REVIEW: McDonald’s Italian and Greek McTasters (Canada)

McDonald's Italian McTaster

I’m going to admit it: I liked the McPizza.

I ordered it quite a few times during its brief but memorable life, and I mourned for its little pizza soul when it inevitably got pulled from the menu (because let’s face it, pizza at McDonald’s was never going to be a thing, as much as they pushed hard to make it happen).

It’s okay, McPizza: you’re in McDonald’s heaven now, partying with the Super Hero Burger and trading war stories with the McDLT.

So when I heard that McDonald’s was taking another culinary excursion to Italy (and stopping off in Greece for good measure), I got pretty excited. It’s never going to fill the McPizza-sized hole in my heart, but then is anything ever going to fill that hole? No. The answer to that question is no.

McDonald's Italian McTaster 2

Happily, the Italian leg of Ronald McDonald’s European tour was actually pretty satisfying. The Italian McTaster consists of a Junior Chicken patty, topped with lettuce, tomato, parmesan and herb sauce, and parmesan flakes, all on a ciabatta bun (dubbed an “artisan-style bun” in a further attempt by the fast food chains to make the word artisan completely meaningless).

McDonald's Italian McTaster 3

I enjoyed it. The herby, slightly garlicky sauce works in tandem with the salty Parmesan to give the sandwich a nice zingy kick of flavour, and the lettuce and tomato adds some welcome freshness. The chicken was a standard-issue Junior Chicken patty, and the chewy ciabatta bun suited it quite well.

However, like a vacation that doesn’t quite know when to end, the Greek McTaster wraps things up on a sour note.

McDonald's Greek McTaster

It consists of a standard beef patty (the smaller one, not the Quarter Pounder or the Angus) topped with lettuce, tomato, red onion, feta cheese, and Mediterranean olive sauce. It’s basically a Greek salad on a burger, which doesn’t sound like a horrible idea in theory, but the execution is off. Despite the inclusion of assertive flavours like salty feta and briny black olives, the flavour here is oddly muddled and far more muted than you’d think it would be. It’s a half-hearted melange of flavours that never comes together or stands out in any meaningful way.

McDonald's Greek McTaster 2

The mediocre patty doesn’t help matters, though after the uncharacteristically tasty patty in the last McDonald’s burger I reviewed, its badness is actually weirdly comforting. McDonald’s beef shouldn’t taste particularly good; it should be inoffensively lousy, with a dry, crumbly texture and no particular flavour. That’s just the way things are supposed to be.

McDonald's Greek McTaster 3

A patty like that needs the toppings to do the heavy lifting, and the toppings here just aren’t up to the task.

Although the chewy, dense ciabatta bun works quite well in the Italian McTaster, the bun proves to be a little bit too hearty for the diminutive beef patty. It’s overwhelming.

The quality difference between the two McTasters becomes even more pronounced when you have both sandwiches in front of you and you’re alternating between the two. The Italian has a nice contrast of textures, with flavours that really pop. The Greek…does not have those things.

So for those keeping track: the McPizza-sized hole in my heart? Still unfilled. Your move, Ronald. Your move.

(Nutrition Facts – Italian McTaster – 370 calories, 18 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0.2 grams of trans fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 810 milligrams of sodium, 40 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fibre, 12 grams of protein. Greek McTaster – 330 calories, 17 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0.4 grams of trans fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 690 milligrams of sodium, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fibre, 14 grams of protein.)

Item: McDonald’s Italian and Italian McTasters (Canada)
Purchased Price: $2.99 CAN (each)
Size: N/A
Purchased at: McDonald’s
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Italian)
Rating: 4 out of 10 (Greek)
Pros: Italian has a nice combo of crispy chicken and tasty toppings. Chewy bun suits the chicken well.
Cons: Greek features a mediocre patty with bland toppings that can’t quite save it. Chewy bun overwhelms the small hamburger. Profound McPizza-related sadness.

