Category Archives: Chains

Tuna Salad…? Really Dunkin Donuts? WTF.

I come back from a conference to this email from J:

I believe it was the tuna fish sandwich that finally sent me over the edge.

Tuna fish isn’t supposed to have that effect on people. With the exception of the brief mental interlude of the mid-90s where we all pretended we cared about dolphins enough to abstain from canned fish, tuna fish is known for its lack of ability to provoke. I reckon I could get the phrase, “bland as a can of tuna fish” to catch on or trend on Twitter if it wasn’t so damn many characters, because, well, how many times have you even thought about tuna fish?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and I blame Dunkin Donuts.

Dunkin Donuts, which for as long as I can remember has dominated the breakfast market with its donuts, despite the recent shrinkage of variety and size but not price, has apparently decided that they want to start serving lunch too. One of their officers announced as much to the financial paper of record when he said that the challenge would be to develop a slate of menu items that would attract a lunch crowd without turning off their primary breakfast market.

So the Dunkin Donuts brain trust got together and decided first they’d try tuna fish.

I’ve only seen the pictures and it looks like it has a lot of celery. I don’t want to try it, because it’s possible that my one purchase could skew their data enough to think that the whole idea is a raging success and if my life is to have any meaning it is to not encourage stupidity. I’ve given up on trying to make people smarter. As I watch our civilization decline a good part of me finds myself not caring as long as I can still watch reruns of my favorite shows on Netflix, but when I see the signage outside of Dunkin Donuts for a tuna fish sandwich it makes me want to stand astride the wave of civilization’s progress and shout STOP!!!

Ew.

The tuna fish sandwich is the last straw, but I’ve been watching this trend for a long time.

McDonalds started serving salads a couple of years ago. The chain that had made qui-billions (by the way, when did they stop counting how many billions served on the signs?) selling fast burgers and delicious french fries that Morgan Spurlock taught us never go bad, had come under a wave of bad publicity because Americans were getting fatter and it must have been happening because they were eating more McDonalds.

Interestingly, these stories started pouring out right around the time McDonalds was seeing real sales declines, but no matter. McDonalds decided to change its image by starting to offer salads, which, truth be told, are higher in calories than the average cheeseburger, and their spokesmen said that in a few years they would become for salads what they had been for hamburgers.

I hope not. I don’t go to McDonalds as often as I used to, but when I do go I get a burger or a chicken sandwich and I do not subject my children to those sliced apples masquerading as fries.

Taco Bell, which I practically lived off of during college because everything was either 59, 79 or 99 cents, recently started trying to pretend it was a high end Mexican restaurant by offering shrimp tacos. I am pleased to see that the marvelous science of aquaculture has brought the price of shrimp down to where it can be stuffed into a fast food taco, but if a restaurant can’t verify its meat is real I’m not trusting it with seafood.

Mercifully, the shrimp tacos didn’t seem to catch on, but that hasn’t stopped other stupidity from rearing its ugly head.

When I open a restaurant, it will have five items, including one vegetarian option for the self-important snot head who thinks they are better than everyone else because they eat grass. If you don’t like those five items, you can eat somewhere else.

I am not serving donuts and tuna on the same plate.

Now who wants pie?

On Free Samples at The Gallery

Via e-mail yesterday at 1:56 p.m. (I took a sick day Tuesday)
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J writes:

So in my never-ending quest to act like a homeless person even though I make enough money to support a middle class lifestyle, I managed to scrounge an almost complete lunch today from free samples.

The Gallery Mall is a smorgasbord of this.

The cheese-steak stand (not a truck, so the sandwiches are about three times the price and frankly not as good—I think it’s called Charley’s Fried Subs or something) is always giving away samples of its California Chicken Cheese steak (a chicken cheese steak with ranch sauce and cheese) and its pretty good. Word to the wise though, the samples are better than the actual sandwich. I believe it was at the point where I suspected I had consumed a sandwich worth of samples that I broke down and bought the sandwich. The sample girl smiled; she had done her job that day she figured. Thing was, the sandwich itself was not as good as the sample. Not sure why, just know what was.

