That's...a Wrap.

Well, Memorial Day has come and gone. It was a day to remember, and I remember it. It was pretty memorable. That has little-to-nothing to do with Chick-fil-A, blogging, or the internet in general - I didn’t eat any Chick-fil-A on Memorial Day, I didn’t write anything, and I only spent ten hours on the internet - but it still seems like a fitting way to open this post. After all, I’m willing to bet there were at least a few hundred thousand outdoor family gatherings that featured nug-trays in starring roles. I wasn’t invited to any of those, though, so I spent the vast majority of my non-internet-time planting snow crocus bulbs in a sunlit corner of an abandoned MARTA station and watering them with my tears. None of that is true, but it sounds dramatic, and it’s a nice, patriotic image, so I’m letting it stand.

Sometime last week, during a fairly routine workday - in other words, not one where I found myself inexplicably in Florida - I shoved off for Chick-fil-A to apprehend myself some lunch. So far, nothing out of the ordinary, and really, that may be the theme of this post, since nothing particularly noteworthy transpired at any juncture of the trip. My order was relatively mundane, so that could’ve been the culprit. To cut to the chaise lounge, I ordered and consumed…

...wait for it...

...I said, WAIT for it…

...goddammit, you will WAIT FOR IT!!!

...a Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap. “Cool” seems like an optimistic, borderline misleading word to apply to a grilled chicken wrap, but I’ve decided that the Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap is only “cool” in the sense that Cool Ranch Doritos (or Cool Ethan) are cool. To me, the type of “cool” employed in both situations is indicative of the preparer of each supposedly “cool” food object coming to the sad, head-shaking realization that the food object in question is actually quite boring and nondescript and trying to find a vague way of punching it up. Because that’s how the Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap is - a little dull. That being said, it’s still a substantial upgrade from the last tubular object from Chick-fil-A that I forcibly inserted into my mouth, the Breakfast Burrito, and it’s heavily enhanced by the inclusion of yet another secret sauce. Before we get to that, though, let’s tackle the wrap itself.

Unless I’m crazy, there used to be a wider selection of wraps at Chick-fil-A, at least one of which I used to order on the quasi-reg. I believe it was called the Chicken Caesar Augustus Wrap, and it had a Caesar ‘do and was truly the Lunchtime Emperor of its era, or at least of its wrap brethren. As long as I’m pouring one out for deceased menu items, the dessert menu also once included Lemon Pie, and I ate so much of it that it eventually showed up all smiley and porcupined with candles at my fourteenth birthday party. Thanks, Mom. I can’t think of a single good reason to justify Chick-fil-A’s premature retirement of the Lemon Pie, except that no one else on the planet liked it or ordered it.

Anyway, whatever wrap options might have existed in the past, there’s only the one now. In fact, if you go to Chick-fil-A’s online menu, you may find yourself awkwardly directed to the “Wrap and Salads” section. I’d bet money that, once upon a time, that “Wrap” was plural, and some Chick-fil-A code monkey hacked his way in there and deleted the “s” after the other wraps were executed like Ned Stark. With a huge sword. The remaining wrap is basically a grilled chicken salad all bundled up inside some “flaxseed flour flat bread” like it’s going somewhere. Like it knows something. You’ve got your grilled chicken, your lettuce, your cabbage, your carrots, your jack and cheddar cheeses, and that’s it. I actually appreciate the simplicity of it (in terms of simplicity, it’s the polar opposite of the Grilled Market Salad), and I’m a big fan of the overall crunchiness of the whole enterprise. The flat bread doesn’t taste like much, but maybe that’s the point - it hands over the heavy lifting to the ingredients wrapped up inside, all of which are fresh and tasty, and, perhaps most important of all, just plain make sense. For the record, that’s, again, very unlike the Grilled Market Salad, where the ingredients - however fresh and tasty they may be - all orbit menacingly and confusingly around a lightning-bolt-ridden nucleus of uncontrolled chaos and evil LOST smoke monster whispers.

The star of the show in the Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap, as tends to be the case in a weird number of Chick-fil-A menu items, is the Avocado Lime Ranch dressing. This shit is GOOD. If I could fill a Camelbak with Avocado Lime Ranch dressing and go hiking across Southwest America, I...wouldn’t do it, probably. But I’d for sure dip my Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap into a little pool of it. This dressing’s origin story probably goes something like this: Truett Cathy, burning the midnight vegetable oil in his dark woodgrain office full of globes and precious magnifying glasses, pored through ancient menus and dictionaries until he stumbled across three random words that he knew people loved - “avocado,” “lime,” and “ranch” - whereupon he smashed those words together and commanded his army of Chick-fil-A imagineers, “Make it so.” And they did. He could have just as easily created “Steak Baseball Vacation” dressing - he just found those other words first.

