March 29, 2017 “I ate the Old Chicago pizza-burger and lived to tell the tale”
As part of its 40th anniversary menu, Old Chicago is selling a pizza-burger.
Do not confuse the pizza-burger with burger-pizza, like what you might find at Knolla’s. This is not crust topped with ground beef, mustard, lettuce and pickle. That mostly tastes like burger.
A burger-pizza may be served to you on real pizza dough but the pizza has surrendered its saucy soul and left only the shell of the thing: It comes in a shape that looks like pizza in every way, like a joke played by a hamburger disguised as a pizza.
Knolla’s hamburger pizza is a favorite in The Eagle newsroom on election night: during the delirium of the late-night hours as the votes roll in, we feel liberated to throw up our hands and laugh: Hah, a pizza that tastes like a burger. How crazy, how hilarious, how wonderful. Normally, no. Tonight, yes, sure, why not?
What Old Chicago is attempting is much more serious. It is attempting to merge the two food behemoths into one without sacrificing the integrity of either. They nestle a real hamburger between two real pizzas: It costs $18.99.
Like Batman versus Superman, part of the joy is the anticipation of which of the two giants of American cuisine would prevail: the red meaty Midwestern deliciousness and greasy fast food gratification of a fat burger on a white bun? Or the cosmopolitan, vaguely Italian, precision of raised dough, layered with tomato, cheese and topping, melted together into a single pie, like the diverse big cities it thrives in, New York and Chicago?
By joining pizza and hamburger together, we might unite this divided country behind a single food choice. People would no longer have to fight over whether they want pizza or burger for lunch, they could say, merely, pizza-burger.
That was the fantasy. Then it arrived at my table….Continue reading
February 1 2017: “Review: Taco Bell’s new chicken-shell creation has potential”
Taco Bell made hundreds of millions of dollars by transforming the Dorito from a small triangle into a large taco receptacle.
The genius was its efficiency: the shell had always been flavorless and brittle, something to crush on the way to the greasy goodness inside. The shell had been an inconvenience, which protected your hands from the mess, just not always that well.
The Dorito shell is dry and brittle, which preserves the essence of a hard taco, but adds its own distinctive, salty, “natural flavor,” that gives it drug-like addictiveness.
But the question remained: was there something special about the Dorito? Or could the taco shell be transformed by other ingredients into other multi-billion-dollar food franchises?
Enter processed fast-food chicken. The shape has always been arbitrary: McDonald’s Chicken McNugget comes in four shapes, a bell, a ball, a boot and a bow tie. Processed chicken is typically pressed into a patty, like a hamburger, or sometimes stretched into strips.
KFC was the first to realize its boundary-breaking potential when it created the Double Down, a burger that replaced the crumbly bun with two chicken patties.
But the Double Down was flawed: Instead of soaking in the cheese and sauce, like a good hamburger bun, it caused the cheese and sauce to squirt out the sides. It was like eating two patties of chicken with a soup of cheese and sauce to decorate the tray. Fried chicken would never be able to play the soaking function of a good bun.
So the potential for the Naked Chicken Chalupa, which Taco Bell started selling nationwide last week, was obvious: Instead of a flat, leaky bun, the chicken curled upward and formed a pocket. The taco stuffing could sit, contently, pressed up against the two sides….Continue reading
I was excited to order the new Peanut Butter and Jelly Steakburger with Bacon and Jalapenos at Spangles. But before I could even muster the words, as if reading the sparkle in my eye, the cashier called out the new burger’s name.
The burger lives up to its premise: Crunchy peanut butter spread on a sourdough bun underneath the patty, while the jelly and jalapenos jiggle for supremacy on top. Small slices of bacon writhe inconsequentially in this soup of jalapeno jelly.
It looks unappetizing. Do not lift the top bun off the burger before biting….Continue reading
June 3, 2016 “Fried gator on a stick with fries, $12”
Tad’s Cajun Chicken on a Stick, Century II Food Court
I lived in Arkansas for seven years and ate a fair amount of tough, chewy alligator. So I have always been looking to find the chef who might, one day, show me the tender side of the alligator, one less likely to thrash at my gut as nuzzle it with meaty reptilian affection.
I asked how long it would take to cook, assuming that perhaps the meat had to be beaten with a club in the back to tenderize it, after sawing off its scales.
“No time at all,” the guy said, pointing to six or seven kebobs sitting idly above a deep fat frier. “They are ready now.”
Perhaps alligator meat, when cooked properly, afterward needs to sit in the open air, to bathe in wild natural-air flavors, I thought.
He tonged out a handful of fries. The fries were dark and wrinkled. I tried to imagine the young beautiful potato from which these fries came but could not. Each bite tasted like death: the crusty flesh of a once spritely tuber crumbled into the flavors and textures of chimney soot.
No matter. Why would they spend their time distracting customers with flashy-fries, which would only distract from the scaly main attraction?
But alas, after my first bite, I thought they had made a mistake. They had accidentally given me chicken on a stick from two booths down. This couldn’t be the tough alligator I remembered. The meat pulled off the stick in light chunks, like chicken breast or even frog leg. Its chewy exterior was salty and delicious, perfectly textured.
It did not taste angry as I imagined.