There’s also a collection of sort of Chinese places that give out samples of a chicken that I think is either bourbon chicken or teriyaki chicken, depends on the place. Either way it’s pretty good. Another word to the wise though, these Asian women are pretty sharp. If you walk the length of the Gallery mall and try to make another pass through for a free sample, she’ll pull the tray away and say, “no you’ve already taken a sample,” in broken English. It’s pretty gutsy and probably a power trip for a just-off-the-boat immigrant making a living passing out chicken on a toothpick, but then again I’m trying to scam an extra free sample on my way back to work, so it’s hard to know what’s more wrong with this picture.

I’ve sort of made a game about collecting free samples and I consider it a red letter day when my retarded friend is passing out samples at the Chic-Fila. I have no way of knowing if he’s actually retarded or not, but I do know he takes an inordinate amount of pleasure from passing out free samples, so I figure he’s not quite all there. This man is king of the sample universe as far as I’m concerned. Some days he gives out chicken nuggets, other days those milk shakes the store was promoting. One day, he actually gave out pieces of a chicken sandwich. I was in flavor country. He even let me take two unlike that Asian bitch from the sort of Chinese stand. You’d think his generosity would make me buy more items from Chic Fila, but alas when they charge $3.09 for their new Spicy Chicken sandwich it just makes me hope that he’ll put more samples out.
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I respond (at 11:52 a.m. today):

Edgy and awesome.

Also, you spelled Chik-Fil-A wrong. Or whatever.

In Praise of Condiments

Via e-mail yesterday at 2:05 p.m.

Subject line: In praise of condiments
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J writes:

I rise to praise condiments, not because of what they bring to sandwiches already in existence but for what they bring to the table on their own. Where would fries be without ketchup? Hot dogs without mustard? Hamburgers, without, well whatever it is you want to put on them, and chicken fingers…

… would simply cease to exist were it not for honey mustard, bar-b-q sauce, ranch dressing and whatever other deliciousness can be created in a semi-liquid state. I often wonder about the fate of chicken fingers once it becomes socially acceptable to eat honey mustard by the spoon.

Chicken fingers are a weird anomaly anyway. As any serious cook will tell you, chicken is almost impossible to get right. You have about a three second window between salmonella inducing raw and chewy. Since chicken fingers are cooked in mass quantities, they tend toward the chewy, which is fine because the breading covers over a multitude of sins and the real purpose of a chicken finger is to dip it in sauce anyway.

Ah the sauce…

Back when I was 15 and living on nothing except the good grace of my parents, I was out for a walk with a friend and we were extremely hungry.  Being 15 we had no money, so we went into McDonalds and asked for bar-b-q sauce. Well actually, we first asked for packets of salad dressing, but when informed that those cost “extra,” we asked for bar-b-q sauce. We each got a packet and ate the sauce as we continued our walk. It was satisfying enough to last us until lunch.

Apparently with a 21 percent unemployment rate among teenagers, more young men have tried this because now McDonalds charges 10 cents for each extra bar-b-q sauce packets. They’ll give you a set amount for each order (which in my experience is only enough if you don’t double-dip), but beyond that you got to spare a dime.

This is almost never enforced, especially if you go through the drive thru and ask the kid who gives you your food, rather than the one who takes your money, for an extra sauce packet.

My guess is that McDonalds started charging because too many teenage men were coming in and eating straight bar-b-q sauce because they had no money.

In my world, we call those folks true pioneers.

Pretzels: Savory AND Sweet Snack Option…?

An e-mail exchange that spans two days (beginning yesterday at 3:50 p.m.)

(Note: it starts off about flavor combos, but then ends up being about argument logic in general, and the law of diminishing returns-it’s looong.)
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J writes:

Don’t be fooled by the marketing gimmicks. Not all great tastes taste great together. Yes, peanut butter and chocolate is a wonder, but peanut butter and fish sticks? Probably not, unless you’re pregnant.

Frito Lay, maker of the fine Doritos line of products, recently embarked on a series of unfortunate events where they combined two flavors into one bag. They rolled out a whole series of them in a test marketing campaign they never really explained to the public. My personal favorite was blue cheese and buffalo wings, but those are gone now and the company has apparently decided that what the public really wants is a combination of ranch and pizza flavored chips.

