I got served an interesting assignment the other day, and it was to write about something from McDonald’s, as the Golden Arches have launched an all-out assault into the Chicken Wars, a fast-food fowl brawl.
This isn’t a complete first in that I’ve written about my friend and idol Don Gorske, “The Big Mac Guy,” a Wisconsin man known for having consumed 30,000-plus Big Macs. He sends me Christmas cards and postcards, old school, and I’d like to have him up to Duluth sometime, but as I told Duluth Huskies general manager Greg Culver, a self-described obsessive-compulsive ain’t going to try one of your Wade Stadium burgers.
McDonald’s, all the way.
Yeah, McDonald’s, I get it. It’s right up the Taco Stand’s alley but doesn’t exactly excite me, other than the McRib (God bless the McRib). With McDonald’s, you pretty know what you’re getting, and most of the time, it’s crap.
But hey, it’s usually cheap crap, a familiar kind of crap that we've learned to love and embrace because you like it and know that what you’re getting isn’t poison, well at least, maybe short term.
We’re all just so used to McDonald’s, it’s like they’ve got that secret Mountain Dew ingredient, where even if it’s crap, you keep coming back, a better version, I suppose, of “what you crave.” (I miss my West Duluth White Castle, by the way; now that’s crap.)
Once a month you go back to the well, you indulge, then say, “Why the hell did I just do that?” Taco Bell is the undefeated world heavyweight champion in this regard.
When we do finally give in to the urge — or perhaps necessity — to revisit the “Golden Arches,” let me tell you, nobody has the corner on the kids’ market like McDonald’s.
I don’t need to look up stats to prove it. I knew as soon as my daughter — 2 years old at the time — in her child seat — started screeching “Donald’s! Donald’s!” as we drove by — demanding to pull off — as we passed by on the freeway — that I was doomed. She couldn’t see out the car sideways, but she could see a beacon of bacon in the night. Too cute, but incredibly humbling to realize the power of symbols and mass culture.
So I enlisted my resident expert, Emma, now 12, to get her take on McDonald’s’ latest salvo into the fast-food chicken wars, officially launched Feb. 24. And if you haven’t noticed by now — on TV and radio — you know, with the “bum bum bum” guy all over the place — they’ve brought out the big guns.
Wendy’s chicken sandwiches are the gold standard in this regard — this isn’t some internal bias — it’s reality. The Taco Stand doesn’t lie. Arby’s, Culver’s (is there anything not good from Culver’s?), Hardee’s, KFC — when they actually seem to try — all are pretty good … Burger King? You lost me at hello 10 nuggets for a buck-fifty? Seriously? What’s in there? Stew starter left over from Taco Bell?
McDonald’s “premium” chicken sandwich was always pretty dece, but they’re clearly trying to up the ante here. It’s quite apparent, not just on the ads, but in the product. It was our first time ordering via Uber Eats, and the “little one” helped me. (The “App Store” on my phone is actually the “Play Store” — who knew?)
Ordering this way, they steer you into ordering combo meals. I didn’t see the chicken a la carte option available. It was going to be a combo meal or nothing.
For the sake of variety — and some won’t believe me — I ordered two combo meals, one the spicy crispy chicken, which I was leaning to, and the other the “deluxe” crispy chicken.
The spicy chicken sandwich was simple, with a wonderful sauce and pickles, perhaps to cool the bite. I licked a little sauce off the wrapper — before I ever took a bite — and was like, ‘Wow, that actually has some zip” — McDonald’s actually came to play here — while the deluxe was as you can imagine, featuring everything else: shredded lettuce, tomato and a boatload of mayo.
There’s also a classic, which looked rather plain, and the Taco Stand doesn’t do plain. I’m as unique as a Big Mac, and as fat.
And the bun … apparently one of a handful of suppliers trusted to bake this potato roll is Baldinger Bakery in St. Paul, having been a partner with Mickey D’s since the first Minnesota McDonald’s opened in Roseville in 1957. Who knew? Certainly no complaints here.
From the time I placed the order till the time it arrived — it was click to mouth in about a half hour. The fries were a little soggy, but the sandwiches were a great temperature, with actual chicken breasts, juicy chicken breasts (if you can’t tell the difference between a real chicken breast and a McChicken, you might be my daughter, who still thinks the latter, the McProcessed, is the greatest chicken sandwich ever — well, certainly the cheapest).
While the deluxe sandwich came in the traditional cardboard box, the spicy chicken came in a foil pouch with the words “DO NOT MICROWAVE!” stamped on the outside of it (hey, they don’t want to get sued — again).
With tax and tip and trip charge you’re looking at about 35 bucks for two premium chicken combo meals — order in person, you’re looking at about 18 bucks.
They’re all going to run their specials. The Wendy’s deal — two for five bucks on a mix-and-match — the chicken sandwiches, Dave’s Single or nuggets — I mean, that’s not even fair. You can’t order a cardboard and fertilizer that cheap — so I don’t know how McDonald’s matches that.
They don’t have to. If you want a great chicken sandwich — and a playland — or a kid in the car demanding “Donald’s Dondald’s Donald’s” — you’ve got one, and when a parent teeters between that and the kid getting a Frosty, well, the scale has been tipped so far, it’s fallen over.
McDonald’s is like Applebee’s in the sense they don’t want to offend anybody — grandparents and grandkids can eat here — and everybody in between.
While the Taco Stand might cater to ham and eggers, Taco himself is tired of bland. Put some Tabasco on those ham and eggs (for the record, I strongly prefer Frank’s, but Tabasco just sounds cooler, or hotter).
I can make any Applebee’s pasta better, with a couple Louisiana seasoning staples, Tony Chachere’s — known simply as “Tony’s” in N’Orleans — and Slap Ya Mama — and in the COVID-19 era of having to ask for pepper, yeah, I’ve brought my own.
There are so many great seasonings out there, I’ve barely scratched the surface. I don’t claim to be refined — rather crude, actually — but I know what I like.
And not everybody likes what I like. When it comes to spice, I’m on one end of the demographic McDonald’s is trying to reach, for sure, though I appreciate them throwing folks like me a bone. Or perhaps, it’s because folks like me have kids, too.
“I like the other one,” Emma said, matter of factly. “The one that isn’t spicy.”
“Taco” Jon Nowacki covers sports, usually. He also delves into food, specifically, greasy food. He’s dealt with more grease than Jiffy Lube yet he keeps coming back for more. He can be reached at email@example.com or 218-380-7027.