Location: 6428 Fairview Rd, 28210
Yes, it’s April 1st. This isn’t exactly an April Fool’s joke, though. In this review Hereford gets Black Car service to take him to the fanciest fast food joint in the Queen City and examine the eternal question, why do people eat at McDonald’s?
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “McDonald’s? Really? Don’t you have standards?”
To the first question is, yes, we’re doing a review of McDonald’s. The answer to the second question is more complicated.
McDonald’s is more than a restaurant. It’s a symbol for everything burger-related, even though no one I know truly loves their burgers. Actually, its reputation for nearly everything restaurant related—food, service, or atmosphere—is exceptionally poor. And yet we still eat there. I include myself in that. Although I write, consider, and care about burgers way more than any normal person should, I still eat McDonald’s. Frequently, even. I don’t even know if I could definitely say why that is. I wanted this review to try to answer that question.
I decided, however, if I’m going to do a review of McDonald’s, I should do it right. I should at least to go the second most fancy McDonald’s I’d ever seen: 1 the location on Fairview Rd across from SouthPark Mall.
I also decided that if I was going to go to a fancy McDonald’s, I might as well go in style. A few months ago a marketing manager from a professional driving service called BlackLane contacted us. They said they would provide us a complimentary test ride in exchange for a mention on our website. I ignored it at first, but this seemed like the perfect review for it!
My driver, JR, picked me up promptly at 5:35 in my driveway. He asked me where we were going. I said, “McDonald’s.” He said this was the first time he had ever taken someone to McDonald’s. “You mean, like as a destination?” I asked. “At all,” he said. He paused for a moment, then added “It is one of the better McDonald’s.”
He told me that earlier that day he had driven onto the tarmac at the airport to pick someone up from their private jet, and that they literally had a red carpet rolled out for them. I’m not sure which part of this fare was the biggest drop from that: having to take me, or having to drive to McDonald’s. (Incidentally, that’s JR’s car visible in the shot of McDonald’s above.)
The first thing you notice when you go into this particular McDonald’s is the piano. It’s really the piece that classes up the joint. Without the piano this would, more or less, be a normal McDonald’s. (I suppose there is still the fact that it’s two stories and has a fireplace, but pianos always make a place seem classier.) This one is a player piano, playing mostly popular top 40 hits of today, but at least one Frank Sinatra song too. I could be wrong, because I know very little about music, but I think there was something wrong with it in that it sometimes seemed to miss some of the notes. It sounded to me like the ghost of Thelonious Monk was playing.
My goal was simple on this trip: try everything that McDonald’s has to offer. 2 I was psyching myself up for this all day. My thought was that I would have to eat, or at least try, 6 or 7 burgers due to everything they had on their Angus beef menu. In particular, I was really dreading a McDonald’s version of a Mushroom Swiss burger. But when I showed up and I didn’t see that menu anywhere. I asked the nice lady behind the counter (and unlike many of my McDonald’s experiences, the customer service this time was perfect) if they still had them. Apparently, they got rid of them in 2013.
I was at once both disappointed and relieved. On the one hand, I thought those burgers looked gross (so much so that despite the fact that I’ve eaten at McDonald’s frequently in the past 3 years I didn’t even bother to see they had been dropped). On the other hand, it’s somewhat sad that McDonald’s seems to have given up at even trying to offer something of quality. I don’t know if that’s reflective of the fact that people (like me) don’t want that from them, or if it’s a recognition that their infrastructure can’t consistently fulfill quality orders the way even a mid-sized chain (like Five Guys) can.
Even without a “premium” menu, McDonald’s still offers a few different types of burgers. I ordered four: A 99¢ cheeseburger, a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, a Quarter Pounder Deluxe, and the iconic Big Mac.
Note: I have seen on their website they apparently also have a Bacon Clubhouse Burger. This location does not carry the Bacon Clubhouse Burger. I don’t know if I’m sad or happy that I didn’t make myself eat that one too.
I’ll be ranking these burgers, not against the other burgers in town, but against themselves. If I were to order another burger from McDonald’s again 3, what would be my order of preference?
