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Authenticity is all
james_nicoll
Which company consistently offers the most authentic American fast-food experience? I don't want a fast-food experience that is muddled and compromised.

Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comment(s); comment here or there.

Well, you're entitled to your insane opinions, but you're wrong about White Castle.

Besides its standard fast-food place qualifications I'd like to point out its subtle evoking of the 1920s-30s Hygiene and Clean Food movements. The places are, at least by design, white, inside and out, with the implication of untouched-by-human-hands preparation of food which made the mass marketing of industrially prepared food so appealing to the first generation that grew up thinking that food could actually be tested for sanitary preparation. It's not just emblematic of fast food; it's also of a piece with a great American historical movement.


And cute little burgers, square!

Well said-- and I admire the touch of scholarship there-- but I prefer [HIGGINS quickly googles to learn the restaurant's canonical orthography] Steak 'n Shake, another avatar of the same aesthetic. Stark black and white tile, gleaming metal trim, accented by red neon light.

The slogans they used when I began eating there in the Seventies (not all of which have survived since) spoke from a long-ago era: the straightforward "Famous for Steakburgers," the more bewildering "In Sight-- It Must Be Right*," the hucksterish neologism "TAKHOMASAK," the tautological "It's A Meal."

I liked the sensation of time travel. Also, I have become fond of their shakes.

*Depression-era stool-squatters could watch the chef grind steak and grill burgers, assuring themselves that the claimed ingredients were really going into the meal ordered. Apparently there was reason to suspect that operators of other greasy spoons might be pulling a fast one.

Good shakes, iconic shakes, yes.

The Steak 'N' Shake in Springfield Missouri (wait, there's more than one... the one on Glenstone IIRC) is near an auditorium on the Drury College campus where big acts used to play in the 1970s. The Who, Elvis, and others ate there before and after concerts. Last time I was there, it was still good. The one in Topeka isn't as good for some reason; less leftover Elvis molecules, I guess.

From Roger Ebert's 2009 tribute to Steak 'n Shake:
If I were on Death Row, my last meal would be from Steak 'n Shake. If I were to take President Obama and his family to dinner and the choice were up to me, it would be Steak 'n Shake--and they would be delighted. If the Pope were to ask where he could get a good plate of spaghetti in America, I would reply, "Your Holiness, have you tried the Chili Mac or the Chili 3-Ways?"

A downstate Illinois boy loves the Steak 'n Shake as a Puerto Rican loves rice and beans, an Egyptian loves falafel, a Brit loves banger and mash, an Indian loves tikki ki chaat, a Swede loves herring, a Finn loves reindeer jerky, and a Canadian loves bran muffins. These matters do not involve taste. They involve a deep-seated conviction that a food is absolutely right, and always has been, and always will be. These convictions are fixed at an early age. I do not expect to convert you.

[...]

My Steak 'n Shake fetish is not unique. On an early visit to the Letterman Show, during a commercial break, I said to David:

"I hear you're from Indianapolis, home of the head office of Steak 'n Shake."

"In Sight, It Must be Right," he said. Our eyes locked in unspoken communion.

"Four Ways to Enjoy," I said.

"Car, table, counter, or TakHomaSak," he replied.

"Specializing in Selected Foods..."

"...with a Desire to Please the Most Discriminating."

"Thanks for Your Liberal Patronage..."

David didn't blink an eye or miss a beat. We had both obviously memorized the original menu. "...signed, A. H. (Gus) Belt, founder," he said, and we shared a nod of great satisfaction. Augustus H. Belt founded Steak 'n Shake in 1934, and after three changes in ownership over the years, it still preserves the original logos, mottoes, typography, design, approach, philosophy and, most crucially, recipes. The founder built well.
So I think we know what Mr. Ebert's answer to James's question would be.

The establishment on Green Street in Champaign, where Roger was introduced to Steak 'n Shake, was also the location of my own first encounter with the brand. A bond we share.



P.S. Bran muffins?

Bran Muffins?