One last important thing to note about the Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap: it’ll cost you. This is luxury lunch shopping in that upper tier of the menu reserved for the elite few that don’t mind dropping extra pesos for the fancy shit. In fact, I’ve heard rumors that the purchase of a Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap gives you automatic lifetime access to the Delta Sky Club at Hartsfield-Jackson - just bring your wrapper and receipt and the bouncer will hand you a pina colada with a little umbrella in it and unhook the cordon to let you in. The Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap is not actually prohibitively expensive, but it is one of a very few menu items that’ll run you into the eight dollar range if you spring for a combo. Spring judiciously.

Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap: 6.66/10

Date: I don't know, sometime last week.

Weather: Abundant Sunshine

Drive-Through Rage Factor: Exponential

HBITSCTAS: The Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap is about the same length as a really greasy standard office telephone receiver with a shoulder prop thing attached to it. If you use one half of the wrap to talk into and the other half to listen, you can pretend it’s an old timey telephone.




Beach Burritos

Last week, I was unceremoniously exiled to the toasty shores of Destin, Florida for a seminar - “panhandling,” I call it - along with what appeared to be America’s living population of paunchy, middle-aged men wearing baggy Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops. Due to cosmic circumstances beyond my control, my exile was of the solo variety, so the whole excursion had the whiff of some sort of tropical, strip-mall-infused walkabout, one that would eventually send me ass-first into a deeper understanding of myself, or maybe into a hot tub if I didn’t watch where I was going. The good news is, after three days spent wandering The Beach in a daze, I came out the other side in one piece; the bad news is I’m no closer to self-actualization than I was when I arrived. I did find my spirit animal, though: it’s a monster reuben from a touristy-looking, neon-green-lit “Irish Pub” called McGuire’s, and it’s fucking delicious. Or am I mixing up my existential journeys? Do spirit animals show up on walkabouts? Maybe I’m thinking of patronuses. My patronus is a reuben.

To my maybe unfair surprise, I actually had a pretty positive food experience in Destin, although it did feel like the city was using a t-shirt cannon to fire neverending hamburgers into my mouth like I was an especially hungry Wimpy. Dude LOVES hamburgers. At least one of those burgers was truly great (courtesy of The Craft Bar), but my virgin experience at Whataburger was a little disappointing. I don’t know why; maybe I just expected more. I wanted to leave the restaurant and rip my shirt and scream “WHATABURGER!” at the sky like my mind had been blown to smithereens by the beefiness of it all, but when the time came, the enthusiasm wasn’t there. I don’t cover Whataburger in this blog, so I’ll just say a few quick things about it and move on: 1) the burger is really just a humongous McDonald’s burger, as in “WhatahumongousMcDonaldsburger”; 2) spicy ketchup is a great idea, but it doesn’t really taste like anything more than unpleasantly burned regular ketchup; 3) Five Guys is way better and not appreciably more expensive.

Anyway, seeing as how I was all by my lonesome in Destin with no eating companions other than a few sand gnats (and my reuben-patronus, when and if I decided to summon that), I spent more time at fast food restaurants than I probably should have. In relatively short order, I located a Chick-fil-A near the resort complex (the complex was stuffed with obscenely overpriced and somewhat depressing “party” restaurants and beachside cabanas selling fourteen-dollar slushy drinks full of 151 and Everclear), and it was then that I knew I’d be able to dodge at least a few hamburger missiles from the watchful eye of the beef-cannon. On the morning that I packed up my dunebuggy and Got The Hell Out Of Destin, I figured it might be time to continue my breakfast explorations, so I gathered my cojones (I have a bunch) and ordered a Breakfast Burrito. It’s not easy for me to get my my lips to say something other than “Chicken Biscuit” before 10:30 AM at Chick-fil-A, so this was no easy feat. I think the cashier could sense my struggle from the way I groaned out my words.

