2010:The Year of Weird Fast FoodThis year, fast food chains sort of lost their minds.
National chains tried valiantly to introduce high-end items to low-priced menus and pushed calorie, fat and sodium counts to the limits while simultaneously providing healthier, natural options - mission statements that both inherently contradict each other and lead to some wacky business decisions.
MainStreet recaps the year in fast food to illustrate just how weird it has been.
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KFC's Double DownBack in April, KFC made headlines when it introduced its Double Down, a bunless "sandwich" that stacked two fried chicken breasts on top of two slices of bacon, two slices of cheese and a special sauce. The menu item costs you only 540 calories, about the same as a Big Mac from McDonald’s, but it contains 1,380 milligrams of sodium and 10 grams of saturated fat. It also set an extreme precedent for both KFC, which would go on to reorganize its entire 2010 marketing campaign around it, and fast food chains in general, who suddenly seemed keen on adding obscenely unhealthy foods to their menus.
“The Double Down set a whole new standard in the ridiculousness of these fast food creations,” Robert Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University and expert on all things pop culture told MainStreet in August. “What the nuclear bomb was to warfare, the Double Down is to fast food. It’s almost like a parody.”
At the very least, it was a taste of things to come.
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Just weeks after KFC doubled down, IHOP sandwiched a layer of cheesecake between two buttermilk pancakes ... and then topped it with strawberry, blueberry or cinnamon apple compote and whipped cream, for good measure.
IHOP never released the nutritional information for the Stackers themselves, but did say that the combo meal - which came with eggs, hash browns and choice of breakfast meat - contained 1,250 calories and 2,750 milligrams of sodium. The dish will be available through June at participating IHOP locations for $3.99.
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Friendly's Grilled Cheese Burger MeltFriendly's took a note from KFC and ditched the bun on this cheeseburger ... only to replace it with two (yes, TWO) grilled cheese sandwiches. Its aptly-named Grilled Cheese Burger Melt had 1,500 calories, 79 grams of fat, 38 grams of saturated fat, 180 grams of cholesterol, 101 grams of carbohydrates and 2,090 milligrams of sodium. And that's all before all before you factor in the accompanying side of fries, which contains around 330 calories.
Debuting in June, the sandwich-burger hybrid is still on Friendly's menu. Prices vary depending on location, but caloric value is the same no matter which Friendly's you frequent.
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Friendly's Mac & Cheese Quesadilla Kids MealFriendly's followed up its artery-clogging sandwich by introducing an extreme combo meal to its kids menu shortly after 1,500 calorie burger melt hit its main menu. The Friendly's Mac & Cheese Quesadilla meal featured, you guessed it, macaroni and cheese inside of a quesadilla. Sans the dessert and the syrupy soft drinks that come with all of its kids combos, the menu item contains 1,020 calories and 49 grams of fat, though parents can easily up their child's caloric intake by following the restaurant's suggestion and adding a hot dog or bacon to the entree.
What other meals might be best left off your kids' menu? Find out in MainStreet's roundup of the worst fast food for kids!
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Carl's Jr. Footlong Burger/ Philly Cheesesteak Burger
In July, fast food chain Carl's Jr. tested out a footlong burger in its California stores. The menu item was the size of three burger patties laid side by side, served up with onions, pickles and cheese on a 12-inch sub. Sadly, the $4 menu item (there was actually a 'deluxe' version that came with lettuce and tomato for $4.50) didn't seem to get much further than the test phase, so its actual caloric intake remains unknown.
However, Carl's Jr. did manage to re-introduce the equally extreme Philly Cheesesteak burger - a sandwich which combined thinly sliced steak, a charbroiled burger patty, peppers, onions, Swiss and American cheeses and mayonnaise, all on a seeded bun - nationwide for a limited time in August. This old classic, originally on the menu in 2006, contained 45 grams of fat, 1,420 milligrams of sodium and, when combined with a medium fries and a 21-ounce Coke, a total of 1,470 calories in all.
