Sunday, April 25, 2010

Guest Blogger, Erik Pepple, laughs in the face of the Yumpocalypse

My history of ingesting terrible things is a long and sordid one, punctuated by tales of heartburn, indigestion, and food-based shame that would likely require a far better therapist than my current insurance plan allows and will inevitably end with me in a gastronomical Thunderdome where Master Blaster is a Burger King Quad Stacker and Mad Max is my heart. Yet I have continued to do this in regular intervals throughout my life, mostly because I apparently don’t learn lessons and hate my body.
Since I hadn’t indulged in the absurd end of ingestion of late and have been maintaining what one would consider a reasonable diet, I figured it was time to get back on that delicious gravy-filled horse and see what the hell I have been missing. Turns out it is the Double Down from Kentucky Fried Chicken.
KFC, the chain chicken shack for which I’ve always had a soft spot, has moved on to repurposing and recycling a few of its core ingredients into a stack of something approximating a sandwich. Let’s just go to the source on this one, shall we? Per KFC’s website:

The new KFC Double Down sandwich is real! This one-of-a-kind sandwich features two thick and juicy boneless white meat chicken filets (Original Recipe® or Grilled), two pieces of bacon, two melted slices of Monterey Jack and pepper jack cheese and Colonel's Sauce. This product is so meaty, there’s no room for a bun!”

Apart from the unsettling promise/threat of “Colonel’s Sauce” and KFC’s insistence that the sandwich is “real” and not just some sort fever dream magic sandwich conjured up at the saliva-soaked end of a joint, the Double Down seems ideal for an evening of artery pummeling.
In the interests of journalistic integrity, I ordered both the Grilled and Original Recipe®, although a grilled option here seems antithetical to the purpose of a sandwich intentionally designed to be absurd. If you’re ordering the Double Down and are so seriously considering the health implications that you think ordering it grilled will make a difference, then you may need to recalibrate your logic machine—if you’re going to take this plunge, then go all the way and get the fried version. Commit to something for once, man! Otherwise it’s like deciding to cheat on your spouse, making the plans, booking the hotel, buying some weird outfit, and then telling the lucky cheatee that it’s probably best to just sit in the hotel and watch Spectra Vision and talk. What I’m getting at is that Original Recipe® is not just vastly superior to the grilled, but the only way to eat this fast food construction deemed the unhealthiest sandwich on the market by the stats gurus at FiveThirtyEight (
Both sandwiches came wrapped in sticky wax paper, like the greasiest of fair food, which in this case is a reasonable presentation method. I started with the Original Recipe® and upon first glance it is somewhat jarring how inconsequential it seems. The promise of the advertisements make it seem like this is going to be the kind of thing that if it couldn’t choke a horse, would at least slowly lead it to the promised land on a skiff made of grease and bacon. As it stands it is a surprisingly manageable lump of faux-sandwich.

The first bite, like the first glimpse, was indeed jarring—it isn’t all that terrible. Sure the primary flavors are salt and the half-melted cheese slices and the crumbling, but reasonably juicy breaded chicken. All in all it tastes like any kind of mid-range appetizer at a chain restaurant. The next few bites are when it got sticky.
I’m not quite sure what is in the “Colonel’s Sauce”—the folks eating with me concluded it is some sort of unholy mixture of Thousand Island dressing and ketchup and/or mayo—but the watery orange substance that burst out of the center of the sandwich, like so much fruit goo from a piece of Bubblicious Burst, is a soggy, salty mess. At this point I decide to scrape out the orange-y center and replace it with gravy. Why? I guess because I am a dignified sort, like a classy butler or a guy who records books on tape about famous naval battles.
The gravy does improve the general flavor and nearing the last bite I’m left with not so much the feeling of shameful gluttony that generally comes with these things, but a shoulder shrug. It’s a battered and greased up “sandwich” that tastes like most fast food chicken concoctions.
Of course, this is before I got to the grilled version.
Thanks to Oprah’s relentless promotion and coupon giveaways, KFC’s line of grilled chicken products was met with the kind of ecstatic response usually reserved for the unveiling of Apple products or the second coming of Christ in a Camaro. The massive lines and uproar when KFC ran out of the grilled chicken was an unsettling glimpse into not just the power of Oprah and advertising, but a disturbing symptom of an economy in collapse.
The wax paper for the Double Down Grilled came soaked in the chicken juices and the Colonel’s secret spices, so soaked that when I picked up the sandwich the mess of brown simply oozed out of the wax paper and over my hands, plate, and beard. The grilled chicken works poorly as a bread substitute in comparison to the battered and fried version, simply because the batter hews much closer to a bread or bread-like substance. As for the flavor, well, it isn’t pretty. If the Original version simply tasted like a par-for-the-course chicken and cheese appetizer, this was decidedly rubbery and soggy with each bite becoming lost in a mess of gelatinous cheese slices and limp bacon. I couldn’t finish it and set it aside. As much as I enjoy the occasional lapse into ridiculous foodery, this was simply my limit for this kind of thing.

This brings me to a bigger point about “ridiculous eats.” The actual good ones are rare breeds indeed. Think of going to town on a pile of duck fat fries and antelope/buffalo sausage slathered in sheep’s milk cheese at Hot Doug’s or bulldozing through the Thurman Café’s Thurman Burger, a beautiful monstrosity of ham, beef, and a mountain of various toppings and that’s when one gets the idea of what a ridiculous plate of food can be at its best. In their own way they are gastronomical works of pop art—exaggerated and enlarged versions of familiar things that are made different or redefined, and in some cases made better by their very exaggeration or recasting—objets d’edibles. It also helps that they are foods created by actual craftspeople, folks who give a good goddamn about the whole enterprise and use the exercise of excess in the service of something more than shameless gluttony.
Created out of a need to repurpose, reuse, and recycle excess/overproduced ingredients the Double Down isn’t so much the mountain of ridiculousness that the ads would have one believe, but an object that exists as its own salty monument—to sodium, to fat, to the fact I paid six bucks for it, to a repurposing without purpose. It is a lot to place on a sandwich, but as each bite came closer to the bitter end, the simultaneous shame and joy (and there’s nothing I love more than simultaneous shame and joy) that can come with eating something so absurd dissipated into a mess of brown and a pile of goo in wax paper.

Verdict: The Original Recipe® is a decent enough piece of fast foodery. The Grilled? Not so much. Stick with something else on the KFC menu.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sign of the Yumpocalypse #1

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