Cafe Reviews

Fry Girl Versus the Top Five Fish Sandwiches

You deserve a break today.

Of course you do. You want a cheeseburger. You don't care that it's bad for you, or that it's 9 p.m., or that if you leave the bag in your car it'll smell like a grease kitchen the next morning. You want that cheeseburger.

So do I. Always did. As a hyper crumb-snatcher growing up in the Detroit area in the '70s, I saw my first cheeseburger on TV. In McDonaldland. A magical place where burgers were given away by a clown to ecstatic children in a forest populated by googly-eyed puppets. Cheeseburgers had to be good. Why wouldn't they be? Clowns didn't pass out bad things to kids — not this clown, not Ronald.

Mom called bullshit on my endless requests for McDonald's cheeseburgers. No way, she said. Grocery money is for Shake 'n Bake and Wonder Bread. McDonald's is for special occasions only — like birthdays or when your sister stops chewing her hair. My visits were rare. My craving was constant.

I loved Hamburglar. I loved the way he talked — or didn't (Robble! Robble!). I wanted to be Hamburglar. When my girlfriend talked me into stealing Silly Putty from Kmart, I became Hamburglar. It cost me a trip to see Father German and nine Hail Mary's. And Mom took away my Hamburglar glass until I'd learned my lesson. Dear God, I'm sorry, but I really love cheeseburgers.

Five years ago. My first night in Phoenix. Lots of driving. Lots of options for the food that's fast. I drove to Carl's Jr. 'cause Carl didn't live in Detroit — at least not then. I had one of his cheeseburgers. It was terrible. Jr.'s shake machine wasn't shakin', either. But I liked my options here: Whataburger, Sonic, Jack in the Box, In-N-Out, Filibertos. Not to mention the other grease slingers: one-off Mexican joints, mom-and-pop put-outs, and late-night hot dog hawkers.

I want a cheeseburger. I don't care about its nutritional value (unless it's truly wack). Got a new one you want to tell me about? I'm all ears. Somethin' to go along with it? Bring it on. Just one thing: It'd better taste good. Fast-food good. It'd better not be a half-assed attempt at pocketing my hard-earned pocket money, a crazy gimmick, or an bad experience. I'll call you on it. Damn right, I will.

Super-size. Dollar menus. Value meals. Limited-time offers. Breakfast. Desserts. Ad campaigns. Order into a speaker, pay, pull up to the next window, and your grub's good to go. God bless America. Land of the free, home of the Whopper. I'm lovin' it.

First up in "Fry Girl": a good ol' fashioned fish fight.

Fish sandwiches at fast-food joints occupy that "other" section of the menu, and with good reason: They taste like shit. Most folks would pass on fast food's after-thought, but for Lent observers and hurried pescatarians, the fish sandwich is a necessity.

I'm taking the fish sandwich by the gills to see which one swims ahead of the rest. Here goes . . .

5. Burger King Big Fish with Cilantro-Lime Sauce ($3.29): When will the onslaught of fake lime flavor end? It didn't make Coke or Bud Light any better, and it makes the Big Fish taste like it's been sprayed with Pledge.

Thank goodness this "special" is available only through March. That should give Catholics enough time to ask God to forgive Burger King for this seafood sin. Avoid at all costs.

4. Jack in the Box fish sandwich ($1.49): Want to know how to get a fish sandwich down to a buck forty-nine? Take two freezer-damaged nuggets, nuke them into submission, and leave them for dead in a sauce that tastes like face cream and pickles. The chain's not making a big deal over this sandwich, so why should we? Take a pass.

3. Burger King Big Fish ($3.29): The biggest of all these sandwiches — and the worst for you (640 calories and five grams of saturated fat) — the Big Fish contains a too-thick, too-crisp fillet on a whatever-the-hell-"corn-dusted"-means bun. If your goal is getting full, and fat, this one's for you. Be sure to super-size your drink — this seafood is swimming in salt.

2. Wendy's Premium Fish Filet ($3.69 with cheese): I'll give the feisty redhead props for trying. Wendy's new sandwich is light and flaky, with an equally light (but tasteless) sauce, lettuce, and a decent bun. Want cheese? That'll be an extra 30 cents. With a little more zing, this fish sandwich could be fabulous, but the ho-hum flavor, high calories, and high price leave it floundering.

1. McDonald's Filet-O-Fish ($2.99): There's something to be said for the expected. Maybe that's why McDonald's hasn't changed its Filet-O-Fish since before Hamburglar entered a life of crime: the squishy-sweet bun, the very-fishy fillet, tangy tartar sauce, and American cheese. With a reasonable portion size, manageable calorie count, and affordable price, when it comes to settling, this sandwich is the clear swimmer.

Now go forth and fish.

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Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld