You know what bugs me about chain restaurants? It's the way they co-opt the names of distant regional foods and market their shitty versions as the real thing to people in a different part of the world who don't know any different and grow up thinking they're getting the real deal.
Last week's Eat Here, Not There about Quiznos' Cuban sandwiches got me thinking about five “regional” food abominations that should be purged from the face of the Earth.
5. Arby's Ultimate Angus Philly Sandwich
People from Philadelphia don't call their city's cheesesteaks “Phillys.” They order a “steak,” “one wit,” or, if they're feeling especially talkative, “cheesesteaks,” but never a “Philly.” A Philly is a baseball player, or a young female horse, not a sandwich. I'm curious to know how this new item is selling in the Philadelphia metro area.
Arby's naming of the sandwich makes want to gag, and so does Arby's rubbery, thin-sliced “roast beef.” How they turn red meat into latex is a mystery of industrial science that rivals McDonald's ability to turn pig stomach, heart and tripe into a McRib.
Also like last week's Quiznos Cuban sandwich epic fail, Arby's fails to understand that a major part of a cheesesteak's quality comes from using the right kind of roll. There's so much wrong with this sandwich beyond the naming that I wonder how long it'll take for executives to pull the plug on those expensive, high-frequency television ads. You realize the more an ad cycles on TV, the worse that product is, yes?
4. Domino's Brooklyn Pizza
Speaking of marketing coals to Newcastle, when Domino's Pizza introduced its Brooklyn pizza several years ago, the media campaign included opening a pizzeria in Brooklyn. To give you an idea how powerfully corporations co-opt regional food favorites, realize there are now 14 Domino's locations in the vicinity of DiFara's Pizzeria, the mecca of true Brooklyn pizza.
What makes DiFara's pizza great is the quality of the dough, which is hand-stretched thinly and baked directly on the brick floor of a super-heated oven. What Domino's uses is a sugar-sweetened, fast-proofed dough, baked on a mesh screen in an impinger conveyor oven, which can never get the crust as crisp as the direct contact with the hot stones of a proper deck oven. Sorry, Domino's, the farce you call a Brooklyn pizza just isn't.
The sad thing? The product is succeeding in New York City and elsewhere. The biggest problem with Domino's Brooklyn pizza is it's sold in other global markets including Japan. So Japanese kids who grow up on this garbage start thinking that's what New York pizza is supposed to be like, at least until they move to New York and realize they've been duped the whole time.
3. Noah's New York Bagels
It's the same scam that Noah's New York Bagels pulls on West Coasters with its squishy, sweet, oversized rolls-with-holes. I don't care how much faux New York memorabilia you paste on your walls, Noah, but that abomination you make isn't a bagel.
Real bagels are small, dense and never sweet, unless you consider pumpernickel sweet. They have a thick crust with an outermost skin that yields to your teeth with a glassine crispness. As you tear a bagel apart with your hands, it takes effort, like tearing a small phone book in half with your bare hands. Yes, that's a good quality.
Frustrated with the absence of bagels like the ones from his New York youth, this writer baked bagels every day for a month until he figured out the techniques to make them exactly as they should be. Yes, it can be done at home with no special tools. No, it's not “the water in NYC.” That, too, is a lie.
What Noah makes is a shanda fur die goy. What's fercockt is that Noah's bagels are the ones that today's kids grow up with and will remember fondly as the bagels of their youth, those poor bastards.
2. Tony Roma's
Speaking of lies, say hello to Mr. Tony Roma, who took spare ribs out of a smoker and put them into a stock pot. Boiling-then-burning ribs is a kitchen shortcut for cooks who don't own smokers, which is to say, most of the nation outside the Southern barbecue belt. Tony Roma's took that shortcut and spread it as the de facto American way to cook ribs in a “rib restaurant.”
It wasn't until I traveled to the South and experienced real barbecue for the first time that I realized the flavor of smoke comes not from liquid smoke in barbecue sauce slathered on at the last minute, but from actual smoke penetrating the meat for hours at a time. As far as corporate food frauds are concerned, Tony Roma's runs the biggest racket, spreading its fake idea of American barbecue to 30 countries and counting.
1. Taco Bell Cantina Tacos
You might remember when these nasty greasebombs hit your local Taco Bell a couple of years back, supported with as much TV advertising as Arby's Philly. Gustavo wrote about these “street tacos” that looked like hot, canned cat food on a tortilla.
How “meat” this unappealing managed to get through the gauntlet of product development is beyond me, but maybe they ought to ratchet up the random piss testing right after lunch break at Taco Bell's Irvine HQ, if you follow my drift.
Luckily, Cantina Tacos have been sent to Taco Bell's corporate graveyard, at least in the Southern California market. In other regions, franchisees might still be selling them until their consumers decide to can the Cantinas.
I don't have a problem with chain restaurants or fast food in general. I don't have a problem with a company trying to market crappy food and letting the marketplace vote with its wallet. I would prefer that corporate chains spend more effort making new products more delicious. Specifically, I have a problem when the shitty versions of regional food favorites squeeze the very thing the corporations are trying to mimic out of existence. Mom-and-pop restaurants don't have the millions of marketing dollars to fight back, and things such as real bagels die a slow death in our culture as successive generations get used to lowered standards. Maybe I'm channeling the recently deceased Andy Rooney here, but that's the way I see it.