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The great fast food mystery. April 17, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. This morning, I read an article online called “A Brief History of Fast Food’s Greatest Innovations.” The article included a timeline, so you could follow along from the birth of the Big Mac and Subway (both 1968) to Taco Bell’s Waffle Taco and Domino’s Fried Chicken Crust Pizza (both 2014). In between, there’s a lot more junk food, from the Egg McMuffin and Doritos Loco Taco to Chicken McNuggets, Wendy’s Frosty, KFC Double Down (which subs two slabs of fried chicken for a bun) to the birth of Chipotle Mexican Grill (1993), the taco/burrito equivalent of Subway.

I can’t say that I know much about fast food—my mother thought it was trash and refused to let us eat any—though I have eaten Subway sandwiches (soggy bread, yuck) and once had a Chipotle burrito (bleh, why are people so worked up?). Still, I was surprised by what struck me as obvious omissions, such as my favorite fast food, a luscious hot Cinnabon. Or Dairy Queen’s soft-serve ice cream. Or Pizza Hut’s delicious cheese breadsticks with marinara sauce (extra sauce, please). Not to mention my all-time favorite fast-food restaurant, Saladworks, which, like Subway and Chipotle, lets you build your own meal (in this case, salad) from a slew of super-fresh ingredients and is the only place I know of that serves the iconic Green Goddess dressing.

I was also disappointed to see that the article didn’t address the origin of the most curious fast-food item I know of, Wendy’s square burgers in their round buns. I’ve never had a Wendy’s burger (or, I confess, anything from Wendy’s), but their ads showing square meat patties sticking out of round buns always struck me as grotesque. Eeeewww!!! Who’d want to eat that?!! I could see the point of square burgers—rather than buying rounds, you’d simply buy a gigantic slab of flattened ground beef, already pre-scored into squares, so you’d just have to slice them up and save a ton of money. But why wouldn’t you buy square buns to put them on, so they didn’t stick out like that?!

The company responsible for popularizing the hamburger in the first place—not to mention the slider, another omission from the list—made square buns for its square burgers. That would be White Castle, which started selling its burgers, aka sliders, in the 1920s for 5 cents a slider. Ditto for Krystal, which makes square burgers and buns in the South. But Wendy’s? Square burgers, round buns. What the bleep?!!

Our friend Ben didn’t blink when I asked him about Wendy’s square burgers and why they didn’t put them on square buns. “Having the meat stick out makes it look like you’re getting more meat for your money,” he explained. “Most folks who eat fast food don’t care about what it looks like, just how much they’re getting.” Oh. Maybe that explains the Five Guys Burgers and Fries phenomenon, where plenty of news outlets have shown the unspeakably disgusting cup of mashed-down, too-brown fries, yet everyone apparently keeps rushing to buy them.

Only last month, I watched a friend down a gargantuan plate of “Cheddar” cheese fries for lunch while I was trying to enjoy a salad. (Forget that; the fries looked so grossly revolting drowned in orange day-glo Velveeta glop that I had to take the salad home, and mind you, I love well-made fries, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Gack.)

I still don’t really know why Wendy’s serves square burgers on round buns. Do you? Do you have a favorite fast food? If so, please let us know here at Poor Richard’s Almanac.

‘Til next time,