all these reasons, food was, of course, the deciding factor in regards to where I’d be passing my time. (Coffee and the lack of man sweat were close seconds.) Furthermore, it was fate that this Denny’s happened to be right across the street from the only mechanic in this city open on Sunday (protip: don’t break your car on a Sunday), because it just so happens that Denny’s is currently showcasing its Tour of America menu, which had several items in which I was interested.
At the top of the list was the Midwestern Meat & Potatoes Sandwich. Here’s how Denny’s describes it: “A Cheddar bun stuffed with grilled prime rib and French fries, smothered in brown gravy and topped with melted Swiss and American cheeses and mayo. A side of creamy mashed potatoes and yet more gravy completes this culinary masterpiece!”
Now, when I read that, it screamed “crazy go nuts marketing ploy food” to me. Even Denny’s acknowledged this in their press release, saying in reference to it, “Adventurous eaters, who tried Denny’s Fried Cheese Melt and the Maple Bacon Sundae, won’t want to miss out on Denny’s latest indulgence…”
However, the rabbit hole goes much deeper. Upon reading about the MM&PS, a friend of mine who lives in Minnesota commented that it sounded a lot like a regional dish served in diners and truck stops and the like. I pressed him for information like he was a clove of garlic that I needed finely minced, and he told me that this dish actually has a name: the hot beef commercial.
Hot beef commercial? What the hell? I went on a Google quest, but apparently the hot beef commercial is Minnesota’s best kept secret. I could find a few discussions, and learned that the commercial (it could also be pork or turkey) seems to only exist in Minnesota, but no real solid definitions. I had to go back to my friend for help. According to him, the hot beef commercial is assembled as follows (from the bottom up): piece of bread, meat, taters (maybe some gravy) piece of bread, more gravy.
That does bear some resemblance to Denny’s offering, and MN is definitely Midwestern. Notable differences: the commercial has no mayo or cheese, white bread instead of a cheddar bun, and the mashed potatoes go on or in the sandwich. Apparently you can ask for fries inside, but that’s non-standard. I find all this most interesting just because there seems to be more questions than answers on the Internet in regards to the commercial. Minnesota must be hiding a dark secret. And that secret is hot beef.
I don’t exactly have the means to travel to Minnesota, so I’ll just have to go off of my experience with the Midwestern Meat & Potatoes Sandwich, and leave the comparisons to someone else.
There are a lot of things going on with this sandwich that many people would find unusual or even off-putting. French fries inside a sandwich? Gravy on everything? Madness! Neither of these things really bothered me, though. I’m all for pouring gravy on pretty much everything. As for the french fries, I’ve seen The Big Fat Ugly, and after that, french fries are bush league.
My biggest concern was the mayo. I was totally down with all the other ingredients playing together, but it seemed that mayonnaise was playing dodgeball while the rest were trying to enjoy a nice game of four square. The idea of mingling mayo and gravy in particular made my stomach say “aw hell naw”. My stomach likes tired Internet memes involving Barack Obama.
When I ordered my food, the waitress said, “Oh, isn’t that sandwich just delicious!” I smiled and nodded, not sure why she would assume I’d had it before, and also ambivalent about whether the Denny’s waitress’s seal of approval was a good sign or not.
When my plate arrived, I was encouraged by the aesthetics. The cheddar bun looked delicious and the fries and steak were peaking out as if to say, “Hey baby. You look like you could use some saturated fat.”
I immediately opened the sandwich up and took inventory. Yep, everything was there – meat, cheese, fries, gravy, and…yes, there behind the cheese, the mayo. I appreciate that slice of cheese trying to hide it from me, but I couldn’t be fooled. I knew it was there.
Cutting the sandwich in half with the giant knife provided was a messy process. Messy was a common theme throughout my meal; when you’ve got gravy on a sandwich you’re eating with your hands, you’re going to blow through a lot of napkins. I had to ask my waitress for a whole stack.
The steak was surprisingly tender for a diner chain, and there was a hearty amount of it. The cheese was creamy and melty, which always works well with steak. You may not expect cheese to go well with gravy, but it did, and the gravy, while messy, pulled all the flavors together. There was also just the right amount of it. While the sandwich was messy, it wasn’t soggy, but it also wasn’t too dry.
The fries were tasty enough on their own, but in the sandwich, they seemed like nothing more than a starchy filler. I understand that this sandwich is supposed to be hearty, representing the spirit of the Midwest and/or adult-onset diabetes, but I really could have done without them. The bites I liked the best were the ones with just the meat, cheese, and gravy.
The cheddar bun didn’t offer much noticeable cheese flavor, but it was just the right size and density to stand up to all the ingredients without falling apart. As for the dreaded mayo? I don’t know if I got an unusually small amount, but it completely disappeared amongst all the other flavors. It’s like it wasn’t even on the sandwich, and that was just fine by me.
As for the mashed potatoes, they were, well…mashed potatoes. Nice and fluffy. I felt like I didn’t get enough gravy on them, however. I actually think the gravy worked better on the sandwich than the mashers. When tasted by itself, it had a weak brown gravy flavor, but in the sandwich, it melded with the steak and cheese, which made it seem more flavorful. The mashed potatoes seemed almost like an afterthought; an add-on designed to push the meal over the edge of excess. I would have liked the fries and the mashed potatoes to switch places, so the mashers were in the sandwich, like a real hot beef commercial.
So, it turns out Denny’s Midwestern Meat & Potatoes Sandwich isn’t so crazy after all, and it does actually represent the Midwest, in a roundabout way. As I said, I wish the fries had switched with the mashed potatoes, but the meat was tender and tasty, and, in combination with the cheese and gravy, it made for a hearty sandwich. I would order this sandwich in the future, but without the fries (and the mayo), thus ruining the theme of the meal. I don’t want to mess with Denny’s Tour of America like that, so maybe I’ll just get a California Club Salad instead.
- Score: 3 out of 5 gravy-soaked napkins
- Price: $6.99
- Size: 1 sandwich; 1 pile of mashed potatoes and gravy
- Purchased at: Denny’s #1970
- Nutritional Quirks: No nutritional information available on Denny’s website, but an independent website clocks the meal as containing a rather staggering 2,826 milligrams of sodium. Minnesota!