Fast Food

Would you like fries (or onion rings or chicken tenders) with that?

Fast Food: Burger King Onion Rings and Chicken Fries

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[Photographs: Robyn Lee]

This year I wrecked Thanksgiving by assembling an itinerary that included plenty of friends and family and three different bird-named bourbons that somehow left me devoid of next-day sandwich material. I eat fully 500 sandwiches a year, but I mismanaged my affairs to such an extent that I was without turkey OR bread the day after Thanksgiving. For shame! And for an excuse to have lunch at a bar!

So while some of you sweet suckers were working and others of you were pepper-spraying your way to the front of the trinket line, I was watching hockey and having lunch at a scruffy punky bar that is locally famous for its jukebox, which is excellent but inedible, and its double cheeseburgers, which are the same minus the excellence.

I didn't have a ton of faith in the rest of the menu, either, but turkey sandwiches require a mere half-ton at most, so I had at it and I'm glad I did. The sandwich itself was negligible—the gravy was from a good can but the turkey was from a mediocre bag—but it was still a revelatory lunch.

The menu listed mashed potatoes, and when the bartender started with, "Actually, we're out of mashed potatoes, so how about—" I just got up, smiled, and started to leave, because the Pilgrims didn't die just so I could one day settle for French fries when you promise me mashed potatoes. But then she saved the post-holiday with "a potato croquette instead?"

I'm going to start eating a lot more croquettes, because they are perfect and almost certainly good for you, since the word sounds very sophisticated, and sophisticated people are thin and vibrant and do not eat French fries.

The Gordons have always been fervently potato-centric when it comes to starches (and, in more nutritionally innocent times, when it came to vegetables; if you happen to run into my mother on the other side, please don't tell the dear girl they've changed the ruling on that one). I didn't have my first grain of rice until I went off to college, and I have no reason to assume my older sister's crossed that grain line to this day. And though I eat plenty of pasta at home, if everything goes according to plan I'll never have another second date and will therefore never again set foot in the North End (Boston's Tiny Italy).

But for all my potato love, I've never been a big French fry man. For some reason I associate them with fussy, ketchup-stained children and anemic college vegetarians. Therefore, I've always preferred Burger King to McDonald's, because I like the onion ring option.

But I'm like most people in that my fast food loyalties tend to shift based on what's convenient to the places where my bad nutrition decisions are born. These days the only BK I pass regularly is the one next to my gym, so I hadn't had the onion rings in quite some time before my croquette epiphany reopened the question of why French fries need to exist at all in a safe and sane universe.

Over the weekend I worked up the sweaty courage to realize I might as well get greasy on the way home from the gym while I was at it, so I stopped in to see if the onion rings were as good as I remembered them, meaning "actually good" as opposed to "at least they're not French fries."

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As I waited for my shot at the cash register I learned that Burger King now sells something called Chicken Fries. Chicken contains protein, which is good for you, and onions are definitely still vegetables, so I was pretty optimistic that I'd found the perfect new post-workout recovery regimen.

My optimism waned when I saw the food, though. I was pleased that $1 earned me a respectable 12 rings, but they looked to be on the very pale side of cooked. I thought maybe they were just much lighter than I remembered because I was benefiting from pre-noon virgin grease, but they were in fact undercooked.

In addition to being pale and limp, they tasted wholly unseasoned. I couldn't even detect any salt beyond the ambient salt that works its way into one's pores upon opening a fast food door. Instead of actual rings, The King uses mashed up bits of onion glued back together, but at least had the decency to form them back into rings. That didn't help the taste. These bad things were stretchy and flavorless and didn't even have the gumption to foul my breath.

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The chicken fries aren't up to the McNugget level by any means but a person of sound mind could prefer their shape and sauce to the Wendy's chicken chunks.

The breading is heavily seasoned in a way that mostly obscures the chicken underneath. The overall construction is fairly unibody, which I'm told is a good thing in a truck chassis but seems a curious choice for fried chicken. It's hard to manually separate the meat from its sleeve, and upon doing so you notice that the chicken tastes like over-salted broth.

But since the breading has a good peppery zip and salty chicken broth isn't all bad, these are a reasonable option, especially if you like the Zesty sauce, which looks like yellowed Thousand Island but has the decency to taste like horseradish and tomato paste in a way that vaguely resembles the all-you-can-eat shrimp cocktail buffet at your better Las Vegas car washes or lower-end bar mitzvahs.

About the author: Will Gordon loves life and hates mayonnaise. You can drink with him in Boston or follow him on twitter @WillGordonAgain.

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