After I ordered, I had to wait, but not by the register area. The cashier handed me a colorful little Chick-fil-A traffic cone for me to take to my table and display, I guess so that I could pretend to be a burrito-traffic-cop and direct confused burritos into my mouth as they came near. I don’t especially like Chick-fil-A’s trend toward table service - the person who shows up with my food is inevitably a tiny old lady who should probably be darning socks for her darn grandkids on a fat green armchair somewhere instead of puttering around Chick-fil-A with my Breakfast Burrito, and it makes me sad. Then again, they’re probably all Truett-bots anyway, so what’s the difference?

Eventually, I got what I deserved - a swift kick in the face. After that, though, I got my Breakfast Burrito. And you know what? It wasn’t that great. Maybe this will be the post that proves once and for all that I’m not on Chick-fil-A’s payroll, because I’ve got nothing particularly positive to say about my Breakfast Burrito experience. It isn’t bad, exactly (if you’re wrapping eggs and cheese in a tortilla with almost anything except batteries or a filthy blanket or something, it’s probably going to turn out at least okay), but I’ve had a lot of breakfast burritos in my life and almost all of them were better than this one. One note of particular weirdness in the Breakfast Burrito is the inclusion of the usual signature fried chicken (although you can choose sausage) - this is one of the few corners of the Chick-fil-A menu where the unexpected addition of fried chicken doesn’t enhance the underlying product. Instead, it just feels lost, like a crying, sunburned toddler at a waterpark who wandered away from his parents straight through the No Trespassing fence and now his mom is frantic and they’ve sent out the waterpark police force to track down any confused-looking toddlers and eventually they’ll find him and he’ll be fine but even when he gets older he’ll always remember that time he got lost at the waterpark. That’s what the chicken in the Breakfast Burrito is like.

The salsa packet is a laudable inclusion, albeit not as spicy as I’d like, but sour cream would have been just as appreciated, and there’s not enough shredded cheese jammed in the tortilla to really ring my cheese-bell. Maybe I’m too particular in my breakfast burrito preferences to be objective; I like them spicy, creamy, and cheesy, and Chick-fil-A doesn’t make them that way. It’s all just a little too bland for me. I could have requested spicy chicken instead of regular chicken, though, so maybe I’m to blame for whatever disappointment I feel. On the other hand, I’m also lucky:  if I do come across any unexpectedly magical breakfast options, that’s going to create serious conflict with my old friend-with-benefits the Chicken Biscuit. I don’t want to get caught in the middle of that cyclone of jealousy and chickens and feathers. For now, the Chicken Biscuit continues to reign supreme, and with the perfect score I gave it last week, it’s going to take something truly special to break the ratings scale and usurp the throne. Frankly, I don’t see it happening, but I’d love to be proven wrong. A little birdie whispered a rumor about secret breakfast items in my ear, so I’ll need to solve that mystery and see if any real contenders are wrapped up inside of it. I’ll also need to figure out who taught these little birdies to talk. It’s damn creepy when they whisper in my ears.

Breakfast Burrito (Chicken): 4/10

Weather: 90+ degrees

Destin: 5/10

Hawaiian Shirts: Trending


 

The King of Breakfast

...WHICH BRINGS ME TO CHICK-FIL-A BREAKFAST. Don’t worry, you didn’t miss anything, there’s no need to navigate backwards in your browser to figure out how that sentence started. What you just read, my friend, is a full-on sentence fragment. And boy is it a sharp one. In some ways, though, this whole harebrained scheme - all of the hours spent sampling Chick-fil-A lunch options and then brooding about them literarily - has been leading up to this moment. In other words, Chick-fil-A lunch was the first part of the sentence, but it really only served to set up this breakfasty conclusion. Not that I’m done devouring lunches; there are still at least a few of those rampaging around out there in the wilderness in need of a good slaying. But breakfast has gone too long un-talked about, so I’m electing to take this very necessary detour into breakfastland.

The only logical place to start this journey is the most obvious one: the Chicken Biscuit. Or, as I like to refer to it behind closed doors (when we’re alone), the King of Breakfast. I’m a little unclear on how fried chicken snuck into the breakfast rotation in the first place (the fried chickens didn’t sneak into the rotation themselves, I’ll tell you that - they’re dead as hell), but its position on Chick-fil-A’s menu is unassailable. My history with the Chicken Biscuit is long and storied and begins sometime in Middle School when I was but a young lad, small of stature, low of confidence, and full of dreams of one day tracking down puberty (or a Zoltar machine) and forcing it to make me Big. Specifically, it begins in sixth grade.

