I confess. I have had quite the love affair with you Chipotle, and not from afar either. It’s been a passionate cornucopia of taste bud delightfulness from the first day I met you. But now, my heart is speaking here not my taste buds, we are on the verge of a divorce.
Even though you did come riding out on your burro burritos-ablazin’ in 1993 in Denver, it wasn’t until a fall day in Chicago in the year 2000 (or so, details are fuzzy when it comes to love) when I first encountered you. I was in awe of your selection, your speed and the quality of your fare. Frankly, without apologies, it was love at first bite.
You, however, were not my first love. Way back in the days when phones still had cords that were (unless your parents were rich) only 3 feet long so everyone within the confines of the kitchen knew who and what you were talking about I fell for the new fast-food kid on the block. I was a niño of seven, and these Americans pretending to be Mexicans were fresh, lovely and enticing.
Well maybe not so fresh but again, I was seven. Everything was fresh back then at Taco Bell. Yes, they were the first to hold me to their faux-Mexican bosom and feed me Mexican-Americanized delights. The first offering I tasted I loved – the Chili Burger which was soon changed to the Bellburger then soon after changed to the Bell Beefer. Yep. Taco Bell had a burger which was effectively a Mexicanish sloppy joe. Imagine if you will, Taco Bell’s basic ground beef liberally splashed with mild sauce, topped with cheese and squished between soft luscious buns. Loved it, but it went away. Was I crushed? A bit sad for certain but there were so many other delights on the Taco Bell menu board to try. Plus, at the time ALL of them (except for the Bellburger) had pronunciations next to them. I could get a “buh-ree-toh” or a “toh-stah-dah” or just a plain old “tah-coh.”
It was an affair that would last the better part of 45 years.
I am not a man who often goes wanting. My rotund figure and near endless appetite portend the fact that I have strong opinions about fast food, of which i’m often reliant on, as I’m sloth to eat my own food, even as i’ve cooked it. There are very few people on earth who were as ready for the great Chicken Wars as I was. The opening shots were fired, as all things are, on Twitter. The term “woke” was ruined through social media by conglomerate brands trying to be cool by turning their 140 characters of brand awareness over to jaded millenials, fresh off their graduation from Arizona State. The term was then co-opted by Tucker Carlson and his ilk, and now woke means “anyone that doesn’t get a throbbing erection at the sight of the flag.”
But I digress, as the only thing that that brings myself joy to the point of an unrequited pants skyscraper is a damn fine chicken sandwich.
A few years ago I took my wife on a weekend getaway in Michigan wine country for her birthday. We stopped in the Dollar General located in the town of Bridgman for a few snacks between wineries. While waiting to check out, a man pointed to a product beside the register and said to his friend, “Chili flavored sunflower seeds. Now I’ve seen everything.” It has stuck with me since then. That was it. That was the top of the mountain. He had seen it all. But yet, my coastal Michigan friend, you had not. For just like the eternally prescient Bob Dylan once said, “oh the times they are a-changin’.” Change they did, as DiGiorno brought forth the croissant-crusted frozen pizza just this past year. It was a new frontier, but eventually the land Lewis and Clark explored just becomes a gas station. Innovation becomes blasé. So where do we go from here? The answer lies in our past.
Thanks to a television show, name recognition, and a fairly aggressive national roll out, you have assuredly heard of Wahlburgers restaurant. The name sake of the Wahlberg brothers, it has pushed it’s way into the fast casual landscape with it’s selections of burgers and chicken. It’s newest location is in St. Charles, Illinois. Coincidentally, myself and my brother were in the neighborhood, thanks to a Facebook marketplace related impulse buy by my brother. Jukebox in hand, we decided to the new Wahlburgers. And as you can tell by the title, it was a goddamn disaster.
Some things can be excused. For example: this location had been open for less than a week. We showed up at 11:20 AM, after they had been open for only twenty minutes. There were a lot of employees with a questionable amount of training. Covid.