I don't understand the question. With dates or raisins added for extra flavour and sweetness, for many years they were a regular part of the diet for many Canadians. They seem to have fallen out of favour as people eat more fresh vegetables and have a greater variety of muffin types to choose from.

This was not something I had previously known about the Canadian diet.

Probably a factor of the Canadian diet at some point in time. I don't know if the bran muffin is ubiquitous or if was a regional thing in Canada.

For the longest time Winnipeg seemed to be one of the few places in Canada where you could get good coarse garlic sausage, pyrogies, beet borscht, tortiere (pardon my spelling, the francophone part of my heritage was lost when my grandmother passed away in the 1950s), pickerel (walleye pike to people in other regions) and a few other tasty foods. Now most of there things seem to be readily available anywhere I go in the country, except perhaps saskatoon pie but that is difficult to find in Manitoba as well.

White Castle burgers are kind of terrible by any rational standard, but I've consumed enough of them on occasion (at the urging of a hardcore fan) to notice how you they make you crave more.

With McDonald's it's a little different: McDonald's for many years somehow had the ability to make me forget how disappointing their burgers were after a sufficient period of not eating them.

But I still sincerely like Egg McMuffins. Most of the big, awful fast-food chains' breakfast-sandwich offerings are pretty good, actually. I guess it's something that's hard to get wrong.

"But I still sincerely like Egg McMuffins. Most of the big, awful fast-food chains' breakfast-sandwich offerings are pretty good, actually. I guess it's something that's hard to get wrong."

I have found the same thing though I cannot eat any that offer "sausage" as one of the fillings. I love sausage normally but there is something not quite right, for me, in the breakfast sandwiches that contain that greyish meat.


Yeah, the sausage ones are never as good as the ones with bacon (either back/Canadian or US-style).

White Castle burgers are kind of terrible by any rational standard, but I've consumed enough of them on occasion (at the urging of a hardcore fan)

I am laughing so hard right now.

I usually end up eating a McDonald's breakfast about once a year, generally to remind myself why I only do so once a year.

When I was taking data for and writing my Ph.D. thesis, I subsisted entirely on McDonald's cheeseburgers, because one data-taking cycle was just long enough for me to start it running, run across the street to McDonald's, get the Value Meal of whatever they had ready to go right away (which generally meant cheeseburgers), get back to my office and eat it at my desk, finishing just in time to start the next data-taking cycle.

After several months of that, it put me off their burgers completely. I'll still eat McNuggets, when I have to, but I haven't had a burger from McDonald's since 1999.

In fast-food experiences, I really like Five Guys, where I like both the burgers and fries quite a bit. They also give you the traditional American element of excess, by filling a cup with fries, putting it in the bag with your order, then dumping another scoop of fries in on top of it.

I'm actually fond of Fuddruckers, despite their stupid name and relatively high prices; that's getting out of true fast food into premium-burger territory. I wouldn't call it an authentic anything, but the buffalo burgers and chicken sandwiches taste good, some locations now have Coke Freestyle fountain machines, and the shakes are excellent.

All of these places will, of course, kill you dead and are probably evil in hundred political, environmental and labor-related ways, which makes me feel slightly guilty about even having fun talking about them. I remember a discussion about Coke vs. Pepsi on John Scalzi's blog where this guy kept interjecting with pictures of, I think, Central American death-squad victims until Scalzi gave him the boot.

In general white castle burgers are terrible, but I like their breakfast food. The eggs are recognizable as eggs, not blended goop.

The Egg McMuffin is genuinely good, in fact (warning: heresy approaching) it is better than the Eggs Benedict that is its source and inspiration (opinion fueled by the fact that I despise Hollandaise sauce.

It's not perfect of course; using a better cheese would be a good start to improving it.

I didn't say they were not the iconic American fast food restaurant. I said the food, though likely sanitary, was horrid. I have never had heartburn from eating a single miniscule hamburger before in my life and the fries would have been sufficient to attach roofing shingles to my house if they had any sort of head on them. Any appreciation would seem to me to be an acquired taste.