In sixth grade, we sixth graders gained access to the “Break Stand,” a weird little octagonal kiosk located in a weird little rectangular courtyard run by other students like some kind of warped, preppy, Lord of the Flies-inspired social experiment. The Break Stand probably sold all kinds of junk food/hard drugs, but the only things I ever had eyes for were the authentic Chick-fil-A Chicken Biscuits that some good samaritan saw fit to pick up every morning in time for the designated 10:30 AM break period. The Chicken Biscuits in question were sold out of a cooler for two dollars apiece (two dollars seems suspiciously low, but maybe my brainbox is busted or inflation wrecked the Chicken Biscuit industry after the world’s computers failed during Y2K), but supplies were extremely limited, so diminutive Middle Schoolers swarmed the Break Stand like it was...I don’t know, Fred Durst? Nelly? Whatever was awesome in 1998. Chumbawamba.

Since I was something like thirteen years old and had no source of income outside of stripping copper wire and selling it to the local junkyard, I was forced into the seedy underground world of high-interest Middle School mortgages. My daily routine was this: rocketship out of class at 10:30 directly at the Break Stand, bang my head into its wall, realize that I was still thirteen and had zero dollars, search my person and backpack for anything of value, begin bartering. It wasn’t unusual for me, tweaking hard for a Chicken Biscuit, to borrow two dollars from a friend and frantically promise to pay them five dollars the next day, or ten dollars the day after that if I forgot. Ten dollars for a two dollar loan is 400% INTEREST. On one occasion, I traded a Swiss Army pocket knife, which had been a birthday present, for a Chicken Biscuit. That’s how real shit got.

I love Chicken Biscuits. Believe it or not, I’ve actually tried to be impartial with this Chick-fil-A project, but my love for Chicken Biscuits is absolutely biased, and I won’t pretend otherwise. I won’t live that lie. Someone in Chick-fil-A’s mothership kitchen figured out the perfect biscuit recipe, and each biscuit is fluffed up like my favorite pillow sheathed in a butter-slathered pillowcase. I wouldn’t want to sleep on it, necessarily, but I’m more than happy to eat it. From what I can tell, the chicken breast is my old familiar lunchtime friend - stalwart, fried, intended for lunch - only zapped with a shrink ray (or made out of tiny chickens!). While I do sometimes wonder if maybe there’s a different spice situation at work for the breakfast version, I usually end up deciding that my mind is just re-contextualizing everything based on the biscuit’s presence and therefore playing tricks on me. At some early point along the miraculous journey that is my life, I started putting honey on my Chicken Biscuits, and that’s a habit I continue to indulge as of May 2015. I blame the Break Stand. I don’t know why, but I’m almost positive it had a hand in this. It has a hand in everything. I do feel a little better knowing that Chick-fil-A employees generally offer honey with breakfast orders, so I don’t think I’m too far afield of rational human behavior here, but there’s always the possibility that the honey is actually intended to be used for coffee or hashbrowns or direct ingestion or something.

You might think I’d be an easy sell on the Spicy Chicken Biscuit given my established preference for the Spicy Chicken Sandwich, but if you think that, you’re wrong, so quit acting like you know me. The Spicy Chicken Biscuit is definitely good, and I tend to gravitate towards spicy breakfasts in general, but for some reason I like to keep my Chicken Biscuits heat-free. It’s probably a nostalgia thing, but I’m not here to psychoanalyze myself. That’s up to you. If you’re a Spicy Chicken Biscuit man/woman (or a Spicy Chicken Biscuit with fingers and a computer), I think that’s great, and I wish you godspeed and happy trails and Merry Christmas - I’m just not that into it.

Here’s something else to think about: McDonald’s is about to start serving breakfast ALL DAY. That in itself doesn’t do much for me - I eat McDonald’s breakfast about once a year, if that, and only when I’m lost - but if other restaurants get jealous and follow suit...well, that’s a potential gold mine of Chicken Biscuits. That’s a gold mine that, instead of being full of gold, is full of Chicken Biscuits. That’s a FULL-SIZED UNDERGROUND MINE FULL OF COAL AND COAL DUST AND MINERS AND INDIVIDUALLY WRAPPED CHICKEN BISCUITS.

Chicken Biscuit: 10/10

Spicy Chicken Biscuit: 7.9/10

HBITSCTAS: A Chicken Biscuit is basically an oversized notary stamp in every way. I'm sure if you have enough honey on there you could use it to make documents official/really sticky.

Drive-Through: Mornings in the drive-through line are way easier than lunchtimes. No complaints.