REVIEW: McDonald’s Jolly Burger (Canada)

McDonalds Jolly Burger 1

Ever since McDonald’s (and pretty much every other fast food joint) started storing pre-cooked patties in those weird food drawers, their burgers have ranged from “dry” to “super dry” all the way to “oh my lord is that dry.”

Imagine my shock and befuddlement, then, when not only was the Quarter Pounder patty in my Jolly Burger not dry, but actually kind of juicy. A juicy patty at McDonald’s? Where’s the weird, pebbly texture? Where’s the dessicated beef that crumbles into dry little meat granules? What is this wizardry?

I don’t know if McDonald’s have somehow improved their process, or if I just got lucky with a one-off burger that happened to be fresh from the griddle. I suspect the latter, but I would love to be wrong.

McDonalds Jolly Burger 2

The patty even had a decent beefy flavour that I would categorize as “not unpleasant,” so basically the whole experience made me wonder if Ronald McDonald had snuck into my house and Incepted me.

But of course, the bigger question is how the toppings were; even if I just got very lucky with the patty (and I suspect that I did), the toppings will be more consistent no matter which McDonald’s you go to.

They were pretty tasty!

McDonalds Jolly Burger 3

The star of the show is the creamy peppercorn sauce. It tastes kind of like a variation on peppercorn gravy, with a sweet, pleasantly zesty flavour, and a kick of savoury oomph that complements the burger well. 

The grilled onions were a touch undercooked, with a bit more bite than you’d probably want, but otherwise added more savouriness and blended quite well with the peppercorn sauce.  

The combined sweetness of the sauce and the griddled onions might have been sweet overload, but the two slices of melty processed white cheddar added a nice dose of saltiness to round out the sweet.

McDonalds Jolly Burger 4

As for the one piece of leaf lettuce, it seemed present more for colour than anything else; it added nothing to the taste or texture of the burger.

The whole thing comes on a cross-split bun, which basically tasted like a slightly denser, heartier version of what you’d find on a Quarter Pounder. It was a good fit for the burger at hand.

McDonald’s bills this burger as “holiday-inspired,” and yeah, with the gravy-like sauce and the savoury grilled onions, I can see it. It’s not exactly a turkey dinner, but it’s probably about as holiday-appropriate as you’re going to get from the golden arches.

(Nutrition Facts – 540 calories, 28 grams of fat, 13 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 90 milligrams of cholesterol, 1220 milligrams of sodium, 42 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fibre, 8 grams of sugar, 29 grams of protein..)

Item: McDonald’s Jolly Burger (Canada)
Purchased Price: $5.69 CAN
Size: N/A
Purchased at: McDonald’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Juicy, mildly flavourful patty. Blend of zesty peppercorn sauce, savoury grilled onions and salty cheese is quite tasty. Hearty cross-split bun.
Cons: Slightly undercooked onions. Borderline too sweet. Getting Incepted by Ronald McDonald.

REVIEW: McDonald’s Kale & Feta More-Ning McWrap (Canada)

McDonald's Kale & Feta More-Ning McWrap

Over the last few weeks, an overwhelming amount of attention has been paid to McDonald’s breakfast menu — specifically, to the Golden Arches finally ceding to popular demand and serving that menu all day.

Sadly, despite being bombarded with news articles and ads, we don’t get to partake in your newfangled “all day breakfast” up here in Canada. So I had to suffer the indignity of leaving the house before 10:00 AM. On a weekend. Like a farmer.

I think the first thing I have to note is that the name of these wraps just does not make sense at all. More-Ning? What does that even mean? What’s a Ning? Why would I want more of it? I guess it’s supposed to be a pun? Apparently someone at McDonald’s didn’t get the memo that puns are supposed to make sense.

Inscrutable wordplay aside, McDonald’s has introduced two breakfast wraps: Sausage & Hash Brown, and Kale & Feta.

