There aren’t a ton of ways to use “lunchtime” as a way to express your feelings of postmodern malaise and nagging ennui. You could eat a mayonnaise sandwich alone, under the fluorescent lights of the employee break room, while mentally reciting Sylvia Plath poetry. You could microwave some leftover Bengali fish curry, which has the added benefit of completely alienating all of your fellow employees, who will spend the rest of the day cursing your very existence. You could skip the “eating” part of lunch altogether, and instead spend your lunchtime smoking imported brown cigarettes and staring at the sky, grimacing toward the grey bleakness of the unjust heavens. If you’re lucky, maybe it will begin to drizzle.
Or you could eat this, the Sandwich Bros. of Wisconsin Chicken Melt. From the package:
“Our Chicken Melt Sandwich is made with the highest quality ingredients. We start with fresh-baked bread right from our ovens, cut them in half and then fill each little pocket with a lightly-breaded, oven-roasted chicken breast patty, and a slice of the best quality American cheese. You’ll be truly amazed at how good and how fresh this little sandwich tastes. The quality will be evident at first bite.”
That’s an awful lot of words to describe what should be immediately obvious to anyone with the ability to see through transparent plastic packaging: This is a child-sized portion of mechanically-seperated breaded chicken product, topped with half a slice of processed pasteurized american cheese and inserted forcefully into a chunk of pita bread.
We also love it when products have whole expository paragraphs on the side of the package, extolling the virtues of the product which may not be readily apparent to the poor consumer that thought he was ONLY buying a budget-friendly chicken sandwich. We would, however, like to suggest a rewrite of the above:
“Are you drunk and alone at an airport? Our Chicken Melt Sandwich is made with the highest quality ingredients available at this bargain price point, which is to say that they’re not high quality ingredients, at all. We start with bread right from our enormous, industrial-grade production ovens that are so massive that you can’t even imagine how they would exist, let alone bake bread, cut those pitas in half at a production rate of 25,000 pieces per minute, and then cram each dry little pocket with a mash of ground-up superheated parts of literally thousands of giant-breasted, hormonally fortified superchickens, coated in a breading made up of any leftover byproducts from our pita manufacturing system (did we mention that it’s enormous?), and a slice of the best prison-grade American cheese that will somehow remain a solid even when heated to 400 degrees. You’ll be truly amazed at just how little, this little sandwich tastes. The quality will be evident at first bite.”
We’ll say this about the packaging: At least they’re not trying to fool you with trick photography. That wholly depressing picture of the sandwich on the package matches the actual finished product almost perfectly. Purchasers can’t say they were duped by fancy lighting or a “serving suggestion,” since the serving suggestion for the Sandwich Bros. of Wisconsin Chicken Melt seems to be, “Best eaten cold off a blank piece of white cardboard in the blinding white expanse of eternal purgatory.”
But none of that matters if it tastes great, right? The first thing we noticed is that the Sandwich Bros. of Wisconsin Chicken Melt follows the recent trend of completely omitting cooking instructions for a conventional oven, falsely laboring under the impression that anyone with enough disdain for the inner workings of their digestive systems to actually buy this product must also be routinely zapping leftovers left and right in a Radar Range.
Not us. Though we prepared this sandwich in a kitchen that didn’t have a microwave, we were pretty confident we could use our understanding of more traditional cooking methods to work out a system for turning this half a sandwich from “frozen and sad” to “hot and sad and will burn your mouth.” We took a guess at tossing it into the oven at 375 for about ten minutes, until the cheese melted and the bread crisped up. The chicken may or may not have been cooked through to a safe temperature. However, it may have been cooked before we even got involved. We have many questions.
That’s when we first noticed one of the more unexpected properties of the cheese slice. Though it was clearly hot, it never actually melted and oozed out of the sandwich the way you would expect regular cheese, or even regular fake cheese, to perform. Though it was hot, it retained its original shape perfectly. See how the cooked and uncooked version of the sandwich look almost identical? Because we are obviously scientists, we decided to slice the sandwich in half crosswise to see if there were any surprises lurking inside:
The chicken had the same finely-mushed consistency typical in a breaded chicken patty, but that doesn’t automatically earn points off, in our book. There ain’t no shame in the Tyson Chicken Patty game, and anyone that would discount them automatically wouldn’t have any interest in this product, anyway. The chicken in the Sandwich Bros. of Wisconsin Chicken Melt is garbage, sure, but it’s no different than the garbage that fills up the rest of frozen food aisle. The cheese pleasantly filled the back of the inside of the pita pocket, which crisped up nicely in the oven.
Overall reactions? What we’re most curious about is what the purpose of this product is. As these types of convenience foods go, this one is relatively simple. There’s no buffalo cheese filling, no salted caramel icing, and nothing has been “flavor blasted.” Instead, the three ingredients seem almost wholesome, by comparison, and that’s maybe the product’s biggest downfall. Quite simply, it doesn’t taste like much of anything, at all, and its diminutive size (the entire sandwich weighs in at just 160 calories) doesn’t leave you with any sense of fullness or satisfaction. Eat one, and you might be unconvinced that anything even happened, at all, except for the warmth coming from the oven or the plastic wrapper sitting crinkled on the counter.
So who are these Sandwich Bros. of Wisconsin Chicken Melts being marketed to? They’re not for the shorted-out, frizzled-attention-span palates of a generation raised on Banana Split Oreos. They’re certainly not for those who seek an all-natural, locally-sourced, energy-rich meal at midday. They’re not even for those poor souls who evaluate a meal based solely on how full and incapacitated they feel afterward.
That leaves only one group: Self-loathing lunchtime malcontents, those misfits that need to communicate their profound inner darkness, a sadness that can no longer be explored though short-form poetry or black and white photography, and who must instead express their emotions strictly in terms of “sandwich decisions.”
For everyone else with even an ounce of remaining hope or optimism, anyone that wants to feel like they are on a righteous, rewarding path, and that they might just have a chance at a productive future? Have something that feels a little less horrible. We’ve never, for example, seen an unhappy person eating a meatball sub.
(Nutrition Facts — 1 sandwich — 160 calories, 80 calories from fat, 8 grams of total fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 30 milligrams of cholesterol, 475 milligrams of sodium, 12 grams of total carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 1 gram of sugars, and 11 grams of protein.)
In our “Cold Shoulder” series, we review, at great personal peril, some of the things that are in the frozen food section of the supermarket that we just don’t remember being here before. Synthesized from non-ingredients, mass-produced and marketed with breathless excitement, most of these items are pretty disappointing. Some day, we will find a winner. Click here to read more from this series.