By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
A lot of Angus burgers have been showing up on fast-food menus lately: Burger King has them, Hardee's has them, and there could be others. But at last count, there were something like two dozen or more CAB certifying bodies operating in the United States -- and no universal standards for what is and what isn't Angus beef. Some use genetic testing (with standards as low as 50 percent Angus DNA qualifying); others use fat marbling or hump measurement (my favorite) to determine whether or not Bessie makes the grade. If this trend continues, I'll be able to get my Norwegian Forest Cat, Jack, certified as 100 percent Angus in a couple years.
And while I'm not implying that the King is doing anything sneaky with his beef, I am saying that the Angus label -- like the "organic," "fat free" and "all natural" labels -- is not all it's cracked up to be.
The Angus wasn't even my favorite drive-thru burger. That honor went to Good Times, a homegrown chain with fifty locations in just one country and in just two states: 49 in Colorado and one, inexplicably, in Boise, Idaho. The Good Times Big Daddy Super-Duper Double Monster Bacon Cheeseburger Sam'ich (which may not, in actuality, be the correct name of the burger I ate) was an excellent marriage of real bacon, real Coleman Natural beef, real fresh lettuce and tomatoes and onions and whatever else I wanted, all slapped down on a bun capable of holding everything together without instantly falling to pieces as soon as I removed it from the wax paper. Wendy's had nothing on Good Times. Carl's Jr.? Forget it. The only drive-thrus in town that came close to matching up were Griff's over on South Broadway and Crown Burgeron South Colorado, and I love these two mostly for their strangeness and their longevity.
1801 Wynkoop St.
Denver, CO 80202
Region: Downtown Denver
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The first fast-food taco I tried was one served at my local Taco Bell (out of 6,780 restaurants operating in a handful of countries with approximately $5 billion in sales), and it was so revolting that I gave up right there. This is the American West, ferchrissakes. You can't turn around in some neighborhoods here without tripping over a guy selling tamales out of the back seat of his Nissan Sentra, and there are taquerias on most street corners in the inner city. So why in the hell would anyone -- and I mean anyone this time, children, retards and stoners included -- give money to this franchise? Why did I have to sit in line at the drive-thru behind no fewer than six cars just so I could try a steak soft taco and a couple of caramel-apple empanadas? Certainly all of those cars weren't full of food writers doing the same experiment I was.
The empanadas, at least, weren't bad. They tasted like the hot apple pies I remember getting at McDonald's back when I was just a wee young critic -- you know, before McDonald's decided to make them all healthy and stuff. But that taco was abysmal, and if it's not already what the Devil is serving on hell's hot- lunch line, then Ol' Nick should seriously look into opening a franchise.
On to fries. Readers be damned, I immediately disqualified Mickey D's and Burger King because the things they call fries are about as far from an actual french fry as you can get without abandoning the use of potatoes entirely. Coming from the vast potato factories of the Midwest, where millions of pounds of potatoes are peeled, cut, blanched and frozen every day, then fried to order in some proprietary oil mixture where more than half of the chemical ingredients are trade secrets lumped under the ingredient heading "Natural and Artificial Flavors," these are FrankenFries and therefore below my notice. Besides, I just plain don't like them.
I did like the "Wild Fries" at Good Times, though, as well as those curly fries at Arby's(3,400 locations worldwide) for which I have always been an inveterate sucker. Why? Because they taste good. Because if I'm going eat fake french fries, I'm going to eat the ones I like. And in the end, I liked the curly fries best, because they also stood the test of time -- a measurement whereby I leave the fries sitting out on the counter for a half-hour to simulate my having forgotten them in the car and not remembering them until they've gone all cold and nasty. Arby's curly fries were still tasty after thirty minutes of neglect. Good Times fries suffered badly by comparison, going from yummy-licious to cold, limp slugs in about five.
Here's the creepy thing, though. Take that same order of Arby's curly fries and -- in an experiment reminiscent of the one done with McDonald's fries in the movie Super Size Me -- leave them out for 24 hours. Then pick one up and eat it. Remarkably, it will still taste the same. I was frightened to let the fries go any longer than that, but I suspect that if I sealed an order of them in a time capsule, left it buried under a rock for twenty years, then ate a fry, it would taste no different than it had a half-hour after I ordered them. Hooray for chemical preservatives and shelf-stabilizers! Hooray for super-science...