I went with the Kale & Feta, which consists of scrambled eggs, feta cheese, baby kale, and a few slices of tomato, all wrapped up in a whole wheat tortilla. That’s it. No sauce, no seasoning — it’s literally just those four ingredients (mostly kale) crammed into a dry tortilla.

This was especially off-putting in the first few bites, which consisted entirely of plain kale and tortilla; it was surprisingly horrifying. There are some vegetables that can be eaten on their own without any dressing or accompaniment; kale is not one of them.

Things improved somewhat once I got to the other three ingredients at the centre of the wrap… but not by much.

There’s something missing here; it doesn’t taste good. It’s not the quality of the ingredients, which were fine. The scrambled eggs were a little dry and way underseasoned, but they were decent enough. And they were downright gourmet when you compare them to the rubbery yellow slabs of sadness that they pass off as eggs at some other fast food joints (Tim Hortons, I’m looking squarely in your direction).

The kale and tomatoes were both reasonably fresh, and the crumbled feta gives the wrap a bit of a salty kick, trying valiantly bring some flavour and personality — an uphill battle that it just can’t win.

McDonald's Kale & Feta More-Ning McWrap 2

It’s odd; though the ingredients are all okay, they don’t taste particularly good in this configuration. I’m gonna be blunt: this thing tastes like you went dumpster diving at a health food store and then crammed a few ingredients at random into a tortilla.

What this wrap really needs is something — anything — to lubricate things and provide some flavour. Maybe if the kale had been tossed in a vinaigrette, or if it had been cooked, then this wrap could have been half-way edible. But here — raw, undressed, and abundant — it was a bit of an endurance test.

I actually really enjoyed McDonald’s last foray into the world of kale, the I’m Greek-ing Out salad (which also had the benefit of being named with a pun that actually made sense), so I’m not inherently biased against kale at McDonald’s.

But though that salad was ostensibly healthy, it had enough dressing and other tasty bits to remind you that you were at McDonald’s, and not the cafeteria at your local gym. The Kale & Feta McWrap, on the other hand, tastes like health food through-and-through. It’s tastes like the type of health food that gives health food a bad name.

It might just be the worst thing I’ve ever had from McDonald’s — and I tried the McOnion Bits.

(Nutrition Facts – 400 calories, 19 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0.4 grams of trans fat, 420 milligrams of cholesterol, 840 milligrams of sodium, 37 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of fibre, 3 grams of sugar, 21 grams of protein.)

Item: McDonald’s Kale & Feta More-Ning McWrap (Canada)
Purchased Price: $3.99 CAN
Size: N/A
Purchased at: McDonald’s
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Decent eggs. Fresh veggies.
Cons: Tastes like a health food store dumpster. Ingredients don’t work well together. Dry. Raw kale overload. Desperately needs some kind of dressing. McOnion Bits flashbacks.

REVIEW: McWhopper

McWhopper 1

Burger King tried to get McDonald’s to combine their two flagship sandwiches into one hybrid behemoth named the “McWhopper.”

It was proposed to promote World Peace Day. BK built a plan and posted full-page ads in a couple newspapers, reaching out to McDonald’s in the name of “peace.” It even created a website.

McDonald’s said no.

There’s all this boring marketing analysis stuff: McDonald’s is recently down in sales blah blah, Burger King has something like half as many stores blah blah, fast food ads aren’t as effective blah blah blah. Whatever. The McWhopper is not going to happen, at least not officially. So the I decided to go ahead and make my own McWhopper to give it a try to see if I “love havin’ it your way, right away, ba da-da-da-dah.”

Since it takes two restaurant trips to construct the chimera, I mapped out the nearest two franchises to the lab, which were .4 miles away from each other. Burger King first, then McDonald’s. At 2:23 p.m. I had Whopper in hand along with a few extra packets of Heinz tomato ketchup. Five minutes later I arrived to the McDonald’s and at 2:33 p.m. the entire shebang was together. An extra trip back to the laboratory took a few more minutes and after all the construction was done, it was 2:55 p.m.

