If we were to compare fast food burger chains to global powers – and seriously, why would we? – then I’m apt to consider McDonald’s as somewhat akin to the British Empire.
Once the bastion of all fast food burger development, Ray Kroc’s hegemony of franchises long laid claim to influences far and wide, bringing such powerful and lucrative brands like the Big Mac to every corner of the globe. Hamburgers, fries, fountain sodas…they were dreadnaughts in this global proliferation of fast food hardware, and it wasn’t long until others – notably Otto von Burger King – began to challenge the idea that the sun would never set on the Golden Arches.
If you stare at the lights on in a 24-hour Micky D’s long enough in the wee hours of the morning you might argue that sun hasn’t really set. And McDonald’s burgers, much like Imperial Britain, have seen better days. Blame a shared case of pissing off locals due to the use beef byproducts, or just chalk it up to losing its influence thanks to two major Burger Wars, but the general consensus these days is that when it comes to hamburgers, McDonald’s offerings have regressed into a shadow of what they once tasted like and stood for.
Still, like the Falklands conflict or a really cool imported British TV comedy, McDonald’s is able to surprise us when it comes to hamburgers in some of the most unlikely of places.
I truly believe the new, dollar menu priced Grilled Onion Cheddar Burger is one of those surprises.
I have to say, it’s about time the dollar menu got a new friend. Ever since a relaunch a few years ago which took the four-piece McNuggets off the menu, I’ve been begrudgingly awaiting the day when the McDouble or McChicken would get bumped up to a 1.29 price tag. Fortunately that hasn’t happened, and if McDonald’s latest addition to the menu proves anything, it’s that they can still be innovative with their burger concepts at cheap skate price points.
Nobody in their right mind would claim a single McDonald’s kids burger patty is substantial, but somehow, someway, the Grilled Onion Cheddar feels more substantial than a standard cheeseburger. For you military types, consider the cheese and grilled onion mixture your classic force multiplier, if you will. The sweet onions have a slightly crisp texture and deep flavor, as if slowly caramelized in clarified butter of a flattop grill. Taken together with the patty, slightly squishy-sweet bun, and slice of milky, but processed, only-minimally-melted, yet still delectable, pasteurized cheese product, the onions somehow manage to make the burger.
The flavor is not so much in each bite but in each chew, with the – why yes, dare I say ‘meaty’ taste – coalescing into a sweet and chewy mesh of burger matter during the opening salvos of mechanical digestion. I consider the entire experience to be a triumph of McDonald’s burger innovation that we never saw coming. It is, to build on our analogy, the equivalent of the British victory in the Falklands Conflict packaged in one dollar hamburger form.
Like the British military operations carried out in that remote corner of the world in 1982, there are minor flaws to the burger’s strategy. I consider these mostly operational, and something that comes with any fast food hamburger.
Aside from unmelted cheese, McDonald’s only misstep here was choosing not to import the McDouble’s proven and curiously addictive combination of pickles, mustard, and ketchup to the chain’s latest value creation. Forget that the pickles could add major umami impact, but a bit of pungency from the mustard and the additional acidic sweetness of the ketchup would create a truly complete flavor combination that might just go unrivaled at the one dollar price point. How do I know? I added both, of course – on the third one of these I had in as many days.
Look, I get it. I realize it’s still a value sized burger – barely big enough as a snack for some people – and I realize it’s going to have the inherent fast food hamburger flaws. The game has changed though, and for a value burger in today’s market, McDonald’s Grilled Onion Cheddar Burger packs a flavorful punch that Wendy’s and Burger King just can’t match at the one dollar price point.
It might not be Admiral Lord Nelson smashing the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar, but in an ever-changing geoburger landscape, the McDonald’s Grilled Onion Cheddar Burger proves that Ray Kroc’s sun is still far from set.
(Nutrition Facts – 310 calories, 220 calories from fat, 13 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 660 milligrams of sodium, 33 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 15 grams of protein.)
Item: McDonald’s Grilled Onion Cheddar Burger
Purchased Price: $1.00
Purchased at: McDonald’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Force multiplying effect of sweet onion mixture add meaty flavors and big taste. Cheese tastes better than the usual insipid yellow stuff. Classic McDonald’s squishy bun. Using my history degree. Might be the best $1 hamburger on the mainstream fast food market.
Cons: Small sized patty. Not the beefiest flavor. Begging for pickles and mustard. Cheese needs to be more melted. The absurdity of comparing a value hamburger to geopolitical entities.