Not this member of the public. The combination makes no sense (ever dip your pizza in ranch dressing? I didn’t think so) and because these items are actually CHIPS, by the time you get to the bottom of the bag the lovely Dorito Dust (nectar of the snack food gods) has combined into a nebulous flavor one can only describe as sharp and salty. Not good at all.

And this is not the only ill-fated combination I’ve seen recently. One of my colleagues recently brought in bacon flavored chocolate. Yeah, I know. She also likes American hoagies, but bacon flavored chocolate? It came in a nice wrapper and she said it was expensive, so I guess…but listen, as our president said, you can put lipstick on a pig and it’s still a pig, at the risk of mixing my pork metaphors.

And pretzels. Pretzels are meant to come in one flavor—salty. If you want to dip them in cheese, that’s fine, a little redundant maybe, but as long as you are not dipping them in gorgonzola you still can keep your membership in the human race.

But I am going to call a halt to the hysteria that has gripped a lot of chain (no food truck would dare attempt this) pretzel stands. They do not need pepperoni. They should not come with cinnamon sugar, or sesame seeds or even garlic really.

Just enjoy the goodness that is a classic pretzel. If you like cinnamon and sugar, go get a cup cake.
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I respond:

First of all: I’m not fooled by marketing gimmicks. I agree, there are some tastes that coalesce nicely; chocolate and peanut butter, banana and peanut butter, chocolate and mint, blue cheese and buffalo flavoring, salt and chocolate, etc. But someone had to be the first to combine the aforementioned flavors together. Don’t forget, even the portable dessert staple of the chocolate chip cookie was only invented in the 1930s. We owe much to innovation in food, and as far as flavor delivery goes (I’m talking carbs here-pasta, breads, other doughy products-all serve to provide a base for another more poignant or delicious taste sensation), pretzels are a great candidate.

Second-of-ly: Why can we dip pretzels in cheese but in nothing else? You’re just biased towards cheese…VERY biased towards cheese. You’re as into cheese as I am into ice cream, which is to say, it’s an almost religious-like devotion. So OF COURSE it’s okay to dip pretzels in cheese for you. But I say you’re missing out on other delicious flavor options.

Thirdly: Am I to take it that you don’t indulge in an Auntie Anne’s pretzel every now and again? Those are tasty because they are immersed in butter. Is butter another ingredient that you deem inappropriate for soft pretzels? (The PA Dutch use butter in their pretzels which are very traditional as far as recipes go.)

And last of all: Pretzels, because of their doughy/salty nature are perfect for dessert. Cinnamon and sugar pretzels are pretty darn good. Now, if I’m going to eat that much sugar, my instinct is to go for something “worth it”, like a cupcake, as you say. But I can see the merits in the cinnamon and sugar pretzel, and have tasted one, and they’re pretty tasty-too tasty, in fact, for you to condemn them wholesale.  Which brings me to a more pressing point…do you disagree in principle with pretzels as dessert? Because if so, then you eliminate one of God’s gifts to mankind-the chocolate covered pretzel. And that, well, that is just incomprehensible to me.

Fin.
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J retorts:

A couple of quick points before I get to the artery clogging heart of your argument…

…first, I take umbrage to the defining of my affection for cheese as “religious devotion.” I am, after all, engaging in a food debate with a VEGAN, which shows that I have an open mind, whereas you have closed off your taste buds to anything that moos or oinks.

…second, being first is hardly a criteria for credibility. Haven’t you seen the list of “firsts” that never got off the ground because they were stupid? Didn’t think so. No one thought it was worth writing down.

Auntie Anne’s is a case in point. If you really knew the chain as well as you thought you did, you would know that the pepperoni pretzel, the sesame seed pretzel and the garlic pretzel are all Auntie Anne’s products. This greedy corporate conglomerate figured it had wrung all the profit it could out of the unsuspecting consumer (Auntie Anne’s pretzels are among the highest in terms of price, which is why you find them at airports) and it would quickly reach market saturation with just the classic salty pretzel. So it introduced a whole new line of none thought out products purely for the fattening of its bottom line. It’s not creativity; it’s corporate greed.

What’s most interesting to me is that you defend the cinnamon sugar pretzel by mentioning other desert pretzels. You can’t defend one mistake by pointing to a bunch of others that by rights should fail.

