I am always skeptical when anyone calls anything unrelated to sports a "game changer." And when the allegedly "game-changing" item is a turkey burger at Burger King, my eyebrow hits my hairline. I caught this description in a random Internet story about how, with its spring menu rollout, BK became the first major fast-food burger chain to possibly/permanently offer turkey burgers alongside beef patties. Apparently Carl's Jr. and Hardee's don't count -- the real point is that this wasn't an idea McDonald's had last year, so could it be an actual "game changer"?
See also: -Burger King's new summer menu is both sweet and sour -Burger King's new Whopper, molten fudge desserts, cheesy tots and chicken nuggets - Burger King brings back the California Whopper -- and rolls out Cinnabon
To find out, I stopped by the BK at 3200 Downing Street, which had all the new spring menu items, which sounded like up-jumped state-fair foods: a turkey burger ($4.19), latte (small, mocha $2.49), pina colada smoothie (small $1.99), iced coffee (large, vanilla $2.49), Morningstar Farms patty veggie burger (combo $6.69), bacon cheddar stuffed burger ($4.19) and loaded tator tots (12 pieces for $2.79). Going by my usual math, I figured that at least two of these new items would be above edible -- and I was definitely interested in what kind of latte would come out of Burger King (just saying "latte" and "Burger King" in the same sentence was rough).
I am an unrepentant, unapologetic coffee snob, and while I will stop to swill inferior brews when I'm desperate, I don't seek out gas-station ghetto lattes. Unless BK ponied up for actual espresso machines, these so-called lattes were either going to be mutant mixtures made with BK's already-in-use, boiled carrot-tasting sludge or they would be squirted out of a premade latte machine, all Circle K-style. When I asked the employee behind the counter if the lattes were made with an espresso machine, she did not understand what I was asking. "Well, they have a special machine to make them," she explained. "Like an espresso machine, or one of those things you see at the gas station?" I asked. She perked up and replied, "Yeah -- like that."
The small, hot, mocha-flavored not-latte had a gummy mouthfeel and the taste of stale hot cocoa meeting severely charred coffee bean flavor; no amount of whipped not-really-cream will ever, ever fix it. Garbage can-1, mouth-0.
The large iced vanilla coffee was slightly better, but still awful. Sickeningly sweet to the point that my tongue felt like a shag carpet, it was basically a tall cup of sugared, vanilla milk with a slight aftertaste of burnt beans.Garbage can-2, mouth-0.
The pina colada smoothie was definitely state fair-ish but good enough, with a nice pineapple base and smoothly-blended ice. Now that I had something I could drink without gettin' a case of the vapors, I moved on to the burgers. BK had a veggie burger before -- made with a Gardenburger patty, I'd liked it after I removed the globs of too-much mayo BK puts on everything -- and this new one was exactly the same, only with a Morningstar Farms meatless patty. Same hunks of iceberg lettuce (ew), same liberal use of condiments -- except pickles, which BK doles out like they almost extinct.
Stuffing a beef patty with cheddar cheese and bacon is another state-fair food concept -- I swear there must be a BK exec prowling state-fair booths for ideas -- and the bits of bacon did go nicely with the flame-grilled Whopper beef taste, but the imbedded cheese tasted more like processed American than cheddar. The burger would probably be better served without the lettuce and tomato, so that all the attention is on the meat-in-meat patty.
I knew I'd like the loaded tater tots, because they were stuffed with onion, cheese and bacon. They had a light breading that seemed to retain an unusual amount of fryer grease, but other than that, the tubular bites were all hot bacon and melted cheese. This was one instance where the state-fair food was a reward rather than a punishment.
And, of course, there was the game-changing turkey burger. BK does have a distinct advantage when it comes to cooking turkey burgers, because it flame-grills its patties. Cooking ground turkey on a flat grill always seems to cook the meat unevenly and make it taste gamey. This patty didn't have the consistency of hand-made patties -- crumbly on the edges and easily broken apart -- but a super-dense, preformed look and feel, and the outsides were appropriately flame-grilled with tasty blackness. There wasn't much in the way of flavor in the middle. It definitely wasn't a game-changer.
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Still, Burger King gets points for not making yet another McDoppelganger. But it has a way to go before it will be winning anything.