Here’s the tray, as delivered to me.
You can see me here, questioning my life choices.
Alright, here’s the Tale of the Tape:
The Line Up
*** Note: Descriptions come from the official website (with one exception).
EXHIBIT A: Cheeseburger
(“ A juicy 100% beef patty simply seasoned with a pinch of salt and pepper, melty American cheese, tangy pickles, minced onions, ketchup and mustard.”)
Official Weight: 3.7 ounces
Official Diameter: 4 inches
Official Height: 1 and 1/4th inches
Cooked to order: This is McDonald’s. Why did I even leave this section here?
You’ll notice that in the picture you literally can’t see the meat on this burger. Of course, maybe you’re not supposed to. This is one of the cheapest things they have. It was a dollar before they ever invented a dollar menu.
If I’m going to order a burger from McDonald’s, this is what I will usually get. I normally get the 89¢ without cheese, though, because I really hate their cheese. It’s too processed and waxy. That said, there’s still something satisfying about it. It’s a little salt bomb, and sometimes that’s what you need.
On this particular cheeseburger, the bread was a little stale. I actually feel like that’s frequently a problem at McDonald’s, but I’m not entirely sure why that would be. Surely they turn over their bread frequently. Even though the burger tastes very salty, if you actually examine the meat it’s extremely flavorless and under seasoned. There’s all types of internet rumors that go around about what’s in their beef, and I believe none of them. (According to their website, they apparently get their beef from some mustachioed cowboy named Steve.) The truth is, though, it wouldn’t matter if there was filler in this burger. You wouldn’t be able to taste it. All the flavor has been frozen and processed out of it. When you take a bite of just the meat, you realize how much nothing it is.
My point is, I see no reason why McDonald’s should use 100% beef. I say go ahead and make this 50%, or even a 100% soy burger. I’m not sure anyone would know, and you’d surely be doing the environment a favor.
EXHIBIT B: Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese
(“Two quarter pound* 100% beef patties, seared to be thicker and juicier plus a pinch of salt and pepper. Layered with two slices of melty cheese, slivered onions and tangy pickles all on sesame seed bun”)
Official Weight: 9.3 ounces
Official Diameter: 4 inches
Official Height: 2.5 inches
This right here is the meatiest burger that McDonald’s serves. Almost all the weight of this burger is from the patty. It’s a meat and protein delivery system. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it’s a meat flavor delivery system. In fact, having so much meat forces you to confront the fact that you can’t taste any of it. Still, it’ll get you full, so there’s that.
EXHIBIT C: Quarter Pounder Deluxe
(Note*** I think the quarter pounder deluxe is a ghost burger. I found an consumerist article that says they got rid of it a year ago. And yet, I ordered it about a month ago. I don’t know how to explain it. The McDonald’s website doesn’t even have a description of it. Basically it’s a quarter pounder, plus a tomato, some crappy lettuce, and way too many condiments.)
Official Weight: 8.6 ounces
Official Diameter: 4 inches
Official Height: 2.5 inches
Of the three burgers I tried in this review, this is by far the most unappetizing. Honestly—this burger was gross. With the Quarter Pounder, I may gripe about the meat, but (due to its minimalist construction) there’s not much else to complain about there. I hated everything between the buns 4 on this burger.
My biggest problem with this burger is that it is so over-sauced. It looked like someone rolled the completed burger in ketchup. As soon as I bit into it, a goopy mayo-fall 5 formed in the back.
The tomatoes added nothing to the equation. The lettuce was meant to look pretty, but added no crunch and no flavor. The bread was insubstantial. Maybe it was just that I was on my third burger at this point, but I put this down as quickly as I could.
EXHIBIT D: Big Mac
(A double layer of sear-sizzled 100% pure beef mingled with special sauce on a sesame seed bun and topped with melty American cheese, crisp lettuce, minced onions and tangy pickles.)
Official Weight: 7.2 ounces
Official Diameter: 3 3/4th inches
Official Height: 2 3/4th inches
The Big Mac! This is what McDonald’s reputation is made on. But take a look at that thing! The other burgers I got largely looked as advertised; you would recognize the Double Quarter Pounder in the picture I took compared to the one on the menu. The Big Mac is a different story.