Since this is an office-based blog about food, I will cite as evidence the once great comedy The Office. In the 5th episode of the 3rd season (the show’s 33rd episode overall), Pam has to followed Michael Scott’s productivity for the day, but he spends all his time waiting in line for…

…wait for it…

…wait for it…

…a desert pretzel.

I submit that any food idea endorsed by Michael Scott, probably is not one that should be followed.
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I counter:

I’m leaving for the day…we’ll continue this tomorrow.

But before I go…

I love that you used the word “umbrage.”

And (I don’t know how many times I have to tell you this), I AM NOT A VEGAN. I don’t eat meat (I eat certain seafood though) or milk-based products. I do, however, still consume eggs and honey. I just happen to eat foods that are vegan because then I don’t have to worry if there is any butter or milk in said product (or whey, or nonfat milk powder, or lactose, or whatever-the-heck-else-I-can’t-pronounce-that-isn’t-real-food is shoved into my “food”).

AND as someone who has “closed off my taste buds” I should point out that I eat a larger variety of foodstuffs than you do, I’m sure. This is evidenced by the fact that you know WAY MORE about Auntie Anne’s evolving menu than I do (and Taco Bell’s, MickyD’s, Wendy’s, food trucks’ menus, etc). Sure, I don’t eat chicken, or turkey (oh how I miss thee turkey!), or beef (not so much), or, heaven forbid-bacon, and I don’t have milk or cream or butter…BUT, I don’t really miss them (except for ice cream-oh how I miss ice cream), because there are non-animal based products that I can use to substitute (almond milk is DELICIOUS for example, coconut milk ice cream, avocado or hummus instead of mayo, tofu instead of meat, etc…).

This conversation isn’t over…this will continue tomorrow.
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This morning at 9:42 a.m. via e-mail, I write:

To continue the argument from yesterday…

I will invoke what I said to you when walking to the train: it is completely logical to use chocolate-covered pretzels as a point in my argument to disprove your argument against cinnamon and sugar pretzels. I bring up the Glory of chocolate-covered pretzels to point out an inconsistency in your Food Puritanism (which, conveniently-as mentioned yesterday via email AND in conversation-does not include cheese).

Also, it doesn’t matter that Auntie Anne’s is the greedy corporation manufacturing a variety of delicious overpriced “fancy” pretzels. The point is that such pretzels DO exist and are delicious. How you can defend a pretzel and cheese, which is hardly conventional, over a pretzel with poppy or sesame seeds instead of salt is beyond me. At least the poppy and sesame seeds somewhat mimic the texture of salt and add the same amount of crunch.
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J swings back:

The issue is one of a law of diminishing returns. You get a satisfying snack experience from a classic salty pretzel. You might get a satisfying experience from a chocolate covered pretzel but is it that much better than the experience you got from a regular salty pretzel? Unlikely. Add the poppy seeds. Any better? Nope. Stick with the classics.

And cheese is in a class by itself. I refer to my staple source of evidence, really bad television. Hell’s Kitchen, Gordon Ramsay’s profanity fest, once had an episode where the chefs had to prepare a high school lunch and the students voted on which one was best. Winner? The deep fried chicken sandwich with a slice of cheese.

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I conclude:

If you’re going to bring up the law of diminishing returns, then it applies to ALL food. Everyone knows the anticipation (and first bite) are better than every subsequent taste. I believe Pooh or A.A. Milne (I’m reading The Tao of Pooh) said it best with, “Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.”

As we argued only several moments ago in my cube, your judging the value of anything other than a plain soft pretzel is a personal taste preference or subjective evaluation, which, I’m sorry, doesn’t hold up in this argument.

I’m still bothered by your dodging my attack on your “stick with the conventional” branch of your argument. It’s not about what’s conventional anymore is it? It’s about what you like to eat which is apparently, cheese. Which, I believe we discussed yesterday on the way to the train. You said that combining flavors is silly…if you want X, just eat X. You don’t put mashed potatoes, steak and peas all in the same bite (though some people do), so why do that with snack foods (even though this whole email chain began with you bemoaning the stupid flavor combos to come out of Doritos as of late)? I countered with something I can’t remember now (it was witty and intelligent, I’m sure) and then asked you why you don’t just eat plain cheese, to which you replied, “Because it’s not socially acceptable to eat just a slice of cheese! But if it was, I’d be all over that.”