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Denny's Fried Cheese Melt Sandwich
In keeping with the hybrid theme that emerged in 2010, Denny's began selling a grilled cheese sandwich that had four fried mozzerella sticks ensconced inside back in August. The Fried Cheese Melt sandwich, which came with fries and a side of marinara sauce, contained 895 calories and 34 grams of fat.
Despite its fat content, at the very least, you have to credit the sandwich with being cost and time efficient. After all, still available at Denny's for only $4, the Fried Cheese melt allows diners to eat their appetizer and main course at the exact same time.
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Chili’s Quesadilla Explosion SaladWhen Consumer Reports put together a list of the best and worst restaurant chain salads in March, this 1,400-calorie salad, remit with 88 grams of fat and 2,320 grams of sodium, easily topped the latter list. Of course, the $8.99 salad, which includes grilled chicken, cheese, tomatoes, corn relish, cilantro, tortilla strips and citrus-balsamic dressing, is also served with a side of cheese quesadillas, so anyone who thought this menu item was good for them because it had "salad" in its name was probably just kidding themselves anyways.
Find out which other salads are hiding unhealthy secrets in this MainStreet article on the worst restaurant salads.
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Serendipity's $69 Hot DogNew York tourist hotspot Serendipity 3, already known for its record-breaking $1,000 Golden Opulence Sundae, made it into the Guinness Book of World Records again in July when it introduced a $69 hot dog to its menu.
The hot dog was grilled in white truffle oil, topped with duck foie gras, caramelized Vidalia onions, black truffle Dijon mustard homemade heirloom tomato ketchup and served in a homemade pretzel-style bun brushed with truffle butter. Created in celebration of National Hot Dog Day, which occurs on July 29, the high-end hot dog has seemingly disappeared from the restaurant's menu.
The $1,000 Golden Opulence Sundae is served in a crystal goblet with a 18-karat gold spoon and features premium vanilla ice cream, Amedei Porceleana and rare Chuao Chocolate, Parisian candied fruit, truffles, cherries, Gold Passion caviar chocolate and edible gold leaf. Plus, it is still available if you order it 48 hours in advance.
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Wendy's Natural FriesBack in August, Wendy's started testing out its "natural french fries," a variation on the fast food staple that uses sea salt, skin-on Russett potatoes and a special oil of as-yet-unknown provenance. The fries, popular with test audiences, replaced their predecessors permanently in November.
The interesting caveat here is that while Wendy's touts the new french fries as "natural," they're not exactly healthly. The new recipe actually drove the salt content up from 350 milligrams to 500 milligrams, and pushed the calorie count up by 10 to 420. Thankfully, perhaps, the fries are still the same price, from 99 cents to about $2, depending on size.
Of course, industry experts believe that the change was made in an attempt to establish Wendy’s as a more high-end burger joint. This year, the chain also made headlines by introducing meals for foodies, including apple pecan chicken salads and ditching the cheap bacon in featured sandwiches like the Baconator in favor of more high-end stuff.
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Burger King RibsThe other chain to try its hand at high-end fast food was Burger King, which ran a rib-centric promotion that was cut short back in June after it ran out of ribs prematurely. Burger King began offering the ribs May 24 in an effort to see if consumers would splurge for higher-priced fast food items. The ribs were available in three different sizes: a three-piece meal for $2.99, a six-piece meal for $5.69 and an indulgent serving of eight ribs for $7.19.
While undoubtedly popular and cost efficient (each rib only cost the chain 50 cents to make), they have yet to reappear on Burger King's menu.
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McDonald's OatmealWhat was McDonald's big addition to its menu this year? That would be its Fruit & Maple Oatmeal, which has already appeared at a few of the chain’s restaurants and is slated to roll out nationwide in January.
Here's hoping that the oatmeal, which will be available in only one flavor and one size at a suggested retail price of $1.99 and contains whole grain oats, apples, cranberries and raisins, heralds a healthier 2011.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of McDonald’s
Unhealthiest Restaurant DishesExtreme food items aren't only popping up in fast food chains. Find out what some of the unhealhiest dishes to appear in full-service restaurant in 2010 were in this MainStreet article.
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