That’s 32 minutes from the start of the project to eating time. That’s not an ideal amount to wait before eating a fast food burger, sure, and it would be a bit cold. But if you think the McWhopper is a good idea, your time probably isn’t worth that much anyway. And this is considering that all of the ingredients were acquired during relatively off peak hours with little to no wait at the register with locations pretty close in proximity.

McWhopper 2
Big Mac Parts

McWhopper 3
Whopper Parts

Extraction is stunningly easy. The McWhopper calls for the top bun, one beef patty, the cheese, chopped lettuce, special sauce and middle bun from the Big Mac and the tomato, onion, ketchup, pickles, flame-grilled patty and bottom bun from the Whopper. It is a bit of a mess but other than some sauce and lettuce flung about, the ingredients are simple to separate. The things that aren’t featured on the McWhopper are the Whopper’s lettuce, which is a bit chunkier, and the Big Mac’s pickles and onions, which are dinkier. And in theory the Whopper’s mayonnaise, but that is difficult to get completely off the patty.

McWhopper 4

The sandwich is basically a Whopper wearing a Big Mac hat. This method is also necessary, at least in the home version, to avoid being top heavy because the Whopper is considerably wider. The McWhopper’s shape ends up looking like a Machu Picchu pyramid if the Incas worshipped obesity, or Grimace.

The taste is surprisingly decent for a lukewarm fast food offering. The most striking contrast is the sodium hum of the special sauce against the char-grill patty. The combination accentuates the sweetness of the Big Mac qualities and the earthiness of the Whopper, which completes a satisfying union. The fact that these qualities jump out really underlines what these companies want us to remember about these burgers. On the Big Mac even the meat plays second fiddle to the special sauce, with extra bread to dull out the taste. The Whopper has a facsimile of that coat-the-mouth backyard grill flavor and it ambushes the eater, while all the other ingredients aside from the ketchup work to restrain it.

I also got an extra order of Big Mac sauce—which came in a four piece Chicken McNugget container—and spread more on with a higher ratio of ketchup from Burger King, which gave it all a tart kick, and a wet slather that eventually spilled out the sides of the sandwich. Shout out to Carl’s Jr.

The pickles, in particular, added a crunch here and there. The tomatoes and onions and lettuce did not add much but did not detract. There is a ton of bread at play here, and with the added heft of vegetables and a larger second patty, it’s a substantial burger. The Whopper’s bread seems chewier than McDonald’s softer bun, but it is tough to differentiate when it’s taken in at once. The McWhopper suffers a little bit from being monotonous texture-wise, but this one is cobbled together from spare parts, so it’s understandable. Frankenstein could walk and talk like a human but he was still green and had bolts in his neck. Pobody’s nerfect.

McWhopper 5

The entire McWhopper affair hits some nice notes and really avoids being offensive in any way. The interplay amongst the ingredients works well and for people well versed in fast food burgers there is just about nothing unexpected. If you’ve had both the Whopper and the Big Mac before, you can probably imagine how this would taste, and you would be right. It’s almost disappointing how much of a train wreck the McWhopper isn’t.

In my hazy memories, BK’s Big Mac rip off Big King was bad and Mickey D’s Whopper wannabe Big N’ Tasty was okay. Whatever you think of the Big Mac, it seems harder to deliver a sandwich with a distinct (and maybe boring) taste than it is to make a sometimes-mediocre version of a backyard burger. McDonald’s seems to be in the power position here, which is probably why they nixed the idea. Still, it reminded me of this.

Another note is the price of each burger. At least in my neighborhood, the price of the Big Mac and Whopper are exactly the same at $4.19—which seems strange—like they are price fixing us, or both companies are really owned by the Koch brothers.

The McWhopper is surely not an original idea. Thousands of children have probably joked about it and dozens if not hundreds of stoners have carried out the experiment. The time and effort and combined price do not pay out in a way that makes this a regular dining option, although the work put into the construction of the homemade McWhopper gives a slight illusion of cooking, which fosters a feeling of accomplishment. It is an interesting undertaking that seems like it has unique roots in these two signature sandwiches. Who cares if KFC and Popeyes put out a fried chicken? Or Subway and Quiznos made a sub? I wouldn’t eat that. Even for world peace.