Which brings me to my final point in this tangential argumentative free-for-all: If you want to eat cheese (which is apparently in a class by itself) just eat cheese. Who cares what society says! Follow your heart! By the way…of COURSE the chicken sandwich with cheese was the best high school lunch-EVERYONE knows (including me who doesn’t eat them anymore) that there’s nothing…absolutely NOTHING like a good ol’ fashioned “meat and cheese.”

So to sum up why your argument is flawed: You can’t dismiss the pluses of various pretzel combos just because you have a thing for cheese. You especially can’t use the “the combos are newfangled and un-traditional” because the so-called “new and fancy” flavor groupings mimic your favorite traditional salty pretzel more closely than cheese-which you make all sorts of special allowances for because it is simply Cheese, and therefore, imposing your subjective tastes onto the rest of us.
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J closes:

In my college classes, there’s a point where my students start figuring out that I never actually read anything they send me so that if they just put enough words to paper they’ll pass. There’s a certain merit to that, but we talk about things like theories of argument and grammatical principles, not important things like salty pretzels, desert pretzels and cheese. So, unfortunately for you, I am paying attention.

Your focus on my love for cheese is a distraction, and not germane. Cheese is of the savory line of food stuffs. Someone who likes cheese probably likes cheese puffs, but not necessarily cream puffs from a bakery. You could make the argument that junk food is junk food, but not really. I like cheese, but that doesn’t mean I like sweet foods.

And therein lies the problem. Pretzels, in their original pure form, are a savory snack. And they occupy a significant market niche in the savory snack arena.

When we make them cinnamon sugar pretzels or chocolate covered pretzels, we’ve created disgusting hybrids similar to the genetic anomalies we all feared after Dolly the Sheep was unleashed on the world.

When pretzels become desert food, they are just trying to be something they are not and, in the final analysis, screwing up the junk food universe. Just like chocolate shouldn’t be flavored with bacon, pretzels shouldn’t be flavored with cinnamon, sugar or chocolate. It’s the cross-over effect I have a problem with.

And, incidentally, yes I’d have a problem if someone put chocolate or sugar on my cheese puffs.
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That was long. Sorry. We left the argument there, sort of. We actually yelled about it at each other a bit over my cube, but have yet to come to a conclusion. Who do YOU think wins? Leave a comment and let us know.

Chain Restaurants

Via e-mail today at 2:50 p.m.
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J writes:

Chain restaurants, by their very existence, cause a lot of angst among cosmopolitan city dwellers, which is really just more evidence that the post-modern age has left us with precious little to worry about. Still, if you have found that you have gotten all the party-disrupting mileage you can get out of talking about abortion or school prayer, you can achieve just as much social awkwardness by saying you were in New York last week and had a great meal at TGI Fridays.

The great conundrum, of course, is that chains proliferate while everyone claims to hate them. Just like pornography is a billion dollar industry that everyone is against, and Wal-Mart is destroying the world while simultaneously selling most of those who live in it cheap toilet paper, Taco Bell has corrupted quality Mexican food and, this is key, forced the mom and pop Mexican food stores out of business.

We have a certain romantic notion of the Mom and Pop store, or the restaurant run by the true artisan who makes food that you can only get at the corner of 8th and Sansom. The reason why we revolt against chains is because they rely on mass, rather than individual, production.

Something about the value of the individual is deeply ingrained in American culture. We teach our history as a series of stories about great individuals, usually presidents. We often make decisions about what is best for us rather than what is best for our immediate peer group or even those we don’t know. We celebrate singular leaders in various fields. Even supposedly team efforts always have their individual stars.

And so we value and honor the individual who starts a restaurant and puts her signature style to it, and we respect those who eat there. They get written up in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and the truly successful get their own cooking shows on the Food Network.

Chains, on the other hand, are not unique. The Outback Steakhouse in Pittsburgh is the same as the Outback Steakhouse in Los Angeles, or in Peoria, Illinois. Employees are interchangeable and transient. A person who has worked at Outback for 20 years isn’t a genius who knows how to make a great Blooming Onion; he’s a loser who made bad choices and can’t get another job.

