These are exciting times in the fast-food industry. What began with Doritos taco shells and fried chicken-as-sandwich bread has evolved into biscuit taco shells and fried chicken-as-hot dog buns. We've been chronicling the enstrangening fast-food industry in our online Haute-N-Ready column for a year now, from mild stoner cracks about Munchie Meals to stepping into a KFC/A&W and using brute force to craft a Double Down Dog. Haute-N-Ready isn't just a font of Simpsons references with fast-food writing sprinkled in, it's become a way of life for nearly tens of people.
Well, we at Willamette Week feel it's time these daring processed-edible-substance innovators got the recognition they deserve. It is with great pride that we announce the first annual Haute-N-Ready Awards.
Wendy's Bacon and Blue Burger
Blue cheese, bacon and arugula atop a burger in a brioche bun—it was the paragon of faux artisanal ("fartisanal," if you will) movement. It also happened to be delicious. Unexpectedly so. Wendy's has been a fickle chain of late, briefly embracing pulled pork and currently in the throes of ghost pepper tremens. But it struck gold with the Bacon and Blue Burger. Where so many attempts by fast-food chains to re-create a good pub burger taste like pale shadows of their inspiration, sassy Wendy's pulled it off. Congratulations, Wendy's International Inc.
Taco Bell California A.M. Crunchwrap
Breakfast is an intentionally simple meal, at least as presented by fast-food chains. There are eggs. There are fried potatoes. There's bacon or sausage. With the California A.M. Crunchwrap, Taco Bell added ambition to the formula—also, guacamole. The guacamole and pico de gallo add a slight hint of flavor from south of the border. The Crunchwrap's shape also prevented the leaky backside that plagues so many burritos.
This is an admittedly small field. Sonic has gone all-in with beverages, Taco Bell features exclusive MTN DEW flavors, and A&W has inexplicably decided to make a float with MTN DEW in lieu of the house root beer. Instead, I opted for the drink that helps you forget where you are. Chipotle has a truly obnoxious ambience, but the margaritas make it somewhat bearable. Also, more fast-food and fast-casual chains should have liquor licenses.
Panera Bread's Lentil Quinoa Broth Bowl with Cage-Free Egg
As an unabashed suburbanite with little regard for his health and well-being, I am the ideal target for most fast-food chains. Panera Bread, on the other hand, is aimed at someone else. From the Bublé on the speakers to the 99-cent confections, Panera is one of the most on-brand chains in the nation. Its new Lentil Quinoa Broth Bowl with Cage-Free Egg (with kale and sofritos) is less a well-constructed meal than a series of words designed to lure eco-conscious yuppies.
Little Caesars $12 Bacon Hot-N-Ready
Dating back to my college days, I've long been a Hot-N-Ready man. Adding bacon to the time-tested Deep! Deep! Dish Pizza seemed like a no-brainer. But at $12—more than twice the cost of the original Hot-N-Ready—the Bacon Deep! Deep! Dish, Hot-N-Ready only after 4 pm, marked a strong betrayal of everything Detroit-style that pizza stands for.
There's a special kind of cojones required for a chain that constantly has to fend off rumors that its meat is liquid-based to change its slogan to "We have the meats." We at Haute-N-Ready salute that chutzpah.
Jack in the Box Buttery Jack Burger
You wouldn't guess staring at the modestly sized and priced Bacon & Swiss Buttery Jack that it contained nearly 1,000 calories. But I guess the bacon and butter really add up.
BK Chicken Fries
Burger King set the bar for weird advertising very high when its Chicken Fries were first introduced by creating a chicken-headed hard-rock band named Coq Roq. (Slipknot sued Burger King for the campaign. BK's countersuit included the charge that Slipknot was itself a parody of heavy-metal bands.) But through the hypnotic graphics, Bolshevik revolutionary images and bizarre chicken-potato dating commercials, Chicken Fries were reintroduced with the same spirit and vigor.
Rather than bore you with the many charts, scientific research and other work I've done tasting chicken nuggets this year, I'll just ask you to trust me on this one.
Seriously, what the hell?