The Back Road: Fast-food confessions

The Back Road: Fast-food confessions

By Andrew Malekoff

My first taste of fast-food was a revelation. It was 1965, I was a 14-year-old Jersey kid and had just started a summer job selling magazines door-to-door in neighborhoods from Newark to the Jersey Shore.

One afternoon for lunch the manager, a 30-something guy, drove my two co-workers and me to a burger joint called “Carrols” located off Route 22 in North Jersey. When I stepped inside and looked up at the menu board, they featured burgers for 15-cents. I did a double-take. Wait! What! Why didn’t anyone tell me about this before?

And so my fast-food education began.

Sometime thereafter, I discovered a place called McDonalds, also on Route 22. I had to check it out. I found a ride and ordered 10 burgers for $1.50.

I was clueless and unconcerned about the nutritional value, or lack thereof, of fast-food burgers and fries. I just liked the taste and quantity available at an affordable price, especially for a young guy like me. I felt like I was really starting to live it up.

All of this happened well before the outrageous eating competitions that have become a part of contemporary American culture, such as Nathan’s Famous July 4th hot dog eating competition. I was never a participant, per se, just a blooming gourmand, always with an eye out for “all-you-can-eat” restaurant promotions. One of my favorites was Howard Johnson’s Friday night all-you-can eat fried clams or shrimp. I received a lot of dirty looks from the wait staff on those excursions. They needed roller blades to keep up with me.

Despite the variety of establishments like KFC, Taco Bell, Popeyes, Arby’s, and so forth, for my money the kings and queens of fast-food staples are the places that continue to headline burgers and fries. Don’t get me wrong: the others have good menu choices. However, just as there are “strict constructionists” who interpret the U.S. Constitution from an “original intent” perspective, that is how I interpret fast-food – burgers and fries.

As I aged, I gradually fell out of the fast-food phase of my life. I was still a “big eater,” but not a “foodie” per se. My choices became a bit more refined. In time, I had enough disposable income to choose more upscale joints and I became more nutrition savvy. Somewhat, that is.

Now I am retired and in my 70s. As might be expected, I have health issues to contend with. Consequently, there has been another shift in my food choices and going-out-to-eat frequency. I tend to eat smaller portions with more nutritional value. I try anyway.

What I never anticipated, I confess, is that I would one day suddenly start to obsess over fast-food, some 60 years after I first walked into Carrols.

That day has come.

My current preoccupation started when I spotted a Burger King circular inside Newsday. I didn’t need a discount, but the ad triggered me. I hadn’t had Burger King in years. After seeing that circular, which included about 20 different discount choices, the craving got under my skin. I couldn’t shake it.

To guarantee due diligence, I googled nutrition facts. I narrowed my research to comparing McDonald’s Big Macs and Burger King’s Whoppers. I googled, “Which one is healthier?” Regrettably, I found nothing that would justify me getting back in the game.

On one website they advised, based on a 2,000-calorie diet, one of these burgers without cheese or fries contains about 60% of one’s daily value for fat and saturated fat, 40% of daily value for sodium, and 56% of daily value for protein.

“Eating a diet that is high in saturated fat can cause high cholesterol, which can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke,” another website cautioned.

The “experts” did say that eating one of these tasty treats from time to time won’t kill you. However, the burgers are not likely to fully digest in one’s system before 72 hours. I thought I could do without continuous heartburn for three days. In my hour of yearning, though, I decided it was worth the risk.

Since then I’ve settled on a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with cheese, a Burger King Whopper and a Wendy’s breakfast chicken sandwich, all with fries.

Incidentally, during my research I discovered that Carrols Restaurant Group became the largest Burger King franchisee in the world. Wow! Full circle. Since 1976, Carrols has owned and operates more than 1,000-plus Burger Kings, in locations across 23 U.S. states. Who knew, all these many years later that Carrols, the first place I tasted fast-food, would take over Burger King, my current fixation.

I cannot end without noting that a White Castle slider is still the best fast-food burger bargain for your money. The slider never made it into my teenage rotation, even though in 1965 it was only 12 cents and then 14 cents in 1967. Today, a slider is still a great buy at 72 cents.

Oops, I gotta go! Just received a notification from my new Burger King app.

I best go see wassup!

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