The image on the right: © McDonald’s, the image on the left © me
If the one of the right is what a Big Mac is supposed to look like, the one I got is a grizzled veteran of a Big Mac. This is a burger that has seen some shit, man. 6
The most obvious criticism of this burger is that it’s not really a burger. It’s more of a bread sandwich. That middle bun adds size, but at what cost?
After biting into it, you can see what’s going on here. They use two 89¢ burger patties to construct this. And a lot of other stuff.
Here’s an extremely unscientific ingredient ratio breakdown of this burger:As you can see, that’s less than 20% beef. That said, I still kind of liked it—at least compared to everything else there. Some may find the “special sauce” overly sweet, but I dig Thousand Island, so it’s okay with me. The lettuce actually adds a needed crunch to the burger (unlike the lettuce found on the dreaded Quarter Pounder Deluxe), although it’s annoying how it seems to be shedding like a long-haired dog. And using those small burgers maybe even helps. You can’t taste it anyway, so why not hide it.
My McDonald’s burger rankings:
- #1 – Best of what’s available – Big Mac
- #2 – I mean, I guess it’s better than nothing – Plain old Cheeseburger
- #3 – I’m hungry and I prefer to be full so I guess I’ll eat it – Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese
- #4 – Oh my god, never again – Quarter Pounder Deluxe
We all know McDonald’s is horrible and we all complain about it. If it’s not the food we hate, it’s the service. I usually feel physically awful after a meal there. Why do I still do it?
I have two thoughts on this.
- (1) The Power of Advertising
No one likes to think they’re susceptible to advertising. We think everyone else is, but not us. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. I do get hungry when I see a McDonald’s commercial; it’s a conditioned response.
And when we’re considering going there, we usually don’t think about our past experiences. I forget where I came across this, but I was reading about a simple experiment you can do with yourself about the power of television. Close your eyes and picture a basketball game.
Now, did you picture a game that you attended, or one you saw on television? I would bet, because it’s certainly the case with me, that you pictured a televised basketball game. I did, even when I was going to about ten Bobcats games a year. So why is that? It’s because televised images have a power over our brain.
When I think of a Big Mac, I think of the version I see in ads. That’s what enters my mind every time, even though every Big Mac I’ve ever eaten has looked like the one in this review. They’re all poorly constructed and all over the place. I conveniently forget it.
- (2) As Zach Current said to me, “Sometimes you just have better shit to do.”
Zach Current is one of the restaurateurs opening Moo & Brew Burgers on Central Avenue and he cares a great deal about the food he serves. We were talking about his new restaurant 8 and I mentioned my trip to McDonald’s, and my struggle to understand why I still went there. He said not to feel bad about it, that “sometimes we all have better shit to do.” There is so much going on in our lives, and McDonald’s provides an outlet where you don’t have to think, which is sometimes a blessing. And if you don’t actively think about the food you’re eating at McDonald’s, you’ll probably like it. It’s loaded with fat and sugar, which our brains tell us we need. We may feel gross later, but we’ll feel satisfied.
And I think that’s okay… Sometimes.
So, does McDonald’s earn the Charlotte Burger Blog Seal of Approval?
Oh, hell no.
- The fanciest, of course, is the Biltmore Village location in Asheville. ↩
- I also thought about going to a McDonald’s with an electronic kiosk and replicating what these guys did. I opted against it because A) I didn’t want to be derivative, and B) I don’t think I hate myself enough yet to try to eat that. ↩
- Which, after this review, is not bloody likely. ↩
- Oddly enough ‘Between the Buns’ was a front runner for when we were choosing a name for this blog. I know. I shutter at the thought also. ↩
- Like a waterfall. But mayo. ↩
- When I saw the comparison between expectation and reality, I couldn’t help but think of this cartoon I saw everywhere when I was a kid.
© Jim Davis, Berkely Breathed
- I also want to remind you again of Cowboy Steve. ↩
- In an interview to be run soon! ↩