April 16, 2010

Hunger Strike—4/16/2010

The moral of the story I’m about to tell is quite simple: “Don’t believe the hype.”

Upset at my inability to secure tickets to Chicago’s Baconfest 2010, I decided that the only way to cure my culinary disappointment was to embark on yet another epic food quest. After all, Baconfest was but a lone piglet in the colossal stockyards of Chicago’s food scene. I would have my redemption.

But the bitter ember of resentment still glowed within my heart. Whereas Baconfest was a star-studded event where Chicago’s chef elite offered their elegant variations on bacon, I knew that the path I followed would have to be one of depravity and mischief. I would have to sink low, low like Cousteau, exploring culinary depths that I had not seen for years. Down the rabbit hole I tumbled…straight to KFC, home of the Double Down.

Baconfest may have been on the tip of every foodie’s tongue for the past few weeks, but KFC’s new Double Down sandwich has had the media by the throat. The Double Down is an exercise in contradiction; entirely unoriginal, yet mind-boggling. It is a “sandwich”—although I use this term very loosely—that uses two fried chicken patties as buns, inside of which are two pieces of bacon, two slices of pepper, and Monterey Jack cheese, and a mystery potion called the Colonel’s Sauce, which I am pretty sure is mayonnaise mixed with ketchup and some spicy crap. You have seen all of these things before, no doubt, but never in such an absurd arrangement. The extent to which this seems like some cruel joke has even caught KFC off guard, as their website proudly asserts that “The new KFC Double Down sandwich is real!” Oh, that’s reassuring.

Originally only available in a few select locations, KFC boldly unveiled their creation nationwide this past Monday. The news articles, TV reports, and general blog chatter have not died down since. “One sandwich to kill you all,” proclaims one columnist; “meat-glorb,” snorts another, while various health correspondents rush to warn the public of the death and destruction that will come if you ingest this cholesterol bomb. The general consensus seemed to be that eating the Double Down was about as safe as a game of Russian Roulette. Needless to say, I was sold.

But I did have some reservations. Originally I had planned to take the bus to the KFC on Garfield, smack in between the Green and Red Line, but it seemed that running there was a better option. Physically, this decision was probably negligible, but psychologically, I had convinced myself that this would restore my metabolism’s natural harmony. And thus, armed with the bare essentials—wallet, phone, ID, and last will and testament—I ran the mile and a half only to find myself staring at a small, greasy meat concoction.

For all of the excitement and anticipation I had felt, literally none of it was validated by the sandwich in the form of taste. My feelings are best summarized by “meh.” Eating it was actually a challenge because the chicken kept splintering as I bit into it, thus exposing my fingers to the Colonel’s burning lava sauce. The cheese was slightly floppy at best, a far cry from anything that could remotely be called melted, and the bacon was more of a placeholder than anything and didn’t provide much flavor.

Was it bad? Meh. It tasted like chicken. Seriously, that’s it. Was it bad for me? Meh (though the answer is almost undoubtedly yes). I did not feel the burn of the 1,380 mg of sodium slowly eating away at my body. The 32 grams of fat did not grab my heart in a headlock and beat it senseless. At 540 calories, it was no worse than any other fast food item ever. I felt well enough to run the mile and a half back, my head hung low, not from an overwhelming desire to projectile vomit, but from sheer disappointment.

So where was the thrill of living on the edge, of playing board games with Death, of eating something that is only rivaled by the poisonous Fugu fish in terms of danger? It was certainly not to be found in the Double Down. It’s just a bland sandwich that is more terrifying on a conceptual level than a practical one. I feel like Scooby Doo capturing yet another monster only to find the same old grumpy man under the mask. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

But I’ve learned my lesson: Innovation and fast food are just not meant to be. The last 50 years of the industry have been reincarnations of the same basic core of ingredients over and over and over again. Why? Because if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

If I want to try something new and exciting…I’ll just go to Baconfest 2011.