 

Revisiting the Regular Chicken Sandwich

Today, in a “two steps forward, one step back” sort of maneuver, I underwent a minor personal regression and ordered a REGULAR Chicken Sandwich. You know, just to see how it felt. I considered telling the cashier to give me a “Spicy Chicken Sandwich, and hold the spicy!” but, after some soul-searching, decided that I’d rather be able to look at myself in the mirror for the next few months. Ordering just a “chicken sandwich” with no descriptor still felt a little off, though - couldn’t that refer to half of Chick-fil-A’s menu? I felt halfway compelled to qualify my order by specifying that I wanted my chicken sandwich fried, but that idea gave me pre-order-anxiety sweats. What if I found myself talking to that same unlucky cashier who had to field my botched “no pickles” order? That might be too much for either of us to bear, and I’m not interested in being cast aside like some sort of sad-sack Chick-fil-A pariah based on my inability to order with confidence. After waffling just outside of the line for a thoroughly unjustifiable length of time, I strapped on my big-boy pants (they’re Dockers with an elastic waistband) and shouted, “REGULAR CHICKEN SANDWICH PLEASE WITH FRIES AND A FRUIT CUP A SMALL FRUIT CUP NOT A MEDIUM.” My cashier - no older than twelve, probably, which for all I know makes her a sophomore at Truett Cathy’s University of Horrors - graciously chose to ignore my sudden bout of voice immodulation disorder and handed over the goods without comment.

Biting into a Regular Chicken Sandwich is like biting into the year 2001. Suddenly, I’m terrified of girls again, my patchy (sexy) beard is even patchier (...sexier?), my hair is full and curly like a voluminous mushroom, and I have to get to soccer practice as soon as school is over. Once those confusing feelings and physical transformations faded, though, I was left with an undeniably delicious but still somehow inferior sandwich (and way less hair). In 2001, I would have punched you in your nosebone if you’d tried to tell me there was anything better than a regular chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A, but I was also prone to hormone-induced fits of rage back then and, more importantly, the Spicy Chicken Sandwich hadn’t been invented yet. Now that it has been invented, all that I can think about when I ruminate on the Regular Chicken Sandwich is how good it could be if only it would man up a little and crank that heat-crank. All that untapped spicy potential, squandered! It makes me sick.

But that’s not true. It doesn’t make me sick, because it’s actually tasty as hell. Just as with the Spicy Chicken Sandwich, the bun is buttery, the chicken is delicious and juicy and perfectly cooked and seasoned, and the pickles are mysteriously on holiday. To make sure my food regression was as historically accurate as possible, I substituted my 2015-era ranch topping for ketchup, which now comes in a handy spork-like hybrid package that lets you squeeze it onto something or open it up like a mini-ketchup-pool. I haven’t determined if ketchup is a normal thing to put on a chicken sandwich - when I think about it too hard it seems weird, as if what I really want is a burger but I don’t have one so I’ll play make believe with this chicken sandwich - but that’s the way my parents raised me, and who am I to throw that kind of life lesson away? The sweet ketchup complements the salty chicken in a way that makes my taste buds dance and sing, especially on those frequent occasions that jagged sandwich edges find their way to an open container of Chick-fil-A sauce for dunking purposes.

You might remember from earlier in this post that I loudly demanded that a small fruit cup accompany my order. If so, kudos to you, my friend, you’re a close reader. Your prize is in the mail. It’s a year-long subscription to the Jelly of the Month Club. The Chick-fil-A fruit cup, no matter what size you order, is a hell of a thing. In a world where the vast majority of fruit cups promise you the world but deliver only honeydew and cantaloupe, the Chick-fil-A fruit cup stands apart. This is no Melon Salad. There is no Infinite Sadness. Instead, you get strawberries, tangerines, apples, and blueberries. That’s top-shelf shit!  Not a hobo melon to be found anywhere. Honestly, there’s not really a whole lot else to say about the Chick-fil-A fruit cup - it’s fruit. But it’s good fruit. And Chick-fil-A should be proud of itself. Go ahead, give yourself a round of applause, Chick-fil-A. Oh, what’s that? You’re just a non-corporeal entity with no hands? You can’t applaud? Sucks.

Regular Chicken Sandwich: 7/10

Fruit Cup: 7/10

Weather: Hot as balls.

Drive-through: I walked, man. Not much of a line. I...I walked the line.

HBITSCTAS: This sandwich is an inch or two shorter than a blue highlighter and way less blue.