It’s always entertaining to review the descriptions foodservice marketers and celebrity chefs develop to position their creations as the ultimate in dining excellence.
For example: You’re not ordering pasta with cheese and tomatoes, not at Lilia’s, one of New York City’s high-profile Italian restaurants. Instead, your Primi Pasta course consists of “Rigatoni Diavola, San Marzano Tomatoes, Chilies, Italian Oregano and Pecorino” (sheep’s milk cheese).
Such literary license, as it were, is understandable at a white tablecloth establishment that will soak a party of four for a couple-three Franklins — gratuity not included — for drinks, dinner and dessert. And as a bonus, the poetic language gives diners a whiff of the rarified air occupied by epicurean genius back in the kitchen as they peruse the restaurant’s elegant menu, preferably one written solely in French or Italian.
But when the florid word salads that are merely a second language for the culinary elite are applied to the selections on a fast-food menuboard, it comes close to outright comedy.
Take Arby’s as an example.
In anticipation of the arrival of summer, the fast-food chain famous for its WE HAVE THE MEATS tagline is bringing back its Bourbon BBQ line — for a limited time only, of course — featuring three different sandwiches: The Bourbon BBQ Steak sandwich, the Bourbon BBQ Brisket sandwich and the Bourbon BBQ Triple Stack.
That last item is the one garnering media coverage.
As the chain’s website describes it, the Bourbon BBQ Triple Stack features “Barrel-aged Kentucky bourbon barbecue sauce on top of beef brisket that’s smoked for 13 hours, USDA Choice Angus steak, buttermilk [breaded] chicken filet, brown sugar-cured bacon, natural cheddar and crispy onions.”
(Regarding the bourbon: It should be noted that distillers in Kentucky got Congress to enact a law in 1964 requiring that any whiskey labeled as “Kentucky Bourbon” had to be aged in “virgin oak casks, which have been charred or fired on the inside.” In other words, all Kentucky bourbon is “barrel-aged,” not just the few drops of liquor Arby’s adds to the barbecue sauce slathered on its Bourbon BBQ sandwiches).
Excess … or Exceptionalism?
But you have to give Arby’s credit. Aside from the over-the-top language, the Bourbon BBQ Triple Stack is one of those fast-food specialties that gets food editors and cultural commentators totally fired up — either to denounce what they consider the personification of dietary excess, or to celebrate a sandwich they characterize as a symbol of American foodservice exceptionalism.
A great example of the latter is the review that appeared on the foodie website Delish.com:
“The limited-time Bourbon BBQ Triple Stack is a true behemoth. It somehow manages to get all three meats, brown sugar bacon, crispy onion strings, cheddar cheese, bourbon BBQ sauce, yellow mustard and Worcestershire sauce in between two buns. This big guy has 910 calories and a whopping 65 grams of protein in it, so while it’s pretty unlikely you’ll finish it in one sitting, for the challenge-accepted type, it could be fun to try.”
Fun to try eating it in one sitting? Hey, we’re Americans. We don’t tackle triple-stack sandwiches or 72-ounce steaks for fun; we finish those entrées as an athletic event.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Arby’s has ratcheted up the meat-o-meter by introducing menu items that take protein provision to unprecedented levels, including:
- The Meat Mountain, which stacks all of the chain’s various meats into a single sandwich: chicken tenders, roast turkey, ham, corned beef, beef brisket, Angus steak, roast beef, and pepper bacon. According to what has become in-house lore, the concept was originally suggested by a customer, caught on as a gag, and as I can testify personally, quickly became a teen-age male rite of passage that allowed Arby’s to reap a tidal wave of social media adulation.
- Gyro Loaded Curly Fries, which consist of a big ol’ bowl of French fries topped with a Greek gyro blend of lamb, beef and Mediterranean spices, plus tzatziki sauce (yogurt, garlic and lemon), tomatoes, red onions and gyro seasoning.
- And for the holidays in 2017, the company created and marketed a line of “meaty” sweatshirts and matching sweat pants that were printed with all of the meat and poultry choices available at its restaurants.
No word on whether customers dining at an Arby’s store while wearing the full sweatsuit would be awarded a free soft drink of their choice.
Whether you commend or condemn the nutritional status of giant fast-food sandwiches, it must be recognized that from pricey French restaurants that require political connections to secure a reservation to the creep-and-crawl line of vehicles maneuvering through a fast-food drive-thru, all of foodservice is in the entertainment business.
And while Arby’s menu might not be considered top of the line by culinary purists, the chain’s ability to generate media buzz is a thing of beauty.
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.