We don’t like thinking of ourselves that way. We don’t like being robbed of our individuality and our creativity by mass produced recipes that are created at a corporate office far removed from an actual kitchen.

So why do we go to chains? Because they are cheap. Their economy of scale allows them to keep prices down so that people can eat out without having to budget for it or wait for a special occasion. But something always feels wrong about food that tastes the same whether you are eating it in New York or Nashville.

And we really don’t like eating it because it makes us feel cheap.
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Profound thoughts coming from a man who eats at the Houlihan’s in Penn Station every time he travels to N.Y.C.

Rolls

E-mail exchange from Monday, 3:17 p.m.

Subject line: The Problem with Hot Dogs…
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J said:

Aren’t so much in the hot dogs themselves, but in the hot dog buns. I am not yet convinced that a sausage or a kielbasa is quantifiably better than a hot dog, but I do know that since most of us eat them portably, as opposed to with a knife and fork in our laps while we shoo away pigeons and the homeless, who interestingly have never expressed an interest in sharing my lunch even as they ask me for money for food, than the disparity here is relevant.

Specifically, the roll that a sausage or a kielbasa comes on is 100 times better than the hot dog roll.

Perhaps some of the food truck vendors would consider putting hot dogs on a sausage rolls.

That would be a change we can believe in.
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I replied:

One of your best yet.

Now my question for you is this: What is your feeling on cheesesteak rolls?

It seems to me, most people that are really into hoagies and cheesesteaks and spend time telling other people their preferences, are always citing “the roll” as the reason why sandwich A is better than sandwich B.

As someone who enjoys good bread but finds the quality of the meat and cheese as the real marker of a delicious sammie, I find their arguments pointless.
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J countered:

Hardly pointless, although I could see how it might seem so to someone who has eliminated meat from their lives and therefore would be reduced to eating a “hoagie” that consisted of lettuce, tomato, onions and cheese, which would be truly pointless, or, lord help us all, a cheese steak that consisted of fried cheese and onions which, when I think about it, does have a certain appeal.

But I digress.

The quality of a cheese steak depends on the confluence of cheese, onions and the roll in exactly the right amounts and if anyone of these is lacking, the entire cheese steak suffers. It’s hard exactly to quantify the quality of the roll (some like it warm, some don’t. Some like it hard, some don’t. It’s like pornography that way I suppose—that is we know a roll is lacking when it is).

To those who would dismiss the quality of a roll in a cheese steak evaluation, I would ask them to consider the following. A cheese steak on a hot dog roll, or on toasted sliced bread. Not the same. Indeed, not the same at all.

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I shared:

Wow.

When you put it like that, I agree.

I went on a sort of double-date road bike ride once, and spent the majority of said ride chatting with the other girlfriend. She worked for Wawa which I thought was totally cool. She worked in their call center so she assured me it wasn’t. I asked her if people had been calling and complaining about how the quality of the Wawa hoagie roll was in decline and she said that indeed, that had been one of their biggest complaints.

I then asked her if they logged the complaints and took action on them.  She said no.

My boyfriend at the time said that she was a comment box with no bottom.
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J ends the exchange with this:

One of the greatest lines in TV sitcom history:

Matthew won Employee of the Month, but it was hardly a competitive election: “There were two votes for Matthew, 15 for ’employee of the month sucks,’ and 8 just said ‘ba-ba-booey.'”

Somehow the idea of comment boxes made me think of that.

Wawa…

  1. Places like WaWa and Subway shouldn’t be allowed to sell sandwiches. They suck. There’s no further analysis needed. Yes, Wawa has other uses like free ATMs and slim jims, but their sandwiches are an embarrassment. Subway may as well just close up shop. How they stay in business in this part of the country makes about as much sense as a Long John Silvers in New England or a Kentucky Fried Chicken down south. It’s just wrong.
  2. Wawa actually has a lot of opportunity. Managers can make up to $45,000 a year and about $1,500 in bonuses on top of that every month if their store performs well. I actually considered working for WaWa. I still haven’t totally dismissed it.

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For the record, I disagree about Wawa hoagies.