(Nutrition Facts – Big Mac Parts – 465.2 calories, 27 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 80 milligrams of cholesterol, 770 milligrams of sodium, 31.4 grams of carbohydrates, 6.62 grams of sugar, 2.3 grams of fiber, and 22.26 grams of protein. Whopper Parts – 338 calories, 20.5 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 1.5 grams of trans fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol, 595 milligrams of sodium, 28 grams of carbohydrates, 8.5 grams of sugar, 17.5 grams of protein.)

Item: McWhopper
Purchased Price: $4.19 (Whopper) $4.19 (Big Mac)
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Burger King and McDonald’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Tastes intermingle well. Feels like cooking.
Cons: Time spent making it will leave it lukewarm. Textural monotony. Expensive.

REVIEW: McDonald’s Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich

McDonald's Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich

If McDonald’s took its chicken sandwich menu and made it into one of those evolution progress pictures of the monkey slowly crawling out of the sludge and walking upright, the Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich would be somewhere on the right side, while dollar menu stalwart McChicken would be somewhere on the left.

That’s not to trash the McChicken, of course. On some days I would rather be a half-fish, half-monkey thing wandering around just chillin’, eating snacks on an island. Maybe I’ll eat a coconut today. Maybe I’ll eat some sand. Can I digest sand? Oh, it’s time for bed? G’nite!

The Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich boasts a buttermilk crispy chicken filet, an artisan roll, tomato, lettuce, and mayonnaise. That’s only a handful of ingredients, which is good news, because I can’t count past five. (My developmental years were spent eating McDonald’s.) But the low number also means they are putting stock into each element. It mostly pays off.

The chicken patty itself has a particularly fine breading and a nice uniform texture throughout the meat. The breading is also a bit grittier, which gives each bite a little more crunch. At first taste, it comes off a bit over-salted, but as the entire sandwich is taken in, the flavor seems to even out. The protein is a step up in quality from the other chicken offerings, but it’s unclear what part buttermilk actually plays in the cooking process. Doused? Marinated? Friends with benefits? Admired from afar for many years?

McDonald's Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich 2

The artisan roll is the same one featured on all the other premium McDonald’s sandwiches. It’s soft, chewy, and a suitable springboard for this sandwich. The tomato is unspectacular but inoffensive and the lettuce has a decent snap that breaks up the monotony. In fact, the entire item is a textural success, with almost every bite featuring a spectrum of feelings, like a teenage romance.

If there is a complaint, it is of the mayonnaise. I will concede that on my particular sandwich the construction was uneven—the “mayonnaise dressing” was applied in a glob on one side and sparsely on the other. So your mileage may vary, but my bites that contained the mayo spread were pretty overpowering. They actually reminded me a lot of the taste of the McChicken, which is often doused in the stuff like it came out of a fire hose. That treatment seems especially egregious since this sandwich is around three bucks more than the McChicken.

The quality is there and so is the price. Is the Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich three times better than a McChicken as the price would indicate? I’m not sure. While it has all the trappings of a higher quality sandwich, if I were scratching that chicken itch, I don’t know if I would regularly splurge. Now, if McDonald’s made a sandwich out of that half-fish, half-monkey thing, I would be all over it. But they’d probably only offer it in Norway or something.

(Nutrition Facts – 580 calories, 220 calories from fat, 24 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 65 grams of cholesterol, 900 milligrams of sodium, 62 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 11 grams of sugar, 29 grams of protein.)

Item: McDonald’s Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich
Purchased Price: $4.79
Size: N/A
Purchased at: McDonald’s
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Great texture. Chicken is quality compared with previous chicken offerings. Artisan bun is soft.
Cons: Could be too salty for some. Globs of mayonnaise. Pricey.