McDonald’s is making some changes to its “premium” line of mix-and-match “Signature Crafted Recipe” sandwiches, with the introduction of the new “Garlic White Cheddar” option, available on your choice of 1/4 pound beef burger, crispy, or grilled chicken. From the website:
“A medley of crunchy garlic chips and smooth, flavorful garlic aioli, crisp iceberg lettuce, a juicy tomato slice and melty white cheddar cheese. With a 100% pure beef 1/4 lb.* patty with absolutely no fillers, additives or preservatives, served on an artisan roll.”
While I’m ordinarily all for a flavorful medley, I couldn’t help but notice that the addition of this new sandwich seems to have ousted one of the other Signature Crafted recipes, the “Signature Sriracha” version that may or may not have given me mild food poisoning and made me black out in my car while driving on the interstate from dehydration a few months ago. It must not have tested as well as the other recipes in this line, and McDonald’s was quick to pretend the whole spice-drenched mess never happened, because McDonald’s is a fickle bitch.
At my location, the seeded bun was also eliminated from the Signature Crafted options menu, either in an effort to streamline the newly complicated ordering process, or because sesame seeds don’t really taste like anything. It’s a smart cut; the “artisan” bun is all gloss and sheen and highfalutin’ attitude, and it pairs well with McDonald’s efforts to design a more sophisticated burger.
Unfortunately, most of the rollicking good times this burger creates stop at the bun. The burger is standard-issue McDonald’s beef; that is, pounded super thin, cooked through to a billion grey degrees, and lacking in much interest tastewise, unless you count “a heavy layer of salt” as a fascinating flavor.
The burger really falls apart, however, with everything that comes next. My cold slice of unmelted white cheddar reminded me just how un-cheeselike this cheese product is, sitting chilly and perfectly square on the bottom of the bun, never even melting slightly under the heat of the sort-of warm burger thrust on top. The garlic aioli offers an overwhelming bite of synthetic garlic flavor, mixed with the kind of tanginess you expect from off-brand mayonnaise. But the garlic chips are the weirdest element of all: sliced thin, fried until crispy, and then dusted (???) in additional fake garlic flavoring, which also for some reason renders the garlic pink. PINK! Oh lord, why is it PINK??
Here’s the thing about including deep-fried garlic chips on a burger: It’s a great idea. But when you fry an ingredient, you don’t need to also sprinkle it with the fake dehydrated essence of that ingredient, because it ALREADY IS THAT INGREDIENT. It’s hard to understand why the McDonald’s food scientists felt the need to try and make fried garlic taste even more like garlic than nature already does, but the treatment renders would could be a fun, gourmet ingredient into synthetic-tasting, chemically garbage.
The more I thought about this burger on the drive home, mouth still coated in a slick of artificial garlic flavoring, the angrier it made me. Served at a high-end burger restaurant, this combination of ingredients could be fantastic. You’d also have cooks frying garlic chips in small-batches, making garlic aioli from scratch, and working with beef that hadn’t been frozen and thawed dozens of times. Obviously, the scale at McDonald’s makes this impossible, but it begs the question: Why do it at all?
McDonald’s, more than any other restaurant I can think of, has a real brand crisis on their hands. As sales slump, McDonald’s is forced to try and reinvigorate its menu to appeal to millennials weaned on superior burgers at In-N-Out and Five Guys, with these efforts to create increasingly sophisticated sandwiches. The trouble is, existing McDonald’s customers would rather have one of the chain’s classics, while potential new customers wouldn’t deign to eat at McDonald’s, no matter how good the new Applebees-wannabe burgers might look. And when those new offerings are basically trash (that still costs upwards of $8, as a combo), no one takes the fresh look at McDonald’s that the chain needs to re-establish its dominance of the fast food landscape.
I root for McDonald’s more than most, and I still don’t know what the answer is. I’m just some asshole writing about cheeseburgers on the World Wide Web. But it seems like decreasing the options on the menu at McDonald’s, rather than increasing them, might be a place to start. Places like Shake Shack, In-N-Out, and even Wendy’s have provided the roadmap: Keep the ingredients super simple, and use the highest-quality ones you can find. Make changes to your incomprehensibly massive supply chain so that you can use food produced at least somewhat reasonably close to where it’s being used. Reinvent your classics, using better versions of your product than you ever have.
But for God’s sake, don’t slather this overpoweringly bullshitty fake garlic flavoring on everything. That’s so not the thing.