The Guilty Pleasures: Two new fast food breakfast sandwiches. Where to Get Them: McDonald's and Carl's Jr., locations Valleywide Price: Less than $2.50 each. What It Really Costs: It depends where you go.
Ever since McDonald's introduced the Egg McMuffin in 1972, the fast-food breakfast has become big business. McDonald's has long been the dominant force, with everyone else trying to stake some sort of foothold, or just try to catch up to the Golden Arches juggernaut.
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McDonald's has the tricky position of maintaining their massive market share. Lately, the public has been clamoring for some kind of healthier options. Never mind that when most people go for fast food, eating healthy is usually the last thing on their minds. In response, McDonald's has lightened up their breakfast menu with the Egg White Delight.
The idea of the Egg White Delight is pretty simple: Take the standard bearer Egg McMuffin, replace the fried egg with egg whites, and the American cheese with (pasteurized processed) white cheddar cheese. It's such a simple idea, I'm almost amazed they hadn't thought of it sooner.
After suffering through numerous dry, rubbery, flavorless egg white omelets at restaurants everywhere, the Egg White Delight* is the first egg-white-based breakfast I've had that's actually worth eating. It's missing the richness of the yolk, but it's otherwise indistinguishable from the standard Egg McMuffin to the point I'd be hard pressed to tell the difference if I ate them blindfolded.
The Egg McMuffin was already a reasonably good breakfast choice at only 300 calories. The Egg White Delight knocks off 50; at 250 calories each, you can have two of them and it's still an almost virtuous breakfast option. Or, you can substitute egg whites on any other breakfast sandwich. Considering the weird spongy texture of the square egg that comes on the biscuits and McGriddles, the substitution is a no-brainer.
And now, on to little ol' Carl's Jr.
The Southern California-based chain has also served breakfast for a long time, but they've never come close to putting a dent in McDonald's business. But, if word gets out, I think that might change.
Back in 1997, Carl's Jr.'s parent company, CKE Restaurants, bought the burger chain Hardee's, found predominantly in the South and Midwest. While they were quick to introduce Carl's Jr. items at Hardee's, not much flowed the other way. At least, not until recently.
Hardee's does a booming breakfast business. It's only natural that CKE would want to spread some of that success to Carl's Jr. They've done it by offering Hardee's made-from-scratch buttermilk biscuits at Carl's Jr.
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It was a great idea. These biscuits are terrific. They're big, light, and fluffy. They're attractively crisp outside, soft and tender in the middle. I almost feel bad saying it, but Carl's Jr. has a biscuit that's pretty close to my platonic ideal. The scrambled eggs are cooked just right, and unlike McDonald's, the sandwich is served hot enough that the cheese has a chance to properly melt.
I'm glad my schedule doesn't permit a regular breakfast run through the Carl's Jr. drive-thru. If it did, I'd probably be on a first-name basis with the staff much faster than I would care to admit. It's not nearly as responsible a choice as McDonald's Egg White Delight (a single Carl's Jr. breakfast biscuit runs anywhere from 430 to 730 calories); but as the saying goes, a calorie is a unit of measure of how good something tastes.
*Pardon me for a moment, but... Ugh, the name! I cringe every time I write it, and saying it is even worse. I mean, it rhymes, and it enforces the "light" aspect of it, but it's just